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Archive for February 29, 2020

Reaching a crisis point

February 29, 2020 5 comments

For the past few years, I’ve been caught in a pattern I don’t know how to get out of.

Before then, for more than a decade, I managed to get by modestly on my income from Star Trek novels and occasional original fiction. So I settled for being a full-time writer and didn’t try very hard to pursue alternatives. Then Pocket Books’s Trek license came up for renewal and was badly delayed, so for more than a year I wasn’t getting Trek work. I kept being told it would resolve fairly soon, and I was expecting income from several other sources that I was told would pay off fairly soon, so I just waited for those payoffs, and they all improbably got delayed at once, so I ended up very nearly broke, coming close to the brink of not being able to pay my rent or my bills anymore.

Eventually, I got help from family and from reader donations, and then Trek contracts started to come through again, but even those advances were not frequent or large enough to do more than let me ease away from the brink for a few months and then wind up back on the edge before I could find other work. Because I’ve been a full-time writer so long, I never developed the skill of looking for other kinds of work. I’ve gotten a few interviews here and there, but none have led to a job.

All of this, I realize, has left me suffering from depression, something I’ve been wrestling with on and off all my life. The closer I get to the brink, the worse my depression and anxiety become, which makes it harder to look for work or find solutions. I keep hoping a new Star Trek contract will come through in time and give me enough of  a financial cushion to find a more lasting solution. But depression doesn’t go away that easily. Every time I do get a novel advance or a loan, I try to take some time to recover emotionally and work on my writing for a while, thinking “It’s okay, I have some time before I have to start seriously looking for other kinds of work.” But because depression makes it harder to work, I always take longer than I expected and lose track of time. And I always underestimate how quickly I’m losing money, because I keep forgetting to account for the massive credit card fees that effectively cancel out my efforts to pay down my debt. And once I notice that I’m too close to the brink again, I start panicking again, and the cycle continues.

I’ve known for a while now that I had to stop depending on Star Trek alone as my lifeline. I needed to reorient my life and find some stability, and just get out of this rut I’ve been in for years. But I was slow to act on that, clinging to the hope that rescue would come in the nick of time as it has so many times before. (Being depressed is weird. I keep bouncing back and forth between “I hate being trapped in this rut and need to make a change!” and “I’m afraid to change anything, I just want to stay in my rut where it’s safe.”)

Now, though, I know that’s not going to happen. I assume that, with fewer Trek novels per year these days, and with the uncertainty resulting from the new Trek shows and the re-merger of CBS and Viacom, I can’t rely on Trek offers coming my way like clockwork, and can’t pin my hopes on something materializing just in time. It’s already too late for that now, with tax time looming. I’ve feared this for years, but have still clung to the old way and just hoped things would go back to the way they were somehow. And as a result, I now find myself at a crisis point where I have to change.

Even before I recognized this, I’d begun making some efforts to look for work. I’ve continued to submit game outlines to Star Trek Adventures and I’ve been working on those, but they pay a lot less than a novel and I have to wait for approval. I’ve made a connection that could potentially lead to other tie-in work, but I’m still waiting for an opening to emerge. I have my Kickstarter coming up for Arachne’s Crime sometime soon, but I don’t expect the royalties from the novel or its sequel to be anywhere near the size of a tie-in advance. I’ve joined an online audio transcription service, though it’s turned out to pay hardly anything. I’ve applied to work for the 2020 Census — no reply yet. This past week I found a temp agency that specializes in creative work and signed up for it, hoping that its agents would help me find work since I’m so bad at looking for it myself; but it turned out that it’s more just an online job alert service that informs me of opportunities to apply for, and I’m still waiting for results. Last night I thought I’d found a good option in a freelancer service called Upwork, but on further examination, it seems I’d have to pay to make bids for work with no guarantee of a return on my investment.

It’s not all bad news. I’ve actually made a few hundred bucks this past week or so, helping to stem my losses slightly. I got paid for a bit of Star Trek Adventures writing that I did last year but can’t announce yet. I got a refund on the last monthly bill I paid after I cancelled my cable, which I was apparently charged in error. And I finally got some overdue Only Superhuman royalties that had fallen through the cracks. But it’s not nearly enough, especially with tax time looming in six weeks or so.

The realization that this time I’m definitely not getting a new Trek contract in the nick of time has been terrifying. When it finally hit me, my depression and anxiety reached levels I don’t think I’ve felt since an epic bout of unrequited love back in college 30 years ago. I’ve been going through ups and downs since then, and I’m hampered by the fact that every time I try to confront the situation to look for a solution, it just brings back my anxiety and makes it harder. (I got maybe 3 hours of sleep last night, tops.)

I know this is a very personal thing to broadcast to my fans, but I realized I need to talk about this for my own mental health. I need to share it with someone, and because of my (inherited) proclivities toward depression and self-isolation, I don’t really have any family or good friends close at hand to unload my burdens on, and haven’t done enough to cultivate what local friendships I do have. I’m not always comfortable talking on the phone, I never got the hang of texting, and I’m too broke to go out much, so my online life is really the only way I have of reaching out to friends and family. And my fans have been a great comfort to me these past few years, through your generosity and patience. You’ve been part of my support structure too, and I’m very grateful. (But I’d be glad to hear from any family and friends who wanted to reach out more privately.)

I’ve been giving serious thought to starting a Patreon page. That way, instead of periodically and haphazardly begging for donations all at once, I could offer my fans regular new material in exchange for small, regular monthly donations. It seems a natural thing to migrate my movie and TV reviews there and start monetizing them. (There is a way to add a Patreon plug-in to an existing WordPress blog like this one, but I’d have to upgrade and pay a fee, and I don’t know if I’d make enough profit to offset that.) I’d also try to offer original fiction content alongside the reviews. I have a few unpublished stories I could premiere there, along with my three published but uncollected stories, and maybe some deleted scenes from Only Superhuman, worldbuilding notes, behind-the-scenes stuff like that. I think I might have enough to provide fairly regular content for several months, and if that were profitable, it would hopefully give me time and incentive to create new reviews and original fiction for the platform on an ongoing basis. My fans have been so generous with your donations that I hope a lot of you would be willing to invest a few dollars per month to read my reviews, original fiction, essays, and the like.

But again, getting a Patreon page up and running and earning a profit would take time, and wouldn’t help enough in the immediate term to get me through tax time. It’s the same boat I’ve been in for years — none of the plans I’ve already made or can make going forward will pay off soon enough.

In the meantime, I’m always open for reader donations, and my book sale and naming rights bonus offer are still on. I hate having to keep pleading to my fans and offering so little in return, which is why I’m hoping to make the jump to Patreon. But I’m hopeful that by now I’ve planted enough seeds that something will start paying off soon and finally help me get out of this rut over the months ahead. It’s just that, one more time (and hopefully for the last time), I need some extra help staying afloat until they can.