There is always, always a plan. Even when I try to let life lead, there is always a plan. Even when I don’t know exactly what the outcome will be, there are a number of options. Like the doors on a gameshow, I expect the outcome to my big life decisions to fall within the confines of one of them, or some combination of the lot. This time has been very different.
When the idea to write for a living came along, it was as though, for a moment, I suddenly had sea legs. Is that even legal? Surely I’m not one of the beautiful people. I’m not someone who gets to spend her days creating. Surely my mind isn’t independent enough, I’m not relentless enough, and after all, who on Earth wants to read what I’ve got to write?
Alas, I’m over a year into this endeavor and I can say that, without a doubt, I’ve not yet figured out the answers to any of those questions, or calmed any of those doubts (with the exception of that question on legality. Apparently it is. You heard it here first, beloved readers).
Don’t get me wrong – this post is not some big fishing festival – you read me, ergo, I’m gonna go ahead and assume you think I’m wonderful, either because of my uncanny ability to whittle words or because you just love me from way back. I’ll take either one. As to the editors I’ve contacted, the feedback has been…limited. I’ve sold a few articles, I’ve written several more for free, and I keep on keeping on. But there has been more than a little hubris along the way.
See, the first thought was this:
I’ll write to earn enough money to enable me to volunteer full time!
Of course, the problem with that was that earning enough money writing the way I was going about it necessitated writing well over full-time, which left no time for volunteering. Okay, I thought.
I’ll write for higher-paying publications!
Then I found out it’s a lot harder to get those higher-paying publications to pay you any mind. As a magazine writer I follow has put it (and I paraphrase), even if your prose is perfect, it doesn’t mean you can write for magazines. There’s loads of preparation that goes into just pitching a magazine, and more often than not, the work is met with the familiar chirping of so many crickets. So lots of months went into trying to learn how to write a good pitch, garner the attention of magazines, sell a few articles, and I did. Sell a few. Sadly, those few articles sold aren’t coming anywhere near paying the bills. Never one to give up, thought number three was this:
I’ll teach English to supplement my income!
So I took an online course to have some kind of qualification to back up my experience in the Philippines. I designed fliers and got several hundred printed out. I ordered business cards from the swankiest business card maker ever. I got my first student within weeks. He signed up and paid for for a pack of 10 classes after his first class. Woo-hoo! Then he cancelled his second class. I haven’t seen him since. That was in May. My second student was Chris’ cousin. I couldn’t take his money. The third person to contact me about my lessons called at 10:30 pm on a Saturday night, while Chris and I were walking from our campsite to a festival we were going to just outside town. The streets were pitch black and plenty of drunken revellers were heading the same way. Roughly translated, our conversation went like this:
“Hello? I’m calling about the English classes you’re offering.”
“Hi! I’m just at a wedding reception right now [ahem]…Is there any chance I could call you back tomorrow evening?”
“No problem! I was just wondering what your rates were like.”
“Sure! Well, they’re on a sliding scale – the more classes you sign up for, and the more students who sign up at the same time, the lower the price.”
“Great! That’s wonderful.”
“I’m glad you think so! So, basically, my rates start at $25/hour, and go down from there.”
“Well, that’s too much. I know two Australian women who live down the street from me who will teach me for free.”
“…erm…Okay, well, that sounds excellent! I definitely can’t compete with that price!”
He was the last person to get in touch. Still, this isn’t something I’m giving up on entirely. I’ve recently dropped a couple of CVs around town and I’ve met with the unemployment agency (shiver) to see what other options, like subbing in high school English classes, might exist. But it hasn’t been the cure-all I’d hoped.
What I’m realizing, though (quite late in the game, admittedly), is that all of this, every step, every stage, has been to facilitate another big plan. From the very outset I’ve been trying to find work that would enable me to do something else. So I’ll write to finance my volunteering, and then I’ll teach English to finance my writing, and pretty soon it all seems a bit misdirected and confused.
But here’s my deep, dark secret, oh, gentle readers: The reason the ground beneath my feet seemed a little less level, the reason my heart soared at the idea of writing, was because I have always dreamed of writing fiction.
Here’s another secret: I wrote my first poem on the toilet. I know that’s weird, but I’m telling you anyway. You see, I used to go to the bathroom to read. Reading on the pot was very normal in my family, so if one had to make a number 2, there was nothing strange about bringing one’s current novel along for the ride. But I cheated:
Mom: “Ann? Are you still in there? Don’t you have chores to do?”
Ann: (pitifully) “Yeah…but I don’t feel so good, though.”
Mom: “Okay, honey. You know, you’re really not drinking enough water.”
This was followed my mother’s departing footsteps, my mischevious grin of success, and my return to The Magical Hat of Mortimer Wintergreen or somesuch delicious page-turner. When I’d finally read to my heart’s content, out I would come, the toilet seat having left a rosy ring imprint upon my thighs and bum, trying to look miserable, but knowing that I’d need to get to those chores sooner or later.
One day, I brought a notebook and a pen into the bathroom instead. And I wrote a poem. And it felt even more magical than Mortimer Wintergreen’s hat.
I no longer write in the toilet. There remains, however, an unmistakeable air of guilt attached to writing fiction. There are always other things I should be doing. As a kid, that meant scrubbing the toilet I was sitting on. Now, it’s paying for the toilet to sit on (metaphorically, of course. For the moment we remain serial renters). And “making it” in the world of fiction is about as likely as belting out a top 40s hit. Not to mention, I’ve not really spent the last 15 years honing my skills.
What’s the plan, then? It was always that way – I was always self-sufficient, I was always a step ahead, I always had a plan. And now I don’t. I’m back on the toilet. I’m back to my dreams, trying, in my late-early thirties, to ascertain how I can facilitate bringing them to fruition. And maybe even facilitate my volunteering. We’ll get there in the end, though, right? Here’s hoping.