Friday, 31 January 2014

Gardening leave, week 3

I now have four distinct periods of unemployment in my life. One was a desperate struggle to find work - any kind of work at all - after finishing my studies in Germany. To say I was unprepared and desperate and damn near depressed would be an understatement (I was also working four low-paid jobs to keep my head above water). If anything, I begrudge Germany that experience still. Never going to throw myself on the mercy of that place ever again. My partner left first, got a job, secured a flat and I came over . . .

. . . segueing into the second phase. Now, I had no bills really to worry about, but wanted to get a job pronto; in fact, I decided to take the first offer that came my way. It happened and the job was shitty data entry on a minimum wage, but the company realised quite quickly that that wasn't the extend of my capabilities and promoted me a couple times. I stayed there for more than three years before making the jump to financial journalism.

Cue a few years in financial journalism and then the switch to the "Dark Side" - aka, going off to work for banks. Loved the job. Loved the team. Loved the money. Bank then decides it's no longer part of its strategy to do what my team was doing, so we were all put on "gardening leave". We were let go in mid-November, and several weeks passed where details like payouts and such were decided. I received a really nice "Sorry to kick you out" payout so I couldn't really get angry at them. I was more sad about losing the most awesome team I've ever worked with. Everybody was frigging brilliant. That "gardening leave" period lasted about six weeks - I landed the only open job on the market during that period and had the offer by year-end. I started work in late January, so that was about 9 weeks total.

By that point, I was, according to both my partner and my business partner, a "nervous wreck". I'm pretty sure both were happy to see me return to corporate slavedom without killing anybody in the interim. I've fantasised about another "empty" period while still employed with the current shop, and I was completely determined to do things better next time. You know, write a book, or five. Tackle my inbox and get it down to zero. Learn something, like a language.

This is now the fourth distinct period, third week in, and I'm beginning to feel the strain. I'm reading more, but I'm also sleeping a LOT more, and I struggle with motivation and focus. (Part of what I'm reading is "how to fix your mind"-type books, because I'm struggling to get the current book done and even write a hundred words per day, let alone a thousand or more.)

It might be a simple matter of adjustment, or lack of structure - I don't think it's depression, though the mix of procrastination and "meh, whatever" feeling certainly veers close to that. I'm trying to go outside to catch some light - winter can be a struggle to get through for me, and this is one of those winters that are just grey and wet. I'd do better in snow or that cold, crisp brightness of a postcard winter. What I'm getting is London Cement Grey. I struggle falling into the book to fix it. I struggle thinking of strategies to fix it, though I know I'm smart enough to fix every stupid novel I could possibly encounter on my hard drive.

I did, however, make a list of books I want to write and hit a count of eighteen. (Some of those books might be starts to series, so that count is "upwards mobile".) The struggle is to dredge up the motivation to actually do it. In positive news, those eighteen books have a combined wordcount of under a million words, so if I end up unemployed for the rest of the year and if I find my motivation, I could finish them all this year. Three thousand words per day would do it. (I'm only talking about solo work. Bring Lori into the mix and we're looking at something like thirty books to write.)

I think what's really the biggest struggle is that lack of certainty. I'm interviewing for one job, and it would be a really good fit. Lots of money, good team, good company, decent commute. I'm in round two and I think I did well. I may hear from them next week, or maybe not. If I get the job, I'll likely be back under the corporate yoke by early March. If I get the job, it's not unrealistic to expect to finish 4-6 stories this year to fill the 2015 pipeline.

If I don't get the job, I'll get the payout from the current company somewhere in March (I'll be paid until March). The payout should keep me going for a few more months, certainly past the point where Hostile Ground and No Distance Left To Run hit the shelves - which should both sell a lot. Even if everything I have coming out this year is a flake, I can keep going on my savings until the end of the year or longer. (Security-loving Taurus loves squirelling away cash.) Completely free like that, I should be able to write 3k words per day. That's maybe 3-4 hours of intense writing. I know quite a few people who can do a LOT more than that, so 3k is a conservative estimate.

What's sapping energy is now knowing - and having no control either way. I do all the things you're supposed to do, activated my network and emailed a number of headhunters and agents and keep an eye daily on alerts and job portals.

