Exhausted and overwhelmed

Hong-kong, from Kow-loon.
Hong-kong, from Kow-loon. I hope to make it there! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

E and O, kids!

The past few months — probably like many of yours as well —  have been an emotional and financial roller-coaster:

— a new-to-me client decided my story was unacceptable. I lost $1,300 of the income agreed to and expected.

— another new-to-me client assigned an on-line slide-show that sounded easy-peasy, even though I’ve never done one. Hardly. Learning how to work quickly and efficiently for web clients is a learning curve.

— I’m on my third New York-based assistant since May and she’s getting busier with competing projects. Bright, ambitious people, (bless them!), move up quickly. My Toronto-based assistant is good, but really busy and costs $3/hour more.

— I decided to up my speed while walking to burn more calories, (the endless weight loss drama), and woke up crying in pain at 4:00 a.m. I’m fine, but it meant a week of zero exercise while my new hip calmed down again.

— My gynecologist put me on the scale and I hadn’t lost an ounce since my GP told me to shed lots o’ pounds few months ago. I’m torn between frustration/anger and fuckitIdon’tcarenanymore resignation. I loathe dieting and am so scared to injure myself by pushing my new hip too hard, with another five months before it’s 100% healed.

— I’m applying for a competitive annual journalism fellowship again, fearful I won’t even make the finals. But you can’t win what you don’t try.

— I decided against applying for a local award that required a $100 entry fee. Sure, I’d like that line on my resume, and I had a great story worth entering. But $100?

— I’m really getting fed up with the old-school thinking in my industry. Several of these awards and fellowships refuse to accept book chapters in lieu of printed clips from magazines or newspapers clips. Few freelance journalists can afford to write much for print anymore. We’ve had to migrate to writing for the web to make steady, ready cash.

— My toughest challenge? Guessing when, how often and how hard to push, whether for payment, a sale, higher rates. For every editor who says, gratefully “I’m so glad you reached out. I’ve been too busy but I’ll get back to you next week” another snarls “We’re closing three editions at once.” With 90% of our interactions by email, not phone, establishing any sort of a more personal, collegial relationship sometimes feels impossible.

Push too hard, lose a client. Play doormat, go broke.

— Late payments make me insane. I have a five-figure line of credit, at a usurious APR, which I try to avoid using. So I try to schedule my workflow and payments to insure that every single month, enough checks arrive, (they’re almost always on an out-of-state bank) in time for me to pay my bills promptly. One check arrived recently almost seven weeks after invoice. None of my creditors will wait, but I’m expected to.

— Balancing my short-term, medium-term and long-term goals often feels unmanageable. On any given day, I’m juggling all three: make money, line up more work, apply for awards and fellowships with hard deadlines, manage two assistants, squeeze in a personal, social and athletic life, keep a home that’s clean, tidy and attractive, keep my marriage happy, nurture professional and personal relationships. Oh, yeah and lose a ton of weight.

— Promoting my book to keep it visible and selling. Between October 24 and January 24, I’ve got five speaking engagements, one in a distant state. Every day I spend a few hours trying to think of other venues for this, preferably ones that pay. I was so o and e I managed to fill out and return the wrong contract to one group. Boy, that looked professional!

— Still, a year later, trying to finish the proposal for (what I hope will become) my third book.

— Trying to figure out when and how to re-balance our investments so we might actually, one day, be able to get off this hamster wheel and afford to retire.

— Reading newspapers, magazines and on-line to know what’s happening in the world and what markets I want to sell to as a writer have already published.

— Another freelance friend, 10 years younger, tells me she’s putting away $20,000 to $30,000 a year for retirement. How is this possible? Our expenses are cut to the bone as it is and we have no kids, while she has two.

— Trying to re-sell “Malled” to a Hollywood agent to snag a film and/or television deal. My agent is handling that, but I need to keep on top of her activities.

— Coming up with ideas for stories (see: cashflow.)

— Refining and developing every idea into something salable, with emails and phone calls to make sure that sources are on-board, available and interested (all unpaid time), before I make the pitch.

— Planning (hah!) a long foreign vacation for 2013. Hoping to hike the Grand Canyon with my Dad in May, then Europe with my husband in June. The money for this will come from….? Freelancers get no paid vacations, so every non-working hour has to be earned/saved in advance.

So, I’m fleeing!

I’m heading back up to Canada next week for 10 days alone in the desperate hope of some true relaxation. I’ll house-sit for my Dad (off sailing [sigh] with my two younger brothers in Turkey.) I’ll go biking. I’ll head into Toronto to see dear old friends and enjoy a few good meals.

