I told a client no today, and it was probably the best choice I’ve made in my freelancing career.

There are a lot of times, more often than not, that I’ve taken on a project that I didn’t really want. ‘Sure, I’ll write this story I have no interest in.’ ‘Of course, I’ll edit this piece that needs about five more re-writes before it even gets to editing.’

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

It gets very tiring, after a while, always telling your clients yes. It gets to a point where your heart isn’t in the work. Always accepting work you don’t want. Continuously having your skills devalued for work that isn’t necessarily up to par with here you are. It can be very draining and discouraging, day after day doing tasks you just absolutely have no passion for.

I was approached today with such a project. Two, in fact. Ghost writing for an old client of mine who I didn’t have much issue in working with in the past, but the subject matter wasn’t what I wanted to write about, and the restrictions on how I could write were ones that… I couldn’t really circumvent. I already knew that it wasn’t going to be a fun situation. I knew that the project wasn’t up for my skill level and that I wouldn’t be able to produce my best work. I decided to say no.

The anxiety, of course, ate through me – as well as my poor inner mouth as I chewed through it, waiting for a response. I got one, of course. The initial urging push to continue on and then the frustrated huff and puff of someone not getting their way. The final one word response to my continued (polite) declining of work.

Oddly, that infuriated one-word response was immensely satisfying.

The only downside to having an extravagant number of writing notebooks is forgetting which exact notebook has the notes and writing you need for the piece that you’re trying to work on immediately.

Inspiration

I find, comes in erratic bursts lately. Bright spots of light in my consciousness, eager flickers that I have to chase to keep hold of.

And I chase them. Oh, do I chase them, right at their heels from my brain into too many notebooks to reasonably keep track of so that their flicker might not die out, that they might spark across the page and light it aflame.

Five Minutes

How much can you write in five minutes?

A sentence? A paragraph? A chapter?

Well. Probably not a chapter.

But in five minutes, how much can you accomplish in that space of time?

I asked myself that as I sat at my desk, thinking of ways to give myself a small personal assignment that involved something relatively quick, simple, that could be done daily regardless of what I had going on. And really, what’s five minutes out of the day? What’s five minutes out of every single day for a week, or a month, or a year? Just five minutes. Not even an entire hour.

I often have excuses (some legitimate and some purely because I can be horrifically lazy if I don’t have the right frame of mind) as to why I didn’t write on a certain day. It usually involves not having enough time. I don’t have an hour to sit and do this. I don’t have the time between work to do this. Blah, blah, blah.

But five minutes? I can spare a measly five minutes to write. Write anything. Snippets. Ideas. Character thoughts. Once a day, every day.

No excuses.

Moving On

There’s a quiet that’s oddly deafening as I walk down the aisle of the church, pews filled three quarters of the way with people I barely knew or less, and the remaining bits occupied with those I knew well—though most I could say I wouldn’t have been sorry if I didn’t. Know them, that is.

I didn’t watch where I was going as I walked. There was no point. It’s not like ghosts can knock things over, and considering I’d tried and failed that already, keeping a bird’s eye out to see who I could find for curiosity’s sake seemed safe enough. As I walked—or rather, glided? My movements mimicked walking at the very least but I couldn’t touch the floor without sinking through it; I’ve some ghostly mechanics to work out still—I picked out familiar faces from the crowd.

First. An old woman in the front, somber but not sad. Good. I wouldn’t expect good old Gilda Ackley to be sad, with her matter-of-fact views on life (“We’re born, we live, we die; that’s a fact and if you can’t accept it you might as well get a hurry on up with the dyin’ part,” was her favorite thing to say to “youngsters” who had the nerve to complain about how hard life was in her vicinity.) She’d always smelled like moth balls and wore horrid prints—in fact, she wore one then, gaudy black and white paisley and a hideous elephant broach—but she was nice, or rather, she was forward. Forwardness was something I could understand and accept.

In one of her papery frail hands she held the hand of another that I knew, her nephew. I didn’t like him as much as I liked her. She was the kind of woman that’d bake you a pie (after telling you what’s what, of course) and he was the one who’d shove the pie into his greedy little nine year old face—no utensils used, mind you—and laugh at you until you had half a mind to smack him silly. He had a hand-held game in his grubby little clutches, and punched away at the keys with little chubby—probably sticky—fingers.

