The ties which bind and gag

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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The Human Puppet: Katespenceliveart.com

Life imitates art: It’s an overused phrase and one which becomes devalued when you have genuine cause to use it. Life definitely feeds writing, whether it be the author inhabiting a character, or a story on the fringe of experience. The freelance world makes the “life imitates art” saying especially applicable to me. I’m a blindfolded puppet but I’m also the puppeteer.

There is much that I can’t write about here, because it concerns others and theirs is not my business to air. But I want to write of the things which fuel my depression: Past events.

Much of what landed me on the streets three years ago was alcohol abuse: I’m constantly reminded of that, by the people closest to me. They’re not vocal about it, because since I dried out, we all talk about my breakdown. It’s because I got better that I’m able to still see those people and I feel guilty about the past, because I see them. It’s been enough to drive others to lapse and even end their lives. I have no such plans because my family would be the ones to suffer from such a selfish act. I just wish people would understand – including those at the DWP – why my depression can be so crippling, when I have to live with the guilt all the time. And that alcohol was an addiction. I wish more people were like an old friend of mine, who observed that I have been an utter cunt in the past. Because I was ill.

Every single story ever written has a piece of the writer in it, just as every living thing contains matter from the Big Bang. Writing is therapy in any case but it’s especially helpful to me, because it provides me with a means to get things out of my head in a fictional sense. What I’m actually saying is buried deep in the words of my stories. There’s no code to decipher; it just means that the words I choose carry weight in the context of the work.

So I have to be grateful to the demons I now have under control, but which are still very much about me, in all senses; just as I have to accept the “gift” of intelligence which sometimes seems like a poisoned chalice. Even though I have an ability to express myself to an extent, others aren’t so fortunate. I’m not one that goes in for sharing posts about mental illness on social media but I am a writer. Half of my job now is as a freelancer; a ghostwriter and as such, I write for others who suffer depression. And alcoholism. Both are an illness and I’d really like it if something I wrote would go viral one day, so that more people can read and become educated; Whether or not it’s mental health awareness week.

Two things are working very well for me at the moment, now that I’m running my life as a sole trader: The greater variety of writing I can look at in the gig markets, and my personal writing pseudonym. My young female writing partner is detached from me and because I’m resolutely single, there’s no chance of art imitating life on that front. It really has worked though, writing under a different name, even though the stories my personal – invented – ghostwriter produces are published as my own. I wrote them, but she did.

In the freelance arena, I’m writing but I’m anonymous. In both scenarios, I can write well because the personal experience means that every word is loaded. It’s like reading an entire biography of a historical figure, just to form a part of one fictional character (as I have done): What the reader sees on the page represents about 20% of the thought behind those very words. Writing is like the universe: We can’t see the majority because most of it is dark energy.

Just as I can’t write about most of the causes of my mental illness, neither can I publish that which I write for others. But it’s for precisely that reason that I’m able to write so easily. I’m the kind of person who wants to tell everyone everything at once: Obviously, I can’t. Being bound and gagged by restrictive contracts means that I can focus on the words which matter.

My pseudonym is still writing Echo Beach; a long short story which we’re deliberately taking our time over to ensure that it’s perfect. It’s changed a lot during the writing process and it has no definite market, because that’s the way I (and she) have always worked: If a story occurs to you, write it; then sell it if you can. We’re just less prolific now because the short stories are longer and deeper than my stock Schlock pulp fiction.

The freelance ghostwriter side of things is now sufficiently researched for me to be able to concentrate on just a couple of the gig sites. If any other freelancer were to ask which out-source site I’d recommend, it would be Upwork without a doubt. They’ll take a cut of earnings of course, but their platform doesn’t require the equivalent of in-app purchases to make your bids more visible.

I’m in negotiation on two contracts with vendors as I write: One is ghostwriting contemporary romance short stories (yes, really) and the other is a philanthropic website venture. Both interest me personally. I’m choosy about what I bid for and I sell myself: It seems to work.

A rather handy upshot of the freelance market is that a lot of the vendors are US companies, so they’re 5-9 hours behind GMT / BST. I’m often working into the small hours because that’s when my internet connection is best, so the time difference works well.

Life imitates art / Art imitates life: Writing melds it all into one, which makes my life easier to deal with.

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