When work is a work-in-progress…

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There seems to be a rash of broken promises by editors of late.

Well, okay, maybe it’s not a rash necessarily, but definitely a worrisome trend nonetheless.

Recently I received an email from yet another editor — from whom I’d received an assignment to write a travel piece — letting me know that, whaddya know, they changed their mind about the article and that they would not be accepting it. Weird thing is that the editor had sounded so enthusiastic about it when I first pitched him the idea, or at least as enthusiastic as one can get over email. The fee was a mere pittance; I just wanted another project to include in my portfolio.

This is the 2nd time this year that this has happened to me; the first time was with an actual print newspaper who assigned 2-3 big articles to me, then rescinded their acceptance a month later, after I’d already done all the work, when they abruptly switched editors. Not professional, not cool.

Sometimes I do wonder if I chose the right vocation to pursue. Freelance writing has its advantages, the freedom to write what one wishes being first and foremost. Independence. No boss telling me what to do. No strict schedule to adhere to. No fussy or whiny or otherwise boring co-workers to have to deal with. No office politics.

Still, the downsides are making themselves much more visible of late. Constantly chasing after work that in the end pays very little gets awfully tiring and demoralizing. It can be lonely. Not having a strict schedule to adhere to can mean weekends and evenings spent working. And the marketing can be exhausting, especially for someone like myself to whom it doesn’t come at all naturally. I mean, writers choose the profession partly because it means not having to deal with people, right?

I still have several projects to complete before we leave, so it’s not as if I’m hurting, although I could always use more. Again, the pay on most of them is shockingly low, and even then I won’t see most of those checks until after we return from Singapore. (Why can’t everyone use PayPal?) I know that building a business takes a lot of time and a lot of sacrifice. It’s just that sometimes, when you can’t see the pot at the end of the rainbow, you begin to wonder if it’s actually there.

And now for something not-entirely-or-completely different…

Am reading a fascinating book by Anna Fels called Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives. In it the author, a clinical psychiatrist, writes about the ambivalence women feel towards ambition and its role in their personal and professional lives. Fels points out several times that women of color from working-class, low-income backgrounds are more likely to embrace their ambitions without hesitation, as their upbringing has generally been more geared towards achieving success via employment and professional careers rather than some amorphous definition of womanhood, one that involves selfless motherhood, economic and emotional dependence on a male spouse, and an almost narcissistic obsession with physical appearances.

I can see that. Not that I don’t already have a narcissistic obsession with physical appearance (hey, I admit it, I run not just because it feels good but also because it makes me look good), but having grown up in a poor home headed by a single mother, I’ve never been shy about wanting professional success, which to me means both power and money. I meditate endlessly on the line between making money and making art, but at 36 years old, I’m beginning to realize that one doesn’t necessarily have to sacrifice one in order to pursue the other. Playing the whole starving artist role gets sooo old sooo quickly, y’know?

Anyway, the book can be rather dry at times, and awfully academic, despite Ms. Fels’ claim at the beginning that she intends for it to be read by a mainstream audience, but it’s an interesting and thought-provoking one all the same. I’m at that stage — yet again — where I need to rethink my “business plan” and figure out if what I’m doing is worth pursuing for another year, or if I need to tweak it all again so that I can maximize return for my efforts. Reading this book highlights some weaknesses in my approach to my business and my ambitions. I guess it’s back to the drawing board. Again.

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