Emily Gould / Writing and Debt

If you’ve heard Emily Gould’s name, you know her as a blogger and beehive-buzzing web personality, one with a published book and an online bookstore, apparently, to her credit. She is surely Making It. Except she is not Making It, and in a new essay, describes how a $200,000 book advance unraveled into debt and angst. (She was paid $1,200 to publish it on Medium, a generally gratis blogging platform, and by the end of the piece, you will be relieved to have that information.) Gould’s story is not one of despair, just one of reality, the world in which dream fulfillment can peak and valley instead of reaching an endless plateau with health insurance and hardwood floors.

If you are a writer (or a person of any sort, attempting to make a living doing an uncertain, lovable thing), you will see pieces of yourself in the essay, frowning back at you, or maybe you’ll judge Gould’s optimism. It felt so familiar that I read it as an alternate history of myself, in which I finished the screenplays or the book project I worked at and didn’t quite complete during two years of freelancing, two years when it felt more important to take the next assignment and keep money coming in than block off a few weeks to breathe and polish the bastards off. Freelancing was already the biggest risk I’d ever taken in my anxious Jewish life. It seems the next step might’ve been off a cliff.

I didn’t make my decisions entirely out of fear or Vulcan logic. I have a partner, like Gould, and having another person in your life rearranges your options in a way I am grateful for. I still want to finish the slasher screenplay and the sitcom pilot and the music industry book; I have learned, though, that I can only wrap my head around so many projects before it stretches too thin for any of them. I should probably start meditating or lifting weights. Something. But I did spend four hours tonight finishing my exhausting, terrible freelance-year taxes and I will celebrate by knowing my day job will be there for me tomorrow and all I have to do right now is sleep. Perchance to dream.