The Reality of Being a Writer in Poverty

Photo by Steve (via Instagram)

These past two weeks have been really difficult and, honestly, I’m feeling really low right now. You would think I’d still be top of the world since the wonderful news of my last post but, as often happens in life, good news was followed by bad. But let me rewind for a second, in case you’re still catching up:

Just over two weeks ago, I shared the wonderful news that I’m one of the lucky applicants to receive a grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to help support me as I write my second novel.

As of today, I’m still waiting on that payment. What has happened in the meantime is that our dog got sick and needed to go to the vet, the vet fees used the last of our food money, we struggled to cover the basics of just bread and milk for four days, in the middle of which, my laptop died. As in completely dead. Unrecoverable.

Needless to say, not only has my attempt at NaNoWriMo stalled, but writing in general is not exactly going well.

I know things are not as bad as they could be — after those particularly bad four days I mentioned, my husband received a welfare payment, taking the pressure off again, and my dog is mostly better. Steve has been lending me his laptop, and the Arts Council money is still coming (I dread to think what I would do if t wasn’t!) — but, even so, I’ve been in a bad headspace.

There’s still a fairly prevalent stereotype of starving artists, and how they almost need difficult circumstances to help fuel their creativity.

Well, I say bollocks to that.  Continue reading

Life Update – September 2018

Back in June, I posted a life update in which I said I had laid down some roles to allow myself some time and energy to focus on some other things I had planned, coming up. One of the things I gave up was being Project Support Officer for Women Aloud NI and one of the things I intended to start was an A Level to prepare myself for starting a degree.

About a month after that, I published another blog post about how great it has been having room to think and write with fewer things distracting me.

On both these counts, I have further news.

As anyone who has been reading this blog over the past month will know (because I haven’t shut up about it), I attended the John Hewitt Summer School in July. Three key things happened during it that relate back to the topic at hand:

  1. I really surprised myself with how much I was able to do/keep up with
  2. I had two in-depth conversations about going back to school (/college/uni.)
  3. I agreed to be Women Aloud NI’s representative for the Belfast area

Without rehashing the long conversations about the pros and cons of studying, I will cut to the chase and just say that – for now – I’ve put that idea on the back burner and will not be taking a course this year.

This is actually the first academic year in which I’m not studying anything. It feels… weird, I guess.

I mean, even when I dropped out of university and moved back to Northern Ireland for a year before I ended up in Oxford, I took some classes at Crescent Arts Centre. Then, while I was working in Oxford, I was also taking a course in Youth Work. Back at home again after that, I was back at the Crescent Arts Centre learning things there and doing a few other things on the side.

Weirdness aside, I’m confident the break from studying will not be a break from learning and that it is the right decision for me right now. I mean, I have such a good thing going at the minute in terms of my writing and mental health, why risk burning out again by taking a course I don’t *actually* need to take?

If things change again – which they may well do – I can sign up for something in January and that’ll be okay. The main thing is that I’m not stressing out about it.

Healthwise, I’m doing okay in general which is also a big plus.

I am feeling excited for the next twelve months and whatever they bring.

Sutures, Stockings, & Silver Awards: Health Update, June 2018

Not long after I posted my first health update last month, I got a call offering me a surgery date. So, yesterday I had “investigation under anaesthetic.” (The urology appointment was a dead end, it turned out.)

I’m tired and a little sore but mostly okay. The worst part of the day was the waiting. I hadn’t slept the previous night, as I generally don’t sleep at night and was told to come in early (around the time I would usually be going to bed). In the end, though, they kept me for restless hours at the back of the queue to have my procedure last.

The bed wasn’t comfortable and the days are getting unbearably warm again, but I shouldn’t really complain because the NHS is a godsend and I’m incredibly glad to have it.

Steve has been great keeping an eye on me even though he too is exhausted and melting in the hot weather.

I have some super sexy support stockings that are supposed to prevent DVT (which I’m apparently at risk of). They need to stay on for 7 to 9 days, which is how long I’m supposed to be on bedrest.

Prior to going into hospital, I was continuing on with Slimming World and had just hit my silver ‘Body Magic’ award for exercising. So I’m just taking a brief break before starting work towards my gold achievement.

By the end of my 7-9 days, my stitches should be dissolved. What happens next is that I’ll be sent for an MRI to get an even better picture of what’s going on with me, and then I progress from investigative surgery to corrective surgery, which could involve two or three separate procedures.

Needless to say, I still have quite the road to still in front of me, but I’m thankful it’s fairly mapped out and I know what to expect. The previous uncertainty had been driving me mad.

Eras and Spoons: A Life Update

As the saying goes, you only have so many hours in the day; and for each of those hours, each of us only has so much energy. There’s a wonderful metaphor used by people with chronic illnesses that equates the limited energy they have in the day to a lack of spoons. It sounds a bit wacky at first, but it makes a lot of sense when you get into it and really resonates with people for a reason. (Read the full explanation here.)

It’s easier to think of things like energy in terms of something physical you can see and count and comprehend. The article linked above theorizes that healthy people don’t have to think about their spoons or try and conserve them because they have an infinite amount. I’m not so sure on that count, but the rest certainly stands true in my experience.

