If you have to work …

Most of us work for a paycheck, hoping to find the days go by speedily and the weeks free of conflict. We’re somehow conditioned to believe that “work” is the legitimate source of income and fun is the stuff we do when work is over. And those most blessed are those who combine the two.
After a career in journalism, much of it fun and some of it actually well compensated, I’ve turned to earning my own income. It’s a stretch for someone used to pay stubs and daily assignments.
I’m my own boss now, and with that comes the stress of the unknown.
How much will I earn this week?
Who’ll call back on time for my deadline?
Can I nail down that gig, and for enough pay to make it worth my time?
Can I learn enough about nuclear engineering to write competently about it next week? (The answer is no, if it’s in any depth.)
But those are the easy questions.
Much harder to face is the mindset changes. I’m the boss now. There’s no one else to mimic unjustly (or not) for everyone’s entertainment, no one to complain about with brittle comments. No, it’s just me, little old Olive Oyl, making all the decisions after Popeye’s retired to Baja and Bluto’s gone to prison for life. And being one’s own boss is unforgiving, relentless, demanding.
I pursue new leads for assignments and create story ideas, pair paying non-fiction assignments with my own fiction submissions, in the persistent hope that someday fiction will provide a more steady income.
On the bad days, when I haven’t slept well, the dog’s pooped on the new floor and the house won’t warm up, I still have to step up to the computer and the phone, plunk myself down, and dial. And be professional. There’s no calling in sick, though there is usually the freedom to take off for a workout at the gym or a walk in the woods. My deadlines are my own problem–and while they don’t frighten me, they do demand attention, planning, obedience. After all, miss a deadline and I might also miss a future assignment.
I’m on my own, and it’s scary. But I can feel change happening, feel the old habits crack and new bone form inside. I’ve done some things I never expected of myself: dug up writing assignments and editing clients, written solid articles and better fiction than before, made cold calls, learned to handle my time without the structure of a job.
For now, the ideas keep flowing, at least on the good days.
Before long, with any luck and a lot of focus, I’ll have enough outside work percolating to feel more secure about the time I spend on fiction.

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