How I wouldn’t miss those on hot summer days when the little brat thought it’d be funny to come into the store and rub them all over the games we sold there—I’m sure it was his way of marking territory. That’s how children did it, right?

I walked further, noting more familiar faces. Most were those I’d seen around town. When you live in a place like Radford, it’s hard not to have a lot of those faces stick. The doctor, Schultz, who’d tended to me when I was five and caught pneumonia, and the only thing I cared to remember about him back then was his hands were always too cold and he smelled like cabbage. My sixth grade teacher, Ms. Livingston, who one day told me I could be a model, even though I knew that wasn’t true because models didn’t have buck teeth and bow legs. Then there was the old man, Mr. Kearny, who worked at the produce store and always slipped extra peaches into my bag “on the house” because he knew my mother—probably had a crush on her—and always told me “Robin, now take care of these and your mama for me, ya hear?”

I’d always nod and politely say “Yes, Mr. Kearny,” back, even though I was the only person in my house who ate peaches, and he always gave me so many most of them went to waste.

I picked all their faces out and smiled. They couldn’t see me, but I could see them and that made me happy that they were the first people I saw, that they’d come. Too late it was to tell them how much I appreciated them. That doctor, even with his cold hands, for saving me once; my teacher, who’d told me I was beautiful even though I knew I wasn’t; that old man, who gave me things I liked without asking just because and not just to get something out of it. Random, selfless people.

I was actually almost sad about leaving them behind, but some things were for the better.

The last few people milled in from the back as I approached the front, where the mahogany casket was placed. I was curious, who wouldn’t be? What did I look like, with no life in my body? I knew enough of what my face looked like when I was living. Endless mornings getting ready for school with my face smushed to a mirror to dab concealer over that one patch of acne that never went away, and then with comical futility I would attempt to curl body into otherwise straw-straight blonde hair. And—I would never admit to anyone for the sheer vanity of it—take at least a few minutes to admire my favorite feature, the forest green eyes that seemed to be one of the few things people liked to compliment me on.

I looked down, though, and it was nothing like looking in a mirror in the morning to get ready for school. My eyes were closed. Neither I nor anyone ever again would see them open. That patch of acne was covered up nice, though, and someone had finally figured out the secret to giving life to my hair as it framed an otherwise unremarkable, cold, dead face.

Irony.

I stared down at my body only for another few moments to admire the fact that I’d been put in one of my favorite dresses. Cute little blue number, with no straps and gold sequins inlaid into the belt. It was probably the nicest thing that I owned. I kept it special just for chorus recitals.

Hm. I wonder. Can ghosts sing?

When I tore my eyes from admiring the dress, the ceremony—I suppose that’s what it could be called—began in full swing. Pastor Wallace stood up front at the pulpit and spoke in a deep, booming voice that reminded me of a baritone resonating through the church. It was emotionally charged, nothing less than what someone would expect from a southern—born, God-fearing Baptist preacher—though it was with a little bit of an apologetic smirk that I regarded his comment about me being a good member of the church. Man didn’t realize I was an Atheist but then again, neither did anyone else here, either. I chuckled, but no one heard, what with everyone being too busy wrapped up in the Pastor’s “young death is always so tragic” speech, and myself wrapped up in being dead.

Several other people came to speak on my behalf. Or of myself and their relationship with me. Some, I expected what was said. My mother, Lydia, was one of the first and had one of the shortest things to say. That she’d loved me that she’d miss me, and that God was watching over me now, in death, where I was lost in life. Others, like Chrissy Potter, I didn’t expect. Chrissy Potter, who was as blonde as I was but didn’t need a curling iron to get that silky mane of corkscrews that cascaded down her back, spent a lot of time to talk about how I’d tutor her on the weekends—oh, if anyone needed a tutor, it was definitely her—and how my kindness would be missed, and that she’d liked me, and had wanted to be better friends. In all honesty I thought the girl had been rather discontent with the fact I constantly accosted her about tutoring sessions and keeping up her grades, but I supposed it was better late than never to know she actually liked me. Wow. I had liked her, too, at a point, though probably not in the same context that she liked me. Life happened that way, sometimes.

The one thing that was the same, either expected or unexpected, was the running theme to everyone’s speeches.  On and on it went, and I found it a wonder how all these people kept using that word.

Tragedy.

