Novelist Livia Reasoner has never held a traditional “day job”, yet, as she says below, the work never ends. She’s lived all her life in a small Texas town, raised children with husband James Reasoner, and now tends to her aging parents there. In the late 1970s, the Reasoners built their own house together. In 2008, they lost that house and their writing studio to a wildfire. Together, they slapped off the ashes and rebuilt… and, of course, kept on writing.
Reasoner has written novels across the genres. These days, writing as Livia J. Washburn, she writes the Deliah Dickenson Mysteries and the Fresh Baked Mysteries. Below, she talks about the constant balancing act, the unpredictability, the joys, and the endless work of freelancing.
How long have you been working as a full-time freelancer and what sort of work do you do?
Livia Reasoner: I’ve been a full-time freelancer for about thirty years. I write novels and short stories, mostly mystery these days but I’ve also written fantasy, romance, Westerns, and historical novels.
What is a typical day like for you? How is it different than a traditional “day job”?
Livia Reasoner: I spend a lot of time taking care of my parents, both of whom are in their 80s and have health problems, so I don’t really have a regular schedule. However, most mornings I’m up early and try to get a little writing or editing done before I start on anything else. After that I’m busy running errands, seeing to whatever my parents need, helping my husband James Reasoner with editing and researching on his books, etc. Most of my writing is done here and there, whenever I can grab a little time. I’ve never held a traditional day job (I worked in the used bookstores we owned), but I know it’s much more structured than the life of a freelancer.
Is there anything you wish you’d known before you took the plunge into freelancing?
Livia Reasoner: That the work never ends. Between writing, editing, plotting, researching, and all the little chores that go along with those things, I sometimes feel like I never stop working. Even when I’m not doing any of that, I’m thinking about what needs to be done next. I don’t remember the last time I had a day that I didn’t do something work related. Vacations are a time we can actually get more work done because we don’t have all the interruptions of home life.
What are some of the frustrations of freelancing and how do you handle them?
Livia Reasoner: The sheer unpredictability of it can be frustrating. You never know when you’re going to get paid, of course, and besides that, there doesn’t seem to be any logical reason why some projects are a big success and some either sell badly or never sell at all.
Also, just when you think you’re finished with a novel and can move on to the next book, sometimes you have to rewrite the whole thing. The only way to handle those frustrations is to do the best job you can on the book you’re working on, and keep moving on to the next project.
What’s the best part?
Livia Reasoner: Getting copies of a new book is always nice. So is hearing from readers who enjoy what I’m doing. I like knowing that I’m helping to entertain people.
Is there a project that you simply couldn’t have pulled off if you’d been working at a full-time day job?
Livia Reasoner: I couldn’t have done all the things I’ve done to help my family if I’d been working at a full-time job. When our children were younger, James and I were both on the PTO board at their elementary school, we helped out with the math and science team, and more recently I was able to spend a few months helping one of my daughters have a house built.
A salary… is it friend or foe?
Livia Reasoner: I’ve never worked for wages in my life, so I don’t really know. But self-employed people have to bear a higher tax burden, which has always bothered me.
Are there any ways in which freelancing is differently challenging for a woman than a man?
Livia Reasoner: Women are still expected to take care of more of the family and household chores, and those have to be worked in whenever they can. This makes it hard to maintain a train of thought for very long.
Any parting words? Words of encouragement or caution?
Livia Reasoner: Not to harp on finances, but a freelancer’s income can be very hit-and-miss. If you’re prepared to cope with that, the rewards are very much worth it.
Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly. He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC. He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.