Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tuesday Morning Blues

It's been a rough couple of weeks. I don't want to go into details, but last week was a really horrible one for both Brandi and I, and money (or rather, the lack of it) is – as it is for most of us these days, I presume – at the root of our troubles. It was so bad that I spent the long weekend gorging on forbidden carbohydrates and vegging in front of the television, watching DVDs of old television shows – even more than usual, I mean.

Sunday was the only good day of the batch – though I still consumed junk food in grotesque quantities – as Brandi and I joined some friends in Bangor for an afternoon and evening of old school (2nd Edition) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It was fun, and I found that role playing my character – a no-nonsense hardboiled thief – to be rather cathartic, especially when I threatened to slit the throat of one of my own party for acting like an idiot. My wife was actually worried that I wasn't acting! I contend that I was.

As of today, I'm dieting again, will be making uncomfortable phone calls to try and wrest some control back from our financial demons, and endeavoring to buckle down and write. I have a lot of stuff I've committed to do; the problem is motivating myself to do it. None of it actually pays anything, and I'm finding that fact to be discouraging and disruptive to my powers of concentration. I keep taking non-paying work with the theory that the more stuff I have published, the more editors and publishers will want to offer me writing assignments that pay. So far, though, all it's done is attract editors & publishers that want me to write for free.

I know that there are hordes of unpublished, aspiring writers who'd kill for some of these opportunities. And I am grateful that people like my work and actually publish it. But I'm getting older – my hair is silvering rapidly – and working for free isn't so attractive anymore.

I've been contemplating getting a new "real job," but...there's this recession thing, maybe you've heard of it? My training and experience is in publishing – and the publishing industry's on life-support as it is; nobody's hiring. My health issues make the prospect of retail or manual labor gigs pretty much untenable. Freelance writing and/or editing are my only real options, and I've been spectacularly unsuccessful at making those pay.

That frustration vented, I'll be getting back to work today, and will fulfill these obligations, and will probably take on more. I may not be a particularly good, productive, or reliable writer... but it's all I got going.

I will persevere.

Or not.


Bill Spangler said...

I wish I had something specific to offer, Chris, but I can say that you're not the only one wondering how he should be spending his time. FWIW, it seems like there are more ways of getting exposure these days, but it's actually harder to make a living from writing.
Hang in there.

Scott Parker said...

Forgot exactly how I stumbled upon your site but I've bookmarked it in my Google reader and enjoy it. I'm like you in terms of writing: how can I make this pay. And I second your frustration about non-paying gigs. I'm starting to get some...but they're still free and most of them are for non-fiction. Nothing wrong with that: there are more ways to be a writer than fiction. But my fiction is basically non-existant now. I'm uninspired. I try forcing the issue by saying "Write Now!" but it doesn't come out. I find myself being more excited about reading than writing. Good for research; bad for producing words. Not sure how I'm going to get over the hump. On New Year's Day, I thought that 2009 would be the year that I crank out short stories, my weakness. Now, my weakness is showing itself and I'm thinking about going back to writing a novel. Dunno. It's aggravating. So, long post short, I'm not sure of the answer...but you are not alone. Hang in there.

Martin Powell said...

Chris, as I've told you many times before, you're a better writer than most who're working regularly for Marvel or DC. You just need a break, is all. Unfortunately, those can be a long time coming.

Twenty-two years ago, when I decided to pursue a writing career, I produced a tremendous amount of material, at least a short story a week (I wasn't aiming at comics then), and collected five years worth of rejection slips before someone started taking me seriously.

Believe me, I know how very lucky I am to be a full-time professional writer today and I'm very grateful. Mostly, though, I think I managed to get here because I never gave up. Ever. It's the engine that drives me and, honestly, I'd be doing it if I was getting paid or not.

So, don't give up. It'll happen for you, if you really want it to.

Scott Parker said...

Question for Martin: how grueling was the story/week schedule? Did you follow what I've heard are the Heinlein rules: send out story A; write story B; when A comes back, don't look at it and send it back out to another place?

Just wondering.

