As y’all know, I freelance in addition to writing.
Having a viable career in this field means multiple income streams, so for me that involves freelance editing, design, and layout/formatting dispersed among my writing. I’ve done this for several years now after leaving publishing in 2013, and though writing is taking up the bulk of my time so I rarely take on new clients, I have a stable of regular writers and publishers I’ve worked with for years now.
One thing nearly all of them have in common this past year and a half is that the pandemic affected them in huge ways.
Much of last year wasn’t so bad. The pandemic was new. Most of my schedule was for projects clients had completed the bulk of back in 2019 so I was pretty on track. A few blips but not a lot of delays.
Then the pandemic wore on.
And a lot of people struggled to write.
By the time 2021 rolled around, my schedule–typically booked at least six months in advance–was in complete disarray because everyone else’s was as well. I’d go two months without scheduled projects landing and then get four at once. People weren’t just trying to write with the constant buzz of anxiety around a global pandemic–they were trying to write around funerals. COVID-19 touched nearly everyone I know in some way or another–even if they didn’t lose a loved one to it, “normal” deaths meant funerals were fraught with anxiety. People got sick. People didn’t entirely recover. People have had to delay routine healthcare for a year. People also had to deal with hearing daily how much their lives didn’t matter if they had other health issues or were already compromised in some way; they heard from their neighbours and family and friends that they should just “get over” any concerns about a virus still running rampant potentially disabling them. Households lost income.
None of these things are conductive to creativity.
The myth of the starving artist needs to die. As much as writing can be a refuge, creativity truly flourishes when writers are fed, sheltered, and safe. Writing requires the use of your brain and, surprise!, when your mind is burning fuel being terrified about the state of the world, you don’t have the mental resources for creativity. You’re living in constant fight or flight mode. A global pandemic meant a lot of people were–and continue to be–feeling incredibly unsafe.
Reading is a refuge as well, I realize.
Many of us sank into entertainment. Some folks struggled with their usual forms of escape and had to find new outlets. Some just reread/rewatched the same favourites for comfort. Some found new stories to dive into.
The Livi Talbot series was written as an ongoing story about a woman who has been through terrible things–and continues to go through terrible things–but finds a way to come out the other side. I want to take you through hell–literally in the next one–and bring you back into the light with me, to show it can be done. As a result, I know those books helped some folks during the pandemic and with the things they’re going through. And knowing Livi is a lifeline for some readers means a tremendous amount to me.
I bring this up to say I get it. I get how important stories are to people. It’s how I make my living! It’s how I survive! It’s how I design many of my stories!
When creatives, en masse, are struggling through massive global changes, you do not get stories written any faster when you call them lazy. When you demand more. When you mock them for being behind on their deadlines. When you email them to “get back to work”.
I know writers who typically put out two to three books a year who have struggled to finish one thing this year, and when they’re coming out the other side, holding up a new book, feeling like they’ve just climbed Everest, they get snarky responses like “Ugh, finally–what took so long”.
Tell me, have you written a book?
During a global pandemic?
While multiple friends and family are sick and dying?
Afraid that every time you go to the grocery store you’re going to die?
Knowing that by not releasing a new book, you can’t afford groceries?
Shaming doesn’t work and we are painfully aware at all times that we’re disappointing readers.
Believe me, not releasing a book in over a year hurts. We can’t coast on existing monthly sales (at least, no one I know can). Our incomes rely on regularly releasing books–I promise, no one is intentionally jerking around readers. Ninety percent of my clients are struggling and I realize it’s a small sample size but all of them I’ve talked to have said everyone they know is struggling as well. You’d be hard-pressed to find another point in recent history where all writers, on a global scale, are missing deadlines and struggling to this degree. And as they have delays, their editors–both freelance and among larger publishers–are then struggling as well. Artists are struggling. It’s affecting the entire publishing ecosystem, whether you’re with the Big Four or self-publishing or anything in between.
A friend of mine has talked openly about the fact that a few years ago she posted an update apologizing for being behind schedule on a book but her father had just died and she was traveling for the funeral so she’d be a little while before she could dive back in–and immediately she received replies back that said, without exaggeration, “everyone’s got problems–that’s no excuse, get back to work.”
In April of this year I was literally bedridden for several days, in tremendous pain, possibly facing a life-threatening emergency if the bedrest didn’t help, struggling with a super high fever, and I posted–from bed! on my iPad!–the monthly excerpt on Patreon a couple of weeks behind schedule (still in April!) with apologies and an explanation…and immediately had complaints that I wasn’t active enough posting there so folks were withdrawing support. Which honestly did not surprise me because in 2014 when I spent six months in bed with a mystery illness before diagnosis, I expressed my apologies and said it would be time before Oblivion could be written and right away I go a dozen emails telling me they didn’t care about my health and I “owed” them that book.
So, like, two examples, but if either of them seem a little cruel to you?
Consider for a moment that most writers have been through–are going through!–the equivalent of that for a year and a half now. Whether they tell you the intimate details of their lives–which no one is actually entitled to know!–or not, there is no reason to be snarky, mean, or demanding.
Writers are not vending machines. With a few exceptions, we are not churning out books nonstop regardless of the collective trauma everyone is going through right now. And you know what? This post isn’t even about me. I had a pretty productive few months–and I’ve been tremendously proud of what I’ve accomplished–so while I get a bit of shit, it is nothing compared to what friends and clients of mine are getting from people.
Atop everything going on, it’s exhausting. And it does not make writing during all of this any easier.
If your favourite writer has been unusually quiet with the book updates or behind their usual schedule, consider there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. You do not need to email or DM them reminding them that they’re failing you by not putting out a new book. And when they do release something or make an announcement? Here are some things you can say:
- looking forward to it!
- I’m so happy for you!
- I’m so excited I’m going to reread your other books in preparation!
It costs you nothing to choose a patient, decent response instead of a bitchy one.
Try to think of points in your life when you’ve been fighting to stay afloat, already aware that you’re disappointing everyone, worried about your income, dealing with major life trauma, and consider how the harshest words did not get you out of that spiral. Consider the kinds of things that helped.
In essence: be kind to people.
Creatives are struggling just as much as everyone else through this.