The first of July has been riddled with endings. Not just this year, either. Eight years ago, my grandma died. Five years ago, my husband quit his job to stay home with the kids while I work (also from home). Two years ago, my cousin moved just far enough away to feel the distance. This week, hawks found our chickens, and we’ve spent hours going back and forth between what they need and what the new baby chicks in the closet need (not to mention what the very upset kiddos need). And yesterday, I felt a finality with #ScribeMedia that I have been avoiding for months now.
Talk about timing.
I’ve avoided that particular hashtag for the past six weeks or so, because I wasn’t quite sure what to say about it. Hilariously, early speculation after 87 people were laid off was that AI might’ve been the downfall. Anyone on the inside knew that not to be true. AI saved us a lot of money and energy on transcripts but that’s about it. No, this debacle was as directly opposite to “artificial intelligence” as one might get.
(For those who aren’t in this very niche little space: I’ve contracted with the ghostwriting/book facilitation company Scribe Media for 5+ years, and this summer the whole thing imploded in spectacular fashion.)
I could’ve posted then, especially since I’d been dipping my toe into the ChatGPT conversation just days before the freelancers watched our colleagues and direct supports start dropping off of Slack, one by one.
I could’ve posted when “tell alls” started to circulate in various forms, some accurate and some not (though I suspect we’ll never fully know what’s accurate…there are too many perspectives on truth here to fully untangle in a given blog post or live call).
I could’ve blasted former leadership for every last run-in we had. I could’ve played the I-told-you-so card. I could’ve pulled out receipts and named names and taken my authors and run—eff the system, the noncompetes, the threats, the drama.
But that’s the thing about endings, isn’t it? They’re not really dissolutions. The thing that ends isn’t ever really gone, and the change isn’t always obviously good or bad.
Take my husband quitting his job, for example. I love having him home and, even now as my whole financial world is in flux, I wouldn’t want him to be anywhere else. But what I thought was going to be peace and quiet so I could finally focus on work turned into a whole realization about how my brain works with stimulation (aka 4 noisy kids always needing me) and doesn’t work without it (aka peace and quiet). Good, bad, ugly, important...
So I just as equally could’ve posted about all of the hope and potential in this shift. How 87 people linked arms and formed a life raft to stay afloat. How beautiful it was to see the glow of dozens of lightbulbs going off—realizations of worth and capability and better opportunities. How the second we thought the company had dissolved (it hasn't, as of this writing) we were all ready to do whatever it took to take care of our authors. How many of us are still waiting to do whatever it takes to take care of our authors. How caring, kind, and amazing those authors have been in the face of their own losses and uncertainty, trying to make sure “their people” are taken care of.
In the absence of communication and clarity about these circumstances, plenty of other companies jumped in ready to “help” (poach) our authors finish up. And in the overwhelming majority of cases, they got nothing at all. Why? Because it was never about the company. It was always about the relationships the company just happened to be lucky enough to match up. “Scribe who? You’re who I care about” has been a recurring drumbeat for so many folks in author-facing roles.
Those authors are the biggest reason I haven’t posted anything to this point. I have been and continue to hold space for us to find a way back to each other. Authors who paid in full before this went down (and many of them were encouraged to do so, despite the state of the company) may be SOL at this point. We have no idea. Freelancers who lost steady clients that we cleared huge amounts of space to serve have been SOL for six weeks. Holding that space was once filled with task lists and appointments and writing objectives—now it’s a goose egg on my calendar and in my budget. And yet.
I didn’t write from a place of rage because it was just a fight response. Unmerited optimism felt like fawning.
I forgot that flight is just as powerful a response that, for me, looks like avoidance.
After yesterday—an update for the freelancers that could be interpreted any number of ways, likely by design—whatever explanations I had for those fear responses fell away. Did the fear also fall away? Not really. It’s transferred to things like transitioning to a business owner mindset instead of the “little employers” freelance mindset I’ve operated under, or uncertainty about my schedule and budget, or how in the world I’ll be able to help my Scribe authors and still take care of my family.
This is not a resignation letter.
I am not resigned to any fate.
This is what grief always is: a remapping. Reorienting to the world as it is, messy and broken and hopeful and good. The finality that I felt yesterday (admittedly, likely colored by the reminders of loss all around me) is not a walking away, but an admission that Scribe has walked away from us. That I can’t keep waiting for it to come back and be what it was. That I can honor my authors’ journey and my commitment to be there for them along the way, but that I also need to move forward on my own in the gaps and spaces.
That it’s time to stop waiting for a paycheck that isn’t coming, and start building the business I’ve always needed to build.
If you’re still reading, I bet you’re remapping something too. There’s not another reason to make it this far. If I were editing me, I might gently suggest a check-in on the target audience because what isn’t meant for the world could much more easily be a journal entry. But I’ve run that check, and I can’t shake the feeling that we’re lacking something by making grief so private. Especially in business. I don’t know who thought that putting a bunch of humans together for lots of hours each week could somehow happen divorced from our humanity—that loss and transition and manipulation and gaslighting and exploitation and bonding and celebration could somehow happen professionally—but they were wrong.
We have to grieve. We have to remap. We have to find ourselves and our humanity again. We have to find each other, without the pretense. We have to, or whatever comes next will be just like the last, and over and over again until we’ve learned that lesson and can move on to another.
This applies to new leadership at whatever the new Scribe is becoming: Find external voices, especially amongst the freelancers, who haven’t been gaslit for a half-dozen years. Get new perspective to map a better business.
It applies to the laid-off and #opentowork: Keeping working to find your own voice. You learned a lot in that space, and what it built in you is stronger than what it tore down.
It applies to me and my fellow freelancers, trying to decide how long we’ll hang on and what we’re hanging on for: The world is so very big. Lots of factors made this mess, and lots will transmute it into something else. You are only one small piece of it. Take care of you first, or you won’t be able to take care of anyone else.
It applies to all of the authors, but to mine in particular: Books take what they take. Lord knows how awful I feel that we didn’t have a magic ball to show us these timelines and get you done before all of this, but I could also recount reasons why each of you would’ve had a very different book had we moved any faster. Protect your investments, for sure. Whatever you need to do in this situation will be right, even though it doesn’t look like what you’d envisioned. Because this book writing thing is much bigger than any of us, and as long as we let it, that work will be birthed in exactly the way and timing it needs to be.
Endings, after all, are really just transitions. And transition is disorienting and painful and hard. And good and necessary and right.
And the only way out is through.