What was your schedule? Write M-Th; edit Friday; mail Sat; rest on Sunday; repeat

Oh, and how about story ideas? Ever have a problem coming up with any?


Charles Gramlich said...

I'm feeling kinda the same these days. I've gotten lots of great opportunities for free work but man it would be nice to bring in a few bills here and there for writing. It can be tiring to think of a lot of work ahead and no money coming in as a result. I'm fortunate to still have a decent job. times are tough.

Martin Powell said...

Hi Scott,

I just typed out a lengthy reply to your questions, but it seems to have vanished into cyberspace. I’ll try again.

Since the second grade I knew I wanted to tell stories, but the writing bug didn’t seriously bite till I was in my early twenties. In those days Ray Bradbury was my mentor, and we maintained a long-running correspondence. He was always very encouraging and gave me lots of helpful ideas which I’ve always been very happy to pass along.

Ray never believed that a writer writes for money. “We write”, he says, “because we must.” I believe that, too.

Obviously, I worked various mundane jobs during this early period, mopping the floors at Kmart, and as a clerk in one of the early home video shops. I was also taking some college courses, when I could afford them. I wrote almost every evening, and always on my days off, producing one or two short stories a week and mailed them out just as fast. These weren’t very good at first, but by the end of that year I had over fifty stories finished and they weren’t all terrible. Finally, I was starting to find my voice.

I want to stress that I did this faithfully for five years before making a sale. Yes, I realize that seems rather insane.

Perhaps, try writing a short story every month, instead. It will give you a sense of accomplishment, which is psychologically very important and inspires self-confidence, and at the end of the year you’ll have twelve new stories to your credit. If you focus on a novel, well, honestly that could take over a year. You might never finish it and would have little to show for all your effort. I’ve yet to tackle a novel myself, because I just haven’t been ready yet. I still feel like I’m learning how to write. I do intend to begin a novel later on in the year, but it will be something just for me. At least for now.

As a remedy for recharging your creative batteries, I always recommend reading. A lot. I make a solid effort to read at least one comic book and a short story, from various prose anthologies, every night. I think writers inspire other writers to want to write more than anything else.

Hope this helps, even though I often wonder if I really know what I’m talking about.

Good luck!

Scott Parker said...


Thanks for such a great reply! It's good to know each and every path a writer can take. I read all the time (audio and visual) and I'm beginning to analyze why some stories work and not others.

I've written a novel and, in retrospect, it was pretty darn easy. For me, it was b/c I knew where the story started, the middle, and the end. Then, I wrote it. Now, I've spent more time *not* writing my second novel than it took to write my first. Aggravating. I thought short story writing would be the cure to my ails but I'm beginning to think it's more difficult than novel writing, at least for me.

I think I'm going to try the short story/week and/or month idea. At least /month seems reasonable to get the chops up and running. Writing. It's so rewarding and it's so, so difficult which, I suspect, why so many people try it and so few people break out on top. But, if you're one of the lucky ones...

Martin Powell said...

You're very welcome, Scott.

You're already ahead of me, having written a novel. Really, the only way to succeed in anything is to do it. This is especially true for writing.

And, yes, I do realize how lucky I am. I was just in the right place at the right time. With patience and practice, the same can happen to anyone.

Best of luck with your stories. Keep me posted!

Craig Zablo said...


You've got talent. Use it. Write. Write. Write. Then write some more.

I know that's easy for me to type, but if you are going to be a writer then write. I believe if I had your talent that's what I'd do.

If you're not sure what to write, then start a Gravedigger novel. You know you'll have at least one immediate reader.



PS - I hope I didn't come off too harsh... now get to writing!

Martin Powell said...

I would love to read a Christopher Mills GRAVEDIGGER novel! Maybe Hard Case Crime would give it a look.

Christopher Mills said...

I appreciate everyone's moral support. It's not that I don't have anything to write – on the contrary: I have enough commitments to write full time. My problem is that, reality – in the form of bills and debt and no respite in sight – is putting a damper on my enthusiasm for perpetually writing for free.

I'm just venting some frustration here; that's what blogs are supposed to be for.

Craig Zablo said...

Martin -- my thoughts exactly!