But I'm cleanly divided down the middle with regards to what I want to happen. And that's quite painful. It's a good company (in a market full of shitty ones) and being employed appeals to my sense of security. Pension, mortgage, etc, investment portfolio. I like my creature comforts, and I don't like taking money from a partner to "fund my dream" - being dependent is not so much a dream as a deeply-ingrained self-confidence nightmare.

However, I have that "dream" thing going on, where not having to work for a living means I can research more, write more, travel more, and learn interesting stuff, to maybe forge a totally new career path based on coaching/tapping/massage/acupuncture. I'm quite aware that that path does require money (travelling isn't free, either, and that's again where the "creature comforts" come in), which was why I was originally planning to do all that "in the next 3-5 years". The universe fast-tracked that one and I'm just not sure if I'm ready.

The middle ground is going freelance and picking up the occasional temp/contract gig, which wouldn't be so bad, as those are usually even better paid than the full-term gigs. I have a fairly specialised skill set at this point that's hard to outsource (never mind the compliance department freaking out over data confidentiality and all).

So it feels like I'm trapped in limbo, with no fixed point, and writing doesn't provide the focus or motivation to pull me out of that funk. That doesn't bode well for the full-time writer thing - unless things change totally and I get a decision either way. I could battle with my back to the wall, but it's harder with my back to an undefined fog. Maybe getting an ultimatum ("make a living by end-2014") would be good for motivation. I can be very productive when I'm scared.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

They call it "gardening leave"

Technically, I'm still employed, but they made me stay at home "until further notice" and disabled my access to the building and the commercial systems of the company. (I guess they know me too well - then again, it did happen to all the "non-essential" team members.)

So I'm on a quest to sort out my real life, aka, the house and financial accounts. I got up at 7:00 this morning for the meeting with my accountant at 11:00. I'd also scheduled the plumber for 9-11:00, which, I know, is a risk, as both guys would probably show up the same second. They didn't. Plumber showed up and gave me a stupid quote for my toilet (£200+), but he fixed the kitchen radiator, so great.

Accountant shows up just as I'm typing up the last few receipts into the spreadsheet (envelops and stamps and other assorted postage). We sign the agreement, he takes away all the data and paperwork. I'm DONE. (Or rather, he's crunching the numbers in the next few days and will let me know what kind of sums he arrives at.) This will be the first year where I'm a) in control of all the crap and b) not overpaying tax out of terror I'm doing something wrong and they'll throw me in prison for it. YAYNESS.

After dealing with all the paperwork, it's nearly 12:30, and I headed out for lunch (hadn't had breakfast yet, so picked up a bottle of milk from the supermarket, and a coffee and sandwich from the lunch place down the road). Somehow, it was 14:00 already and plumber (now hired specifically to fix my toilet) shows up. He starts work and while he's grinding and hammering away, I decide to try to log into work - and I discover Norton 360 is having issues, so I try to fix them. Half an hour later, I've reached the extent of my knowledge. I also receive an email saying there'll be a work-related conference call at 16:00. Great.

So I spend the next 45 minutes or so chatting to several Norton employees who try to help me and who get disconnected/lost when I restart the computer. As we all know, re-installing software means several restarts. Sigh. I'm about to give up when Norton actually calls me and a guy's on the phone who walks me through the whole, very complicated process with the patient of a buddha. Meanwhile, the plumber is hammering and grinding away, switching off water mains (outside, for several houses), getting more parts from the van, and at least one part from the plumbing supply shop not far away.

I start eyeing the clock. 16:00 is getting closer and closer, and I'm still in the middle of a Norton reinstallation and my plumber's epic battle with my toilet. The clock hits 15:55. The doorbell rings, I need to sign for a package while balancing two phones (one Norton support, one conference call). 15:57: my new friend in Bangalore finishes and my computer works. 15:58, plumber is done, and the toilet/refill cistern thingy works. I pay him, promise more work, apologise for not paying him nearly enough after that battle. I log into the phone conference. It's 16:03. While I listen to the work-related conference stuff, I clean out the trash, check on the toilet and start filing everything away.

Super productive day, and I haven't written a word and not gone into London. Hard, hard work. Next thing: I have a pile of papers to shred, and then cook food for when Dude gets home. Then I'll hopefully write/edit.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Birth of a company

I just emailed the accountant I met last week - he's going to set up a company for me and handle tax returns and book-keeping for my new entity. Because that's what I've decided over the weekend: I'll start my own company that'll be serving as a vehicle to carry out all my writing, project work, possibly some coaching, writing courses and editing services. Tax-wise and legally, it's much better to be an LLC (sole trader) than make some money on the side and put it all on income tax.