I died too young, according to them, in such a sad, sad, way. Suicide, after all, was near unheard of in my town. It just didn’t happen. Ever. Everything was white picket fences and contentment with life. La-dee-da-dee-da.

The thing I found ironic—or rather, the thing I found most intriguing—is how people interpreted how I must have been. Sad. The word sad came up as often as tragic, and somewhere between my mother having to leave in a fit of tears when my boyfriend, Chris, came to the pulpit and announced he’d loved me, with tears leaking from those blue eyes of his and sandy hair disheveled as though he’d not kept it neat in weeks, I realized they had no idea about why I did it, that sadness had nothing to do with it. Sadness, after all, could be cured with ice crème and chick flicks.

You don’t kill yourself over just sadness. I didn’t kill myself over sadness.

I suppose it was the drawback to being like this. I had gotten what I’d wanted, yes. Life was over and… well it was a rather freeing feeling, because when you don’t want to live just because living is, well, less appealing to you than not, people get the wrong idea and the pity was palpable, even to my wispy form that could feel nothing. I hadn’t wanted pity when I decided eating an entire bottle of sleeping pills was a good idea, I wanted peace. The kind that you couldn’t find while living. Everything seemed so empty when I was alive and it… didn’t quite seem that way now, if I was honest with myself.

I didn’t expect any of these people to understand, so it was probably a good idea they couldn’t see or hear me anyway. When people have a notion in their heads in this town, they tend to stick to it, even if someone tells them otherwise. None of them would be able to understand what it’s like to just…

Not want to live.

It was something I’d thought about, before I did it. It was something I thought of, then, as speeches ended and my casket was closed, carried out of the church and into the hearse. I sat—floated, really, in a sitting position—beside my mother in her old sedan as she followed right behind it, and thought about why. Why I’d felt that this end was the only end that’d leave me full in a world where I felt empty, even if it was a world that had the nice doctor, my kind teacher, that old man that gave me peaches, my mother, Chrissy… Then again, I’d always felt that way, as long as I could remember, and for as long as I could remember had had the notion in my mind that maybe even with nice things in your life, sometimes you just didn’t want it anymore.

I watched as they lowered my casket six feet into the ground and like the night that I took all those pills, I still couldn’t fully understand why I had felt so empty right up until the point that I did it, but I knew after I had done it—well, felt, I felt it—that it was the right thing to do.

I smiled, when everyone but my mother was gone and dirt was thrown over the mahogany. I stayed there, and continued to smile, when the hole was filled and my mother no longer stood there sobbing, blaming herself.

For an eternity I stood there, smiling.

Self-Motivation

One of the things I’m realizing about myself as a writer (and was pointed out to me by one of my partners) is that I have poor self-motivation, unless there’s some sort of outside force directing me and influencing me to sit down, write, and produce something in a set amount of time.

In the past it’s been school. I took two semesters of creative writing and for those two semesters it was new writing, every week, no exceptions. It didn’t matter if the muse was there, or if I was tired or not ‘feeling it…’ I wrote, regardless of excuses. Obviously when grades are involved, flaking out isn’t exactly and option. Unless you want to fail. Which I didn’t. Given the parameters of my assignments for those classes, I never busted out a novel, but it was consistent writing with consistent feedback, with consequences if deadlines weren’t met.

Recently, my motivation was ghost writing, which I no longer do (but discuss in a previous post.) It was easy to sit down and write having a proper deadline and clients expecting your work well-written and on time. There’s also the fact that it involves money and building up a credible reputation… So.

Now that I’m not longer in school, and I’ve limited my freelancing to editing strictly, I find it harder to make myself sit down and write. Not for lack of wanting, or interest. I love to write. I love to story tell. Unfortunately for myself, I’m easily distracted and tend to allow myself to become more distracted when there’s not someone or something telling me that if I don’t have something done by this or that date, or that there will be consequences for not turning in something or writing a certain amount of words a day. I work hardest when there’s some sort of enforceable end goal in sight. A tangible, ‘if I don’t do this, then this will happen.’ It’s simply how I work.

Of course, the problem with this is that I’ve found myself sitting on one or two stories where I’ve mentally plotted a lot of things and have characters lined up, but otherwise have not taken much time to actually… physically… write. I don’t think people realize how easy it is to just put things off and put things off when you’re a writer without some sort of concrete arrangement that makes you have to put out content.

