Some Thoughts on Money and Writing

In November, I clipped this piece of writing advice from Writer’s Digest (my apologies that I didn’t also clip the issue date — if anyone recognizes it, I’m happy to attribute.)

I listened to my mom. She once told me to always live a little outside of my wage bracket–not dangerously so, but just enough to remain “hungry” so I’m always compelled to strive toward my highest standards.

I applied this to my writing career: I found a part-time, work-at-home position that paid my bills and nothing more. I created a comfortable discomfort for myself. I was no longer distracted by nightmares of living on a park bench for the sake of my art, nor was I distracted by the biggest excuse of all: not having time to write.

Within a year, I cracked the women’s magazine market. If I want to buy new furniture, take a trip, purchase a thank-you gift for Mom–I have to sell an article in order to do it.

Don’t give yourself any option but to become a writer. You’ve created the lifestyle that’s standing in your way; therefore, you’re capable of creating one that won’t. – Krissy Brady

This struck me because it’s so similar to my own reasons for leaving my full-time staff position six years ago to become a full-time freelancer. I wanted to put my writing first in my life, and I thought that depending on it for income was a good way to do that.

This might have worked for Krissy Brady, but it was totally wrong for me.

I love to write, and I love that doing freelance work allows me more flexibility about when, where, and how I do it. I feel that I’ve only continued to grow and diversify as a writer since I decided to stop working full-time for one company, and I’ve had some publishing successes during that time, too, not the least of which was co-editing Hungering and Thirsting for Justice for ACTA Publications. I’ve written two novels and one novella, kept this blog going, remained a regular contributor and editor on Young Adult Catholics, published an essay and half a dozen articles, and filled hundreds of journal pages. Now I’m preparing to launch my first ebook.

Most of these accomplishments were unpaid. That doesn’t mean I did them without reward, though: I had the opportunity to write about things that mattered deeply to me, and to share that writing with the wider world. I could have made a lot more money with my writing if I had focused on markets that pay well, but all writing comes from the same creative font within me, and all writing is, to a certain extent, draining. If I spent more time writing for pay, I’d spend less time writing about what matters to me. My writing might put food on the table, but it would stop nourishing my soul.

So my solution has been diametrically opposite to Krissy’s. I came to see simplicity as a spiritual path as well as a necessary one, and I lived with less so that I could write more. In the beginning, I made so little money freelancing that I was working 10-hour days, and all that worry about money was not good for my writing. I made it my goal to continue “trading up” on my freelance assignments so that, ultimately, I could make more money for fewer hours of work, and rather than increase my lifestyle as my earning capacity rose, I would increase the time I devoted to writing, learning, and spiritual exploration. Now, I’m able to meet my income goals in about 25 – 35 hours a week rather than 40 – 60, allowing me more space to truly sink into my writing practice. Since I recently “traded up” from one part-time gig to another that paid twice as much, I’ve seen the sheer volume of my writing increase dramatically.

I’ve opted to work with reliable clients long-term rather than chasing down occasional lucrative gigs. If I make a little money off something I’ve written from my soul, that is a tremendous perk. But writing with a sell in mind lends a certain desperation to my internal state that suffocates my creativity. It’s just too stressful for me not to know exactly where my income is coming from, and I’m willing to trade higher wages for the added security of knowing work will be there. And the work I do writing, editing, and consulting for my clients is different enough from my personal writing that it doesn’t draw too much from that well — but it’s similar enough that it continues to feed that skill set, and I continue to find it enjoyable and challenging.

All said, living simply and having a reliable revenue stream has done far more for my writing than living “just outside my means” possibly could. I’m glad Krissy’s path worked for her. And I’m equally glad that I’ve found one that works for me.