Work and Worth

I submitted my PhD last month and will have my Viva on 18th January 2019.  I am rethinking my writing life and how I can earn money to support my family.  I’ve been a freelancer for 10 years or so – and have been doing some part-time teaching at the University of Liverpool since 2014 – I’m now on to my fifth temporary short-term contract and it feels like I’m filling in.  I don’t think I want to do this any more even though I enjoy working with the students.

How do I consider my worth in terms of work, working as a freelance writer and teacher – when everything is so competitive?

In the 80s my Dad was one of Thatcher’s casualties – and he stopped working in his 40s.  He will be 80 next year and found a way to manage without work, without money.  When my mum and dad divorced at the end of the 80s (after nearly 30 years of marriage) he was – in effect – homeless – and managed to get a Council flat because the marital home when sold was in negative equity.   My mum worked as a teacher until her late 60s and has had a very different kind of life since her divorce from my dad.  She was ambitious and – although they were married when they were 17 and 19 – she worked and went back to school – did her O levels and A levels at night school – then went to Teacher Training College.  She started teaching in her 30s and became one of the first Advanced Skills English Literature teachers in Halton.  She went on to lecture in Education at Liverpool Hope University.  She has always worked and earned.

My work includes the following just now: University teaching, delivering a writing, wellbeing and photography project, co-ordinating a writing project on World War 1, developing my own work and research in socially engaged practice, voluntarily managing North End Writers, working as Poet-in-Residence at Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, continuing as Writer-in-Residence at Open Eye Gallery.  In addition I am working on a book proposal about the American poet, Frank Bidart and re-visiting and correcting my latest poetry collection.  Although I know I am lucky in many ways it is oppressive to be constantly worried about money and bills.

However, for all the work I do, my earnings are very poor and I can’t continue to work for so little.  Something will have to give.  I still have four of my six children at home and we always struggle to have holidays or manage Christmas, or even sometimes getting to the end of the month and cover basic housekeeping.  I think a lot of people are facing the same kinds of difficulties. But I want to be able to support my family properly and perhaps repair the house a little.  It’s tricky some days not to feel like a failure.   Or rather – it’s difficult to keep writing at the expense of my family – I suppose that’s the issue.

My two sisters are teachers – my elder sister retired as a Headteacher last Summer.  In many ways I am the odd one out because of writing – and because of having had six children. Perhaps I should just keep going with what I am doing and hope for the best? I don’t think it’s possible to stop writing – but just now while work leads to more and more work for such limited income I have to think seriously about my future.