Probably doesn’t help I’m also a text-book procrastinator. Lovely combination.

Obviously, at the end of the day, this is something that I will have to overcome myself. Because at this point, I’m not a published author with an editor that can breathe down my neck telling me that I have a deadline coming up and I better meet it. I think this will have to come with a measure of self-discipline that I haven’t had to really use since, I don’t know. High school. And that’s been a few years.

I think, especially given NaNoWriMo is coming up in a few months, and I do have the desire, I’m going to sit down, take a hard look at my current work and personal life schedule, and form a routine that I can actually… get behind, stick to, and work on writing consistently. Especially knowing that I can do so.

I just need to buck up and put in the effort. I’ll keep you guys informed of my progress.

Obsession

Albert thinks about killing his wife. He doesn’t want to, but he does.

Seven days a week, several times a day the thought crosses his mind. It presses in, an unwanted force so sudden he can’t stop it before it takes hold of him. On good days – if he can call them good days – the intrusion is a fleeting one. The desire flits into the back of his mind as a flash that shows him how simple it would be to push his dear wife down the stairs as they pass each other in the hall in the morning, how quickly she’d fall and how easy her neck would snap. He’s grateful these thoughts don’t last long, but he’s never able to shake the image of his wife, crooked and lifeless at the bottom of the stairs.

Other days – the bad days – the thoughts are lingering. They’re persistent. They’re unrelenting. They’re the ones that turn a quiet dinner after a long day’s work into Albert eyeing the wood block at the kitchen counter. It’s thick, holds five knives that have been expertly sharpened. His wife is so soft, it’d be like sliding through butter, taking one of those to her. It’d be easy; he’s a whole head and a half taller than her, and stronger, too.

On the bad days, the scene plays out more vividly than the good days. It’s explicit in the way he sees how he’d end her life. She’d have done nothing to provoke him shy of just being there, but then again she never does anything that warrant such fantasies, anyway. On the bad days, he’ll imagine how she’d look – Will her eyes be wide with shock? Will she cry? Will she beg? Will her skin fade white in panic or will it boil red in betrayal? It’s never the same way twice. Sometimes she doesn’t say a thing, and other times she’s yelling and cursing him.

How could he do this to her?

How indeed.

Albert will think of all of it. Her face, her voice, her words, the warmth of her body before he kills her and the coldness that sets in after he does. Sometimes there’s blood, and on the good days he’ll only see how it spatters across a wall but on the bad days he’ll feel its viscosity on his skin as it wet his hands and clothes.

It sickens him.

He loves his wife more than anything, more than himself. He would never kill her. He’s not even a violent person, and the fact he’s never even raised his voice at his wife has him wondering constantly why of all things he’d think about killing her, why it happens so often, why it’s her of all people. Over and over, day after day. Drowned in the tub, smothered with a pillow, crushed by their dresser. Scenarios he’d never wish upon the vilest of criminals and yet he envisions his wife, lifeless, immobile, bloody, bruised.

When she tells him she loves him, he’s imagining his hands around her throat and can’t help but question what’s wrong with him.

Does he actually want to kill her?

Would he actually kill her?

Could he?

The fear is almost worse than the fantasies, the imaginings that twist and ensnare around his mind. Sometimes he’s so involved in what’s happening in his mind, he wonders how long it will take before seeing becomes doing.

I’d never hurt her.

I’d never hurt her.

He thinks it as soon as he wakes up in the morning, while he’s brushing his teeth and dressing for the day. If he thinks that he won’t hurt her, then maybe he won’t think about hurting her, and the visions will go away. He won’t be sick anymore. He won’t have to worry anymore. The logic is sound, but no matter how much he recites the mantra, one way or another those thoughts push and push. Albert will be thinking about how he he’d never hurt her the same time he’s thinking about the rat poison beneath the sink, and how he could add it to her morning tea – he leaves in moments like that. To their room, for a walk, for a drive, all the way to town to the grocery store. Anything to get away, distance himself.

Albert thinks about killing his wife.

He doesn’t want to, but he does.

 

Experiences with Ghost Writing & Why I’m Done

So for the last few months, I’ve been comfortably busy with ghost writing work interspersed with my day job. As someone who’s in between degrees and planning out the rest of their writing career, it seemed like a good idea. Gain experience in a professional field in something that I already intend to go into, make money doing something that I love. It seemed like a no-brainer, especially when I picked up the work at a time when I needed money and I was having a hard time figuring out what it was that I wanted to do.

