Saturday, March 28, 2009

A job that's GOOD for my writing!

I've ALWAYS written; sometimes when I had a full-time job, sometimes when I had a part-time job, and, since 2001, when I had no job. I've freelanced (8 work for hire books, lots of adult editing/ghostwriting). I've had little jobs, too. Some of you may have seen my post about the job I had a few months ago where I sat at a table, dressed in dark glasses and trenchcoat, and responded:
"The eagle flies at dawn" when groups of game particpants approached and whispered their password.

I had imagined this scene taking place in a bar, where my outfit would blend in or it would be so dark that no one would see me, but my post was the closest thing my town has to a hippy hangout, and one that was flooded with sunlight. But it was fun and I got paid $100 for two hours! Work like that doesn't come often, though.

As all freelancers know, it's an anxiety-filled life, never to know when you're going to have work and when you're not, when you're going to be able to pay your rent and when you're going to be late..... SOME pressure is good, but this kind of anxiety puts a kind of pressure on writing that is the opposite of helpful.

The ideal situation for me -- a writer without an independent income or partner to pick up the slack -- is, I think, a part-time job. I wrote letters and sent out my resume for months, applying for full-time jobs when I realized that the part-time ones barely existed. The only company to respond had what sounded like a dream job: writing children's stories for a Web site as a paying, steady job. As a friend said:
"It sounded too good to be true and it was."

But, he didn't make that comment until after I'd wasted a lot of time (my own and the BRGs'!) trying to pick out an outfit, going into NY for the interview, and starting a sample project for the company. I stopped the latter when they told me how little they were going to pay me.

After that fiasco (and there were others -- that was just the proverbial straw), I added up all the time I'd spent on my job search, and decided that it had been time wasted.

At this point, one of the BRGs suggested that I become a nanny. At first, I thought that was ridiculous, but she persisted (you love kids, it would be great for your writing -- with the right family), and the more I thought about the idea, the better I liked it. I've done it before and loved it; in fact, it was while I was a nanny before that I made my first real sale (a short story to REDBOOK).

So to test the nanny idea, I've been babysitting for the last two weeks -- I get to spend my working time playing with kids -- yesterday the kids (I was only babysitting for one but two others joined in the expedition) and I visited a local farm and later walked to a river where we made boats..... The thing that surprised me most about is how many kids there are out there who spend their free time doing stuff like this (something that is not reflected much in YA books or even many books for tweens) as well as playing video games.

The kids I've been meeting lead more old-fashioned lives than the media would have us believe. True, everyone I've been babysitting for attends a good private school, and this is the country, not the city -- but still. There are kids whose parents don't allow them to go online, who don't watch much television (half an hour a day during school was the rule most of the parents had), and who are in sixth grade and not even close to dating.

This is really encouraging to me! Babysitting has also removed a lot of financial pressure and (as my fellow BRG predicted) is giving me ideas for stories, too.


Grace Lin said...

great post, Libby! I think it's always hard to figure out "make it work" as a children's book creator, and now more than ever. I think you are an inspiration.

Laurie said...

Hi Libby,
I spent the last two years as a full time AmeriCorps volunteer (living allowance of $900. or so a month). My service site last year was a bookmobile, and I got to ride all over Pittsburgh reading books to children. I got a ton of children's book ideas. And watching children's eyes light up for eleven months was GREAT. Babysitting will probably be just a fertile ground for story ideas. :-)

This year, my final year as an AmeriCorps volunteer, I am teaching English as a second language (also in Pittsburgh), but my service year ends in August and I'm scared stiff about where I'll get something to earn money after that . . . I'm just a second income in my family, but I'm still pretty scared.

Good luck with babysitting and any other job you decide to give a try.

BTW- I already posted this once but just in case you forgot: I LOVED "Blow Out the Moon," and my fourteen year old daughter LOVED it too.

Libby Koponen said...

THANK YOU Laurie and Grace -- though Grace YOU are the inspiration, not me. Writing your novel in the hotel room while you're doing visits!

Laurie, you've given me an idea for what I can do if the babysitting doesn't work out...I also am considering the Peace Corps but am not sure (given the fact that I have fibromyalgia) that this would be a good idea.

I am so glad you loved BOTM! I can never hear that too often. So thank you.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of the great ideas about how to make freelancing more creative and fun!

Stephanie said...

My cousin is a nanny for a wealthy family in NYC (she's a former elementary school teacher). She is treated very well, has health insurance, and makes a tidy sum. She also has a web-boutique on the side (her charge is in preschool much of the time). You really might consider this. She loves it. I'm sure one of the agencies that caters to these families would love to have you.