I imagine a regular person (that is, someone without a chronic condition) to have one-hundred spoons per day – one-hundred being a round number for simplicity. It’s more spoons than most days require, with some left over at the end to waste on frivolity or throw away without needing to worry about them.

Relating this to my personal life: my husband – who I care for and who has a few chronic conditions that prevent him from working – has fifteen spoons on an average day; twenty on rare, extremely good day; ten on a bad day, and five on his very worst days. On the five-spoon days, all he can do is sleep, just about managing to eat the food I put in front of him at periodic intervals.

My own chronic condition is less severe and I usually end up with about forty to fifty spoons – much less than your average guy on the street but considerably more than my husband.

Bearing all that in mind, sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy for wanting a child. I’ve sat worrying, some nights, that people who know of our situation will judge us as being reckless or whatever to try for a family when we both have poor health. Sometimes I feel the need to justify our decision, but I won’t.

I am considering my spoons as I plan for the future, though.  Continue reading

Weight and Waiting – Health Update

When I set my resolutions for this year in December last year, I said I wanted to eat “a bit more healthily. I’m not intending to go on a diet, exactly, but I do want to take better care of my body.”

Well, there was a reason for that.

In November last year, I discovered that a lump I’d had for years was suddenly bigger. I went the GP and she told me I had a cyst. No problem, she’d put me on a waiting list to get it drained and/or removed.

So I went into 2018 knowing that I was facing minor surgery. I’d also had a conversation with my husband just after his birthday in the middle of December in which we decided it was the right time to pursue fertility treatment.

I have PCOS and, as such, don’t seem to be able to conceive naturally. Again, I went to my doctor about this and again I ended up on a waiting list.

Between waiting for surgery and wanting to be pregnant, I aimed to be fitter. That seemed fairly straightforward.

Then I got one or two weeks into January and my cyst was massive and incredibly painful. I went back to the GP and got antibiotics. When they didn’t work and the cyst continued to grow and generally be unbearable, I went to A&E.

The doctor at the hospital gave the cyst a poke and a prod (which, I’m not gonna lie, had me in tears). He then told me I had a different kind of cyst to what my GP diagnosed. I was sent away with more antibiotics and told to come back on Monday.

Over the weekend, the cyst burst which sounds awful but was actually a big relief. The pressure on it was like nothing I’d experienced before.

Back at hospital, I saw a different doctor who told me I’d been misdiagnosed again and my cyst was neither the type my GP said it was nor what the other hospital doctor thought, so the referral I was waiting on was with the wrong department – apparently it was a General Surgery issue, not Gynaecology. I was given more antibiotics and sent away again.

Two weeks later, I was back at my GP because the cyst was infected again. Solution: more antibiotics. A double dose.

The cyst got worse and I went back to A&E again; going over the whole story. The triage people got someone from General Surgery to come look at me and she said she was “almost certain” it wasn’t a GS issue and should definitely be with gynae.

I was sent away with – get this – more antibiotics. It was February by this point. I’d been in pain for a month and still had heard nothing about my referral. I didn’t even know if it was with the right department anymore. The surgeon said she would talk to gynae and call me the next day to settle the issue.

She never called.

February became March and March became April, my cyst waxing and waning the entire time.

Finally, I got an appointment with General Surgery. The doctor there told me:  Continue reading

February Update

For me, January felt like a too-long month but, despite the fact that it seemed to stretch and stretch, I never quite managed to fit in everything I had planned. I only finished reading one book (a novel-length piece of fan fiction) though I did listen to most of an audiobook, too. I finished it (Star Wartz by Patrick Tilley) in the early hours of this morning. So, here I am on the first of Feb. with two books off my 52 book goal for the year and five-thousand words written of my ten-thousand-word January goal.

I think it was getting sick right at the start of the year that threw me off. For about a week, all I could focus on was the physical pain I was in and whether I was going to be taken into hospital. The jury’s still out on that one. I may be sent back there tomorrow after I see my GP again, or I might have to wait a year – who knows?

On the plus side, after having to cancel the first week of my class, I started it a week late and it is going well. My task for tomorrow is to put in a proposal for next term. Now that my taxes are (finally!) in, I can really focus on it.

Maybe I can even get back to writing fiction after that. I certainly hope so!

A Bumpy Start to 2018

I should, right now, be getting ready for the creative writing class I’m due to attend tonight, and the class I’m supposed to teach tomorrow. Instead, I’m in bed; in pain.

Now, I’m not going to go into too many details here (you don’t want them, believe me!) but I will say that I’ve seen a number of doctors in the last few days, I’m on a lot of medication (as pictured, right), and also on the waiting list for surgery.

So, the sad news is that the first week of my new class is cancelled. I am genuinely gutted about this and so sorry to anyone it inconveniences. All being well, I will be starting next week instead.

I have my fingers crossed and will share updates as soon as I have them.