How’s your life these days?

Are you equally E and O?

Can you offer any coping tips?

33 thoughts on “Exhausted and overwhelmed

  1. Just got off an E and O stint, so finally able to unravel. Solicited advice: Get good sleep, drink lots of water, stick with gentle exercise, forget about the weight – you can’t solve every problem right now. What you just did, writing it down, is a good start – now figure out what you need to do first and that’s where you start. Now go get that sleep. Shit will still happen tomorrow, but your vision will be clearer.

    P.S. – Just ordered a copy of your book. It’s something, right?

    1. Yay! Thank you! :-)))

      You’re very right. Writing it downs, oddly, clears that shit out of my head long enough to go…yikes. I do manage to get a lot of sleep, usually 9+ hours every night. Hydration is key, true. Just getting out this afternoon in the gorgeous sunshine for a 30 min bike ride helped. The easiest solution is to not be so damn ambitious! Hah.

      1. I admire ambition….from a distance. I’m on the slow track, the proverbial tortoise. Sleep is elusive for me when I’m anxious. That and all that damned hydration makes me get up 45 times a night. Good luck!

      2. Yeah, the peeing all night long gets really tiring!

        Ambition is something I can not seem to modulate, so my challenge is keep a life filled with friends and fun to balance out the things that either never happen (ugh) or are moving really slowly. Luckily, I always sleep long and deeply, no matter how anxious I get.

  2. May at the Grand Canyon? Let me buy you dinner out here in AZ. If you are interested in some speaking engagements in the Arizona Literary Community, we may be able to talk about that in the mean time. Things are in flux here with regard to universities and writing conferences, but I have some contacts that may or may not be worth connecting with in these arenas.

  3. Thanks so much! I really hope we can make that trip happen; my husband teaches a photo workshop in Tucson in May so we have another reason to be in the area anyway. My Dad, a world traveler, has not yet seen the GC. It’s a must-do! If it looks like it’s going to be possible, I will be in touch for sure.

  4. I love thegreenstudy’s reply. Exactly.

    I keep freaking out about money as well, I work for only a few people right now as a writer and it gets stressful. For one of them I get $10/article and for another I get about $2/article. I can’t really save anything at all, and thoughts of the future scare me. I know i should find some type of health insurance, but it’s hard to even find the time to do the research on that between all the other things.

    So many of your frustrations from the writing world ring true for me right now. I just read on another blog that taking ten minutes a day to yourself is a good thing to do. That seems like a nice place to start, since it’s only ten minutes, and who knows what might happen in it?

    I also bet that once you do your Grand Canyon adventure and the others, that your body will feel healthy and active.
    This turned out to be a long response, but most basically, I just mean to say I understand and I hope it all feels good soon!! 🙂

    1. This is…shocking. I literally have never heard of someone working for these wages as a writer. Stop!!!! This is less than you would earn working minimum wage in a service job. Is it worth it to you? What’s your end goal?

      I definitely do make time for myself every day — unlike some people I do not even have to care for pets, kids or aging parents so my time is, selfishly, my own to waste or overload. I also try very hard to not work at all after 5 or 6pm so I have for exercise, friends and husband.

      Thanks for the kind words!

      1. 🙂 I’m glad you make time for yourself!

        I know I’m working for very little..there are other goals that I can move towards while I do this, which matters most to me. Plus, I can manage my time and be alone or with people as I wish, which is immensely useful. And really, I need to work on my writing skills before I can land higher-paying jobs. But yes my plan is to move up, up and away 🙂

  5. Nope. Not a single tip. I’m just coming out of a hyper stressful funk myself (although your list makes mine look seriously dinky in comparison. You’re kind of a rockstar). Flee away.

  6. As a lifelong dieter, stop focusing on the weight and focus on healthful well being. Stress will undermine your weightless efforts. Try walking in a swimming pool. It’s actually a good cardio activity that is very low stress on your joints. I battle every day to keep off the 150 pounds I lost. I win the battle when I focus more on healthy me rather than thinner me. Take care of you!

  7. I’ve been O and E here, too. Actually, I think it’s become my permanent state. I don’t know what your budget looks like, but cutting small, regular bills can make a difference. We kept cable, so we cut Netflix and Sirius radio. Those “only 9.99” per month bills can add up–maybe being saved for a vacation. 🙂 I agree with the poster above who talked about focusing on getting healthy, and will add getting stronger–the weight loss will come along with that. Commit to 40 minutes per day, walking, swimming, yoga, switch it up so you aren’t stressing the same muscle groups each day. Wishing you the best,

    1. Thanks for the tips…sorry to hear this is your new normal. I suspect is is for many people, esp. in the recession.

      I keep trying to find enough different ways to exercise that I don’t get booooooored. Right now it’s a mix of biking, elliptical, dance class (center work, not impact), walking, golf. I’m dying to get back to softball and may start just by throwing the ball and hitting; my team has offered to have someone run for me. If I can’t be outdoors/social with my exercise, it is much harder to make it happen as my workday is indoors and solitary.