For anyone that doesn’t know, ghost writing is essentially writing someone’s story for them — whether it’s taking their ideas and giving them life, writing a story from an idea or plot. Someone else comes up with the idea while you do the real work; you are also not credited for this work, and going into ghost writing you know that your name will never be on any of the finished pieces, no matter how good they are. Sometimes you will be paid royalties for any of the stories that you’ve written, but it’s not always the case (I personally will not receive royalties for any of the works that I have written.)

Initially, it was fun. I was getting weekly writing experience, regular feedback on my writing, and I was getting paid for it. Despite not getting any credit for the work that I did, I had fun to begin with. I wrote romance stories, a genre that I don’t tend to write straight on without something else going on with the plot, but for stories I would never write myself, it was an interesting experience getting out of my comfort zone. Writing experience is writing experience, no? It also seemed really cool to be getting paid to do something that I wanted to do.

The problems started to come the longer I was writing, when it became apparent to me that the content I was writing just wasn’t the kind of content that I wanted to write, regardless of whether or not my name was attached to it. Romance can be a fairly cliched genre, and when you’re writing short stories, clients tend to want it cliched, because in 20,000 words or less there’s only so much you can do with it depending on your client’s wants, and how strict they are on you sticking to their plotting. Typically, they want it extra cheesy, like the pizzas you eat in college knowing you ought not to, with lots of love at first sight, head over heels, ridiculous stuff you’ve seen already. Now if that’s your preference, of course, that’s fine. But as a writer, it’s hard to enjoy doing your job when your job consists of writing the same plot with different names and a slightly varied setting, with very little freedom to do something different. Something fresh. This is, also, partly because you subconsciously and consciously don’t want to throw down your best ideas on writing you will never be recognized for. So at the end of the day, I was left writing mediocre content from and for people that couldn’t or wouldn’t do the work to write their own content.

And don’t get me started on trying to write LGBT+ stories. I wrote one lesbian story and one bisexual story that featured polyamory out of the ten plus short stories that I’ve written in the course of being a ghost writer. Those were only because the clients asked for those specifically. If you want to write something with people of color, or with LGBT+ people, or disabled people, you’re going to have to dig, and dig, and claw. Given most of my characters in my own writing tend to be queer, people of color… it was a rather restrictive box.

Preferences aside, I also learned it was very easy to be cheated out of your earnings — or rather, people have no problem trying to cheat you out of your earnings, or try to pay you less than you deserve. I have seen a range of clients attempt to charge extremely low for ghost writers (clients that I have had, I’ve been paid anywhere between 5 and 10 dollars per every 1,000 words, which isn’t terrible.) I’ve also experienced a client simply not paying me, and not communicating with me post-project, which was only resolved because the freelancing site that I use automatically funds you your earnings if the client doesn’t approve or respond to your work after two weeks. And, at the end of the day, it’s really not all that unexpected. As a ghost writer, you’re basically paid to cheat for other people who either can’t write or don’t feel like writing; ethical business practices aren’t always there.

It should be noted here, that I knew exactly what I was signing up for when I began. I signed contracts, I read over rules. I knew I would get no credit. This isn’t a ‘I was duped’ story, rather ‘this is an experience I tried and I realized quick that it wasn’t what I thought it would be.’ 

After sitting on all of this for a rough month, I’ve decided that ghost writing isn’t for me. I want the freedom to write good stories. I want the freedom to write the kind of characters that I want to see in print. What’s more… I want my name on what I want, without another individual taking credit for the work that I’ve done. I’ve gained a lot of insight as a writer from doing this, certainly. But I think it’s best left as an experience, and not as a career choice. I also didn’t really want to continue to risk the chance of not being paid by clients who end all communication after a story has been delivered — I love writing, but I also love getting paid for it, thank you.

With that in mind, I’m happy to getting back to writing my own stories. Here’s to growth and progress. I originally thought of my choosing to pull out of the ghost writing was a failure. Here I was, just a few months in and not wanting to do it anymore. But that’s the thing — you try something, you don’t like it, you move on. I’m happy to move on to bigger, better things.

Namely, the cup of tea sitting at my desk and the blank word document waiting to be utilized to its full potential, for a story of my own.

Ciao!