August 6th, 2008


Staying Afloat in Difficult Times

Over at the HWA Message Board, someone asked how we as writers are managing to stay afloat during the current economic recession. It's a good question, especially when the money from a writing career can be fleeting even in a healthy economy, and I believe it's a subject worth bringing up here too.

First, some history. On January 5 of this year, I left the video store I'd worked at (and eventually managed) for three years, intent on taking the now-or-never plunge into writing full time. If I was ever going to make a go of a real writing career, I realized it needed my full attention. (We all commit to our art in different ways. This was what I had to do, not what everyone has to.) I'd amassed a decent savings to cushion me for at least a year. Then, pretty much like the next day, the economy nose-dived, the stock market, where most of my savings is, dropped closer and closer to a bear market, and I got hit with some unexpected and unbudgeted-for bills regarding my late father's estate. Oy. Luckily, the bills issue has since been resolved, kind of, and the stock market is slowly recovering. But talk about choosing exactly the wrong time to leave my job!

I've had to make a lot of sacrifices to save money, as I'm sure all of you have too. I've always lived frugally, choosing to rent movies rather than pay between $10-$12 to see them in the theaters, not blowing hundreds of dollars on books when I still have so many unread ones on my bookshelf, etc., so it didn't actually take that much adjustment for me. Some other things I did to stay afloat were cancel my newspaper subscription, since I was reading most of my news online and watching it on TV at 6:30 anyway, which saves me a couple hundred a year; I also canceled my landline, since I rarely used it (just about everyone emails me or calls my cell), which saves me over $800 a year.

I also sometimes have to decline invitations to go out drinking or to dinner or to a poker game in order to save money. I hate doing that, but you gotta do what you gotta do. A night at home with a DVD or TV -- or writing! -- is a whole lot cheaper than dropping $60 for a night on the town.

Luckily, I hate shopping for clothes, so it's hardly a sacrifice to not be doing that. I don't need the latest electronic toys, and I don't play videogames, so avoiding those isn't a difficult sacrifice to make either. I'll buy an iPod when I can afford one, but for now I don't need it. I tend not to listen to music when I'm walking around anyway. In New York City you need to be able to hear the honking of the yellow cabs as they mount the sidewalks and barrel toward you.

It helps that I'm single again, too. Weird, I know, but one tends to go out and spend more money when one is in a relationship. Lots of dinners, movies, museums, concerts, etc. And though I have yet to meet a woman who isn't perfectly happy to go dutch on everything, I do like to treat my girlfriends when I can. (It's a stupid male societal thing that makes me feel like a cheap bastard when I don't at least offer to pay for everything.) All of that adds up. So yeah, as odd as it sounds, being single is a money-saver. Not that you should break up with your significant other to save a few bucks, and not that I want to or plan to stay single, but you know what I mean.

Were I married or living with someone, that would be a different story. Bills would be split in half. So would rent or mortgage costs. Unfortunately, I am neither married nor living with someone, so I'm forced to do things like get rid of my landline instead. Not a biggie since, as I mentioned, I rarely used it, and the calling plan on my cell has so many minutes I can't imagine ever using them all up in a month, but we all make the adjustments we have to.

So that's some of what I've done to stay afloat. Sometimes it still doesn't feel like enough.

How about you? Any tips or experiences you'd like to share?

The League of Gentlemen

Now that I'm finished with all the DVDs of Little Britain, which I absolutely loved, I decided to check out another Britcom I'd heard a lot of good things about, The League of Gentlemen. Like Britain, it's a semi-sketch show; "semi" because the characters don't only recur but have their own plot arcs throughout the season. In a way, both these shows are spoofs of "eccentric townsfolk" series like Twin Peaks or Northern Exposure (with Britain on a much more macro scale, of course).

Now that I've watched the entirety of Gentlemen's first season on DVD, I can say I don't like it quite as much as Britain. The creators are clearly influenced by horror movies -- everyone in the small town of Royston Vasey, where the series is set, is a murderer, a cannibal, or just plain out of their minds -- and though I of course love all the little horror movie moments sprinkled throughout (some of which are quite creepy, actually), the show just isn't nearly as funny as Britain. In fact, I found the tone way off in a lot of the sketches. The "Job Seekers" sketches in particular are brutal, and no amount of canned laugh track can help.

That said, there's still a great vibe of creativity to be found here, and I really am digging the horror movie homages, so I'm definitely going to watch the second season on DVD, despite only kind of liking the first. Here's hoping it gets better with age!