      1. I don’t feel the loss of most of what we’ve cut from the budget, the problem is the major bills that must be paid, and we’re still scrambling. Yes, way too many people struggling and juggling right now.

        Sounds like you’ve got an excellent exercise plan in place, with a variety of activities. I’m the opposite in one way, I prefer to exercise by myself. I use it as a time to clear my head and reestablish my center.

      2. It’s always interesting to me how differently people (need to) re-charge. My husband, with six (!) meetings every day at the NYT, is very eager to be quiet and alone as well. I’m crazy for company by day’s end!

  8. Coming out of and E and O, now just moving into mild depression. Lost a potential freelance job promising a nice flow of work. 3 agents rejected my queries, waiting on a 4th, wondering if I have it in me to keep querying. Loving my blogging, trying to enjoy the time I have to think and write, even if it means I’m not getting paid to write.

  9. Sorry to hear this. That’s a lot of shit all at once. I was also hoping for a nice freelance gig but it fell through…

    The only thing that keeps me going is to keep pitching and getting assignments, which, luckily, is happening. Not $$$$$ but steady. Good luck! I’m glad the blog is sustaining you.

  10. Your commitments sound exhausting!

    I’m currently juggling the needs of 4 different employers. With all four combined, I have an obligation to 1 doc student, 20 grad students, 36 undergraduate students, 30ish yoga students, and 500 preschoolers. Plus I’m working to get my own business off the ground, which includes managing substantial rennovations to a building.

    The best coping tip I can offer? Yoga: Balance, relaxation, and exercise all rolled into one holistic practice.

      1. Girl, how I do it remains to be seen. This is a first for me!

        At the end of June I quit my traveling professor gig to move back home and start a business. At some point I might have panicked about not having a regular income…. the next thing I know all hell broke lose into the current state of affairs.

        So far I’m making it through one day at a time with yoga, meditation, and prayer. Excited to see what comes next. 🙂

  11. Congrats! I’m applying this week for a fellowship to examine this insane new economy where we all work a zillion PT jobs, I might email you privately this weekend for more details if you are willing to share.

  12. Whew, it certainly does sound as though you need some R&R , or at least a change of scenery. I hope that your respite works wonders, Caitlin. The only tips I can add, since you already have sleep and hydration covered, is diet: I don’t like the thought of “being on a diet” so I pay attention to exercising and to what I eat, not to my weight. For me, the most important meal is breakfast: whole grains, oatmeal and flax, every morning. Add to these: raw seeds like sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin, and nuts like almonds and walnuts. Then, organic berries: blueberries, strawberries, or cranberries, maybe some chopped banana. Top with plain low/no-fat yogurt and/or milk, and cinnamon if you’d like. Change it up every morning, with different combinations to keep it interesting. You’re good to go, and with energy, until ready for a Light lunch or mid-day snack. I eat 2 eggs twice weekly too, usually once on weekends, and once as a small dinner omelette or (boiled) on top of a salad. Just in case this is relevant: I drink green tea often, and never soda pop. For exercise: first, stretch Every morning and before bed. Walk Everywhere, and fast : ) I pay attention to what I eat when I am home (or making my own bagged lunch) and don’t fret when I am out to dinner or eating with friends; then, I just watch the portions, keep them smallish. I hope this helps a little. It works for me. Have a fun and peaceful time at your dad’s house and in Canada! ~ Lily

  13. Not yet, but I am about to get there. Have turned my life completely around in the last, oh, 3 weeks. Utterly, completely. Madness. The excitement of this is killing me (more on this later), but I think exhaustion and being overwhelmed are definitely part and parcel of the whole package. I can live with that though.

    Just catching up with all of your posts now, so expect a few more comments in the next couple of days 🙂

      1. Back 3 weeks from a month in the USA. It was life changing (i mean that literally). I will drop you an email when I have a minute to collect my thoughts, cogently. In navigating the major changes of the last 3 or 4 weeks, I’ve had a few “what would Caitlyn do” moments.

  14. So bummed that you had no chance to come to NY. I would have loved the chance to meet! Feel free to email me privately; my email address is under the Welcome or About page. Dying to hear the details — and thrilled this worked out so well for you.

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