Knowing Your Worth

Hemingway

There is something depressing about writing contracts. If I had to take a guess, it would be turning a beautiful act of creation into a repetitive and soul draining exercise. Not that it is like this for everyone, but I can only assume that it is fairly common since ‘freelance contract writer’ isn’t a booming field. 

Now imagine little me. I had a high-top fade, a rat tail braid on the back of my head, and the biggest gap you’ve ever seen. When I was a kid, a pair of my teachers told me that one day I could be president. This was laughable at the time, but it drove home that beautiful childhood message that if you tried hard, you could live the life you want to live. I took that to heart, foolishly, but with a smile on my face.

Fast forward to now. I’m fairly fat, the gap situation has resolved itself, and a boy named Derrick pulled that braid out of the back of my head in 6th grade. I still don’t want to talk about that last one, the wounds feel fresh. I write when I get the chance, and I look for every chance I can to make that my life. 

Don’t get me wrong, because I can feel you rolling your eyes through the internet. I don’t expect anything for free. I knew the moment I changed my major that there was a real chance that ‘starving artist’ thing could become a reality. I knew from minute one that my field wasn’t a major one, was not in demand. I didn’t know that the country would go into an economic spin that would crush any student who didn’t go to school for computer science or nursing, but the people who knew that were already fastening their golden parachutes. 

So what I’m left with is a world where I have to drill out my own space in an ever-changing field. I was already dick-deep in pig dung if I decided to go to school for English 30 years ago, but now we live in a world of shifting formats, twitter, and DRM wars. Stephen King can’t even decide if he likes ebooks or not. The biggest names in the land can’t tell a new author whether they should be indie, or try their hand with the floundering big houses. Authors as a community don’t know whether Amazon is the best thing in the world, or a devilspawn from illiteros (that is illiterate hell, by the way). 

That side of things is a problem all its own, a quagmire that cannot be ‘solved’ so much as you can put your hat in and hope it doesn’t fly off with the wind. But it makes the attempt to strike out that much harder. The uncertainty I bring to every situation is unnerving. I cannot draw a career path for my family and loved ones, I cannot say where I expect to be five years from now. Hell, what I would give to know where I expect to be five years from now. No one can tell me what to expect, a million different advice columns from here to bowels of the internet cannot say.

So instead I work, trying to create a portfolio while getting paid for the thing I want to do, fiction. Sometimes it works, like getting paid effectively 20 bucks an hour to write a short story. Sometimes, it doesn’t, like realizing you are getting paid 5 dollars an hour to write fantasy smut. But I have to work, even if just for experience, even if just for the chance for someone to tell me they want more, just for the chance to hob the right knob. 

Unlike some fields, where you can look at your degree, look at your experience, and you can say what salary is good enough. I don’t know my worth, when my experience will influence it, and when a contract cares about my degree at all. That is a terrible feeling, and it only gets worse when you must admit it to others. But I have to work.

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