Note: this was published in a newsletter on August 11th, 2014. In light of Robin Williams’ tragic suicide, I thought it might be best to share it here, as well.
Do you want to make money writing – or do you need to?
This may seem like a strange question. If you’re subscribing to this blog, I’m assuming you at least want to make some money with your writing. (Many of my clients have an eventual goal of writing full time, and that plan doesn’t include winning the lottery or landing a filthy rich spouse with a conveniently steep flight of stairs.)
But do you want to make money with your writing – or do you need to?
First, a story.
Once upon a time, there was a writer who needed to make money.
Not wanted. Needed.
She and her husband had purchased their dream house shortly before a perfect storm hit: she found herself unexpectedly pregnant; the construction industry in their area collapsed, taking the husband’s business with it; her freelance work dried up.
She’d managed to write several novels while working a forty hour a week job, so she thought that it would be no different now. She could manage multi-tasking like a boss.
Besides – then, it was because she wanted to. Now, failure wasn’t an option. She would handle it.
Then the baby arrived… and all hell broke loose.
She was under contract, since she’d begged every editor she knew and sent out proposals like a madwoman prior to the birth. Now, she was sleep deprived, and found herself unable to write a usable page. Bills were piling up, yet she couldn’t seem to get her act together and write the books – even though she desperately, desperately needed to.
The darkest point: she stood by her son’s crib, thinking – I’m going to kill myself. I just need to find somebody to watch the baby.
Hungry vs. starving.
Naomi Dunford of Ittybiz writes about the difference between hungry, and starving.
Being hungry means you want it.
Starving, on the other hand, means you’re desperate. You need it.
Seeing someone who’s hungry makes us feel admiration. It has a roguish, heroic quality about it. We admire people who are proactive, who have hustle, who work for what they desire.
Seeing someone who’s starving makes us feel frightened. Because it makes us afraid that “there but for the grace of God go I” – it’s too real, too stark.
Hungry people remind us that you can work and achieve success. Starving people remind us that there is immense pain if you fail.
A hungry person is someone who will challenge you to a swimming race across a pool.
A starving person is someone who is clinging desperately to anything to try and survive – and who you’re afraid will drag you down and drown you, too.
Again: do you want to make money writing – or do you need to?
Hunger can be the thing that pushes you to write. It’s the glue that keeps your butt in the seat and your hands on the keyboard.
Starvation can be the thing that strangles your creativity. When you can’t afford to fail, it’s hard to quiet your internal editor and take the risks that are so necessary to what we do as novelists.
So what is the solution, when you need rather than want?
In case you hadn’t guessed… yeah. I’m the woman in the story.
I started thinking of the combination to my husband’s gun safe and then thought – oh, fuck. This is not good. I can’t do this.
Crying and grabbing the phone, I called my medical provider, told them I was thinking of killing myself, and got an appointment for treatment. After a diagnosis of post-partum depression and some anti-depressants, I started talking to people. From there, I was able to start getting back on track.
(As an aside: this was not my first rodeo when it came to suicidal thoughts. I made an attempt when I was 14, and I’d been on medication on and off at various points. Which is why it finally sunk in, just how far I’d gone, and I knew what to do.)
It took a while to climb back out, but I did climb out. The thing is, I didn’t do it alone. And I have moved my fiction from need back to want.
- Get support. When things start to go sideways, it’s easy to isolate. We blame ourselves. We don’t want to let anyone know the depths of our problems, out of shame, out of fear. We try to fake it till we make it, and think if we press harder, something will finally work. But it won’t. Not alone. Lean on your friends – tell them what’s wrong. Look for ways to get financial help, if you need to. If you’re in the same position I was in, you need to get some medical help. Even if you’re broke, there are resources, believe me. Start with friends – not for money, but for the emotional strength to reach out in other areas.
- Create temporary stability. If you’re lost in the wilderness, the very first thing you need to do is think survival… and keep your head. If you’ve gotten support, the “keeping your head” bit will be a lot easier. So now, you’re going to think about what you need to do to keep the lights on. That may or may not be your fiction. In fact, if you’re really in dire straits, FICTION IS NOT THE ANSWER. Why? Because writing novels and making a living with it is a long game: the proverbial marathon, not a sprint. You’ve got to get a short game in place before you can write full time. (Note: if you’re really stuck with this, I strongly recommend getting Ittybiz’s Emergency Turnaround Clinic: http://ittybiz.com/emergency-turnaround-clinic/
It’s pay-what-you-can… you can literally pay $1 for it if that’s all you can spare. Trust me on this. It’s a game-changer.)
- Start replenishing. It may seem completely counter-intuitive. I am completely screwed, and you’re telling me to take a bubble bath? But, again, it’s a matter of getting yourself stable. If taking a bubble bath or even a nap seems impossible because you’re too anxious, start taking ten minute breaks to breathe deeply. Go for a walk. Drink a glass of water. Start thinking “I am doing this to help my situation.” Think of it as a proactive solution. You need to give yourself a little gap between pain and reaction. Also, you can’t grow a crop in depleted soil. It’s important.
- Create a game plan. When you’re panicked, and starving, you probably will find yourself flitting from one “solution” to another, desperately trying to get something going somewhere. This frenetic energy tends to dissipate, leaving you exhausted and giving you no evidence of progress. Once you’ve got some support, some stability, and you’ve replenished yourself, it’s time to think game plan. It took time to get you into the situation you’re in – it’ll take some time to get out. I’ll repeat: building a fiction career is a long game. At least sketch out some major plot points in your writing journey – where you want to go, what that looks like, how you might get there, and what you’ll try in the next week, or month, or year.
Why I got involved with WriterMamas.
When the opportunity to help mothers with young children get to a writing conference, I knew I was going to help. That’s why I’m sharing my story. I know intimately what it’s like, to juggle writing and motherhood and just plain surviving.
We’re still short on bundle sales, and the fund raiser is closing at the end of August, whether we’ve funded or not. If you purchase a bundle, you’ll get a 50% discount on my editing services for one project — $1.50 per page, when it’s usually $3. If you don’t have any projects ready, this offer is good with proof or purchase all the way through next July. And if that’s still steep, I’m offering payment plans.
If you don’t want the bundle, we are accepting donations of any size – there’s a donate button on the page.
I started Rock Your Writing because I want to help writers do what they love full time. I know how hard that transition can be. I can help with the game plan. I’ve been in the trenches – and I know the way out.
And if you’ve been in the same position – if you are in the same position, feeling a clawing, desperate hopelessness – and if you feel like doing something drastic… please, please email me. I know how you feel. Sometimes, it just takes reaching out to one person to start getting back to balance.
Please share this with anyone you think might need help, and thanks. I love you guys.