Follow Up Posts

Reviewing 2017 & Making 2018 Resolutions

There is so much I could say in this post, about lots of good and bad and trying things that have happened this year, but I’ve already spoken about many of those things in lots of different other places, both as they happened and after the fact – yes, I’m a serial reflector, I confess! – and I’m going to cover what I wrote and what I had published in a separate blog post in the new year, so let’s talk resolutions. I started 2017 with six of them:

  • Get married
  • Read 50 books
  • Join the Society of Authors
  • Get a literary agent
  • and a cat
  • Take an official proofreading course

Getting Married – I did that. It was awesome! Probably enough said 🙂

In terms of books – my Goodreads goal for 2017 was 50 and (as of an hour ago, when I finished a collection of stories by Dr Suess) my total is 57. Of that, there was the usual mix of genres and formats. Audible tells me I listened to 12,760 minutes of audiobooks this year, and my most active day for listening were Sundays, apparently. My reading goal for 2018 is 52.

I didn’t join the Society of Authors or get a literary agent, so those goals have moved to 2018. But I did get a cat and (as a complete surprise to me as well as you), I ended up getting a dog as well! Giles (pictured above; bottom right) has been with us less than a week and having the time of his little life.

The proofreading course I mentioned is something I keep changing my mind about. Part of me wants to do it, but then there are other things that would be of more use to me that I want to do more, so it’s nothing I’ve followed up on thus far. It would be nice to have, but if I never complete it I won’t exactly feel sad.

Things of a higher priority on my ‘to do’ list currently are getting my driver’s license and eating a bit more healthily. I’m not intending to go on a diet, exactly, but I do want to take better care of my body.

Those are pretty much my plans for the new year. I guess we’ll see how it goes!

A Long, Long Year

I want to write an update on life and writing and everything quite literally in between, but I’m having trouble knowing where to start…

Flicking through past blog posts, I can see that NaNoWriMo last year didn’t quite go to plan for me. After that, in December 2016, I tried to take a break. That didn’t quite work out either. I’d been so heavily involved in client work, I’d built up a ton of momentum and found the sudden stop incredibly jarring.

Next, the come-down happened. Burn out from doing too much for too long hit me once I finally stopped and took a breath. I think I allowed myself three whole breaths before New Year hit and I was right back to expecting the world from myself.

I wanted to hit 2017 running but found that I couldn’t go straight back into top gear having stopped the engine for a bit. So I beat myself up for a while, wrote a couple of stirring blog posts about how I was determined to do better. And then I got married, which of course was wonderful but also a bit of a whirlwind that left my head spinning. Months of building up to a single event can kind of have that effect.

Home from honeymoon, I told myself ‘this is it, time to be serious now, get back to work for real.’ So I threw myself into the Women Aloud NI events in March. I had a birthday, and then a little bit of a breakdown in which I admitted to the world just how sick my new husband was/is and how burnt out I was still feeling.

I carried on caring for him, and battling the government on his behalf, and trying to keep up the level of client work I’d been doing before, and trying to write and everything else. And the writing was pushed to the side because I didn’t have the time or the energy, and I felt worse and worse about that. (Writing keeps me sane, I swear. When I can’t do it, I really come apart at the seams.)

During that time – May until like September – client work became increasingly stressful and time-consuming to the point where I snapped and couldn’t do it anymore. I had pushed aside practically all of my clients to work on one main contract and it became too much, so I quit, leaving myself with no income from my business.

I actually stopped operating as a business somewhere along the line, knowing that I needed to focus on my craft as an artist.

The lead singer of my favourite band died during this time, too. A big part of the band that had got me through my teenage years without killing myself killed himself. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I could barely think, much less write.

Then a big relief came when my husband won his welfare appeals, and we finally were able to get the pet we’ve always wanted.

And then I got swept up in launching Belfast Writers’ Group’s two new short story anthologies.

And now I’m here, about to start NaNoWriMo 2017. I had hoped that I would be going into this year’s writing challenge with the backing of the Arts Council, but I have just gotten word that they have turned down my application for funding.

So, I’m going to redraft my novel anyway; not doing much client work or taking a wage besides. I am going to write and relax and try not to traverse any further into burn out territory.

Not gonna lie, I’m exhausted before I even begin this next leg of my journey. Please, please wish me luck.

Herron Family Update

This year still shows no sign of calming down for my husband and I, but things are looking a lot brighter. After I put up my most recent post about Steve’s health and ongoing issues with the welfare system, in which I imparted the news we’d been told about having to wait a year for a new DLA tribunal, our objection to the first tribunal was allowed and we got a new one without having to wait after all.

So, we had a new DLA tribunal and a new ESA tribunal within a few weeks, and thankfully, thankfully (I cannot impress that word strongly enough!), we won them both. Steve also had some follow-up tests with neurology, and things are actually moving forward! Relief upon relief!!

Steve and I have been wanting to bring a new addition into our family for good, long time. And, now that things are sorted, I can happily impart even more good news: we have adopted a cat!

Sox Herron* is settling in well, and we love her.

For now and (I bloody well hope) the next wee while, things are well  🙂


*For those confused about the Herron surname: it is my married name. I write under McKee as it is my maiden name.