Sunday, February 10, 2008

Freelance writing 'without the safety net'

Nicholas Lezard mentions the poet and critic's notion of the ultimate risk: freelance 'writing without a safety net'.
A couple of years back I mentioned to a fellow writer my double-digit main sources of income (which of course amounted to less than a teacher's salary). She trumped me, doubling my number of sources without doubling the income.
For me, they were a mixture of writing and teaching assignments. Last year I took on a full-time job (teaching at Plymouth University). With a guaranteed salary the need for that freelance income stream dropped away. It let me take a break from nonfiction (which minimizes the risk, since it can be sold or abandoned on proposal, though I once sold my house and all my belongings to fund my research on my first nonfiction book) and back to fiction.
This week I finished that new novel (provisionally called Badger Boy, the first in a projected quartet of young adult novels). In commercial terms the risk was mitigated by an agent's vibrant enthusiasm for the early chapters. Still, the book is a wild ride that stays true to its own form rather than a genre. I started writing it back in 1997, took ten years polishing the first two chapters, and then let the book kick itself back into play last May. I guess it's absorbed around eight months of full-time work.
In financial terms that is obviously a risk. Still, this book did not have to be considered in such terms. I have an income, for now, without this novel's paying off. In writing terms, this book set me some ravishing challenges. It was make or break, creativity without any safety net. As a freelancer needing to appeal to the mainstream I had to play it safe on lots of fronts. With an income secured, what the hell, creativity could go for broke.
That's tough of course. It burns you out. To squeeze in the writing alongside a fulltime job meant sacrificing holidays and a social life. It means kicking off the writing day at 5 o'clock in the morning. I'm now in that emotional whirl I enter after finishing a book, exhausted yet with that creative energy still burning away looking for new things to fire at. The book's printed out and awaiting its first readers (I'll be honest and let you know how those readings fare). But I'm also glowing. Writing is the risk I live for.

2 Comments:

Blogger pundy said...

That's really exciting. Your enthusiasm is infectious. And your dedication to your art is obvious.

Tell me, what kind of feedback do you look for in your ideal reader? Is it technical or more general, or something else?

3:58 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

Thanks for yours, Pundy. That first read has just come in ... and of course what I most hoped for was enthusiasm, to know that the work had come successfully to life in someone else's head. Happily I've received that ... and those editorial notes that showed me those moments where my delivery into the reader's head was more awkward than it needed to be. So I've enough for its next polish before sending it off to a reader (in this case an agent) who isn't au fait with the life it has spun out from. For now, the sequel is starting to sneak details into my mind ...

6:43 PM  

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