I also spent a few delightful hours running budgets based on current cashflows and best- and worst-case scenarios. Result: writing will feed me for the time being, if I'm a little frugal. That said, big expenditures like GRL2014 are out for the moment. I was subsidising those from my day job, and that will be gone in about four months' time.

I've also made a deal with my partner, who would very much prefer for me to continue to have a day job. If the place I interviewed with is offering the job, I'll take it (because, OMG the salary), though I'll still take four weeks off to wrap up some book projects and maybe do a spot of (very cheap) travelling to friend's couches and guest rooms in Germany. In return, if that company doesn't offer, I get those four months to do nothing but write and get my comapny off the ground. Which means I really need to apply ass to chair and write my dark little soul out to boost my income by as much as possible in 2014. Thanks largely to LA Witt, who's been driving me mercilessly, I'm now in a much stronger position than I've ever been in terms of income. I owe her so much. And I owe a huge deal to my readers who've been supporting me and bought my books. Bless you, guys. You give me strength and hope and energy.

Anyway, I'm really quite positive about the future. I can get half of 2014 as writing time and if it's not working out, I can always return to the market in 2015. I'm in an amazing position, and I essentially have four months' time now to decide in all peace and quiet what I want to do with my life. Throughout, so many people have served as huge inspiration - readers who told me "screw that crap, you'll do GREAT on your own", or shared their success stories with me. I'm undergoing a huge amount of personal growth right now. I'm not quite flinging myself off a cliff, but I'm definitely cutting some ropes that kept me secure and tethered. From now on, my income really is entirely my responsibility. If I make it or fail, it's due to me. I think I'm finally ready for that.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Job update

The department received a letter this morning saying our job are all now officially "at risk" - in the UK, they have to send this letter to open up "consultation proceedings", which is how full-time employees get laid off. (Temps just get a "don't come in to work tomorrow" notice.) During the "consultation", the employee and employer representatives hash out any details - sometimes, that involves the amount of a "golden handshake". My last one was at the bank and it was some very nice money. I don't expect this place to pay anything.

It's not a surprise - they tried for 6-8 months to sell us, but none of the suggested deals made any sense. (I've covered enough business deals as a journo to know that). They also blocked the senior members of the team simply buying out the department and form its own company. (Now, that was a bitch move.) So, they are destroying a profitable business pretty much willy-nilly.

That said, the job market overall is coming back. I've had a job interview with a much nicer place yesterday. And I've just sent my CV off to another place. Jobs like this are fairly rare, though, so I'm also activating my network and see if there's anything that's not getting advertised. The headhunter I met on Monday was keen to get me in for temp or contract roles - I used to not really consider them (my pension benefits here are NICE), but now I'm thinking they might suit a free-range writer/novellist pretty well: more time for writing, and more money per worked hour.

My security-loving Taurus is still freaking out a little bit, so I'm re-running my budget and cutting non-essentials just to be ready for the worst-case scenario - which is to survive on royalties alone while paying off the house and taking no hand-outs from my partner. On that basis, I won't be able to afford travelling to GRL - that's easily a $1,500 expense that's definitely beyond my budget.

My second focus is on increasing my royalties by as much as I can in the next four months. I already have about four releases in 2014, two of which I expect to make decent money. I will hold onto the dream of writing that historical novel, uncommercial as it is, though I'll likely postpone some other uncommercial stuff. At least until I have another day job or until I have visibility on some other stuff, I really need to focus on royalties. They might be the only income I'll have.

I'll have to self-publish some stuff, as publishers can't really accommodate quick-fire releases - I can't keep busting up the release schedule - it's too much stress on the team and just increases everybody's workload. 

I'm reasonably positive that I'll be okay--I have a plan A, B, and C in place. It's just take a bit of luck, hard work, and a bit of rejigging of costs and priorities. I'm absolutely convinced that this marks a huge improvement in my life and I'm looking forward to how things will shake out.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

No Distance Left To Run - Cover reveal

Here's the cover for our contemporary novel out in May from Samhain. It's part of LA's "Distance Between Us" series (Lori invited me to play in her setting.)

(Now I better go and update my website....)