Let loose of those dollar bills
Author and freelance writer C. Hope Clark shares how she avoids letting writing become as unsatisfying as the day job she left to do it full time.
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Guest author: C. Hope Clark is author of the award-winning Edisto Island Mysteries and founder of FundsforWriters.com, its newsletter reaching 23,000 writers eager to earn a living like Hope.
Rather proud of how I’d climbed the government/corporate ladder, I served as administrative director of a small federal agency making decent money. But after numerous doctor visits for unnamed maladies, five years of Zoloft and the mental stress of politics, I realized my income held none of the happiness one assumed came with the luxury.
My husband, likewise a federal employee, a criminal investigator no less, adored rising in the morning for work. He hoped to never retire, and filled his days with energy and smiles while dealing with crime, evil-doers and legal controversy. People he’d put in prison sent him thank-yous, one sending him a leather wallet he’d made in jail.
Hubby cared more about enjoyment and less about salary as long as the basic bills were paid, and frankly, he couldn’t tell you how much he made. I, however, counted pennies.
I burned out more than once.
The gratification of that biweekly paycheck fell way short of intended satisfaction.
Over my final two years in the job, before I even realized those were my final years in the job, I went through an intense self-analysis. Money couldn’t be my driving force. The gratification of that biweekly paycheck fell way short of intended satisfaction, and in searching for the reasons why, I soon learned I only had to examine the example I married, under my own roof. Hubby deemed happiness the ultimate priority, not the cash flow or net worth.
My search began.
Writing was always enjoyable for me. But for some reason there was a disconnect between doing what I love and earning a living, as if enjoying the work was cheating. From some early, unidentified misdirection, I labeled income-earning potential as doing something I had to perform for some boss, any boss, and leave behind at five o’clock every day.
As a manager I understood the scientific logic of developing a habit, and it didn’t happen overnight. My habits needed to change, along with my mindset.
With every ounce of diligence I gave the day job, plus some, I studied the how-to of freelance writing and gave it a commitment of 10 to 20 hours per week to test drive it around the block a few months. Like my husband, I craved the pursuit of something that made me happy to rise in the morning.
I fell in love with writing. Writing with structure. Writing with abandon. Writing any way I could. I wrote a novel, essays and nonfiction pieces for magazines. The effort thrilled me, the income a distant second thought because, after all, I’d been indoctrinated that enjoying what you did meant hobby, not profession. I kept reminding myself I was trying to do this for a living.
Days occurred in which my greatest satisfaction came from the lyrical choice of words or acceptance by an editor rather than the payment. I made excuses to slip away and write more.
Still, with a family to support, one son in college and another about to be, I couldn’t make the proverbial leap from the office to home-based entrepreneur, so I mapped out a two-year plan to my exodus. During that time, I hoarded income and paid off bills, while building a writing platform on the side.
Five o’clock couldn’t come fast enough. Not to necessarily leave the day job, but to hurry home to the part-time one.
During those pre-emptive days, five o’clock couldn’t come fast enough. Not to necessarily leave the day job, but to hurry home to the part-time one. When I walked out that final day, my feet barely touched the ground.
Today, I have 15 mysteries and three nonfiction titles under my belt as well as hundreds of published articles in magazines, on websites, on blogs and in books. To this day, the daily goal is words on a page. When writers ask me how to earn a living as a writer, I tell them to write as if earning a living didn’t matter.
But of course to maintain an income demands some logic. For instance, I rarely write for free, a common fallacy most new writers fall prey to. Does this lapse my career into a dollars game? No. Writing for income feeds my reputation and commands respect for the fact I work at what I love. The income is symbolic. It reflects that my writing and my happiness are serious endeavors, not purely an escapist hobby. While I earn less than I did as a federal director, the pride and respect that comes with the effort is exponentially greater.
That makes for a much higher quality of life for me, for mine, for everyone around me.
The fact one hopes to never retire speaks for itself.
Over time, however, the butt-in-the-chair marathons dictated by publishing contracts and editorial deadlines proved detrimental to my muscle tone, keenness of thought and even sleep quality. To maintain the quality of life I’d come to adore, and to not regress to that prior life of lamenting the effort needed for a day’s work, a clearly directed effort originated toward health.
The problem of doing what you love is the accompanying temptation to do it all the time. Obsession in one’s profession is beautiful in theory, but potentially damaging in reality. Said damage can present not only in terms of fatigue, but also in mental second-guessing. The last thing I wanted was to begrudge my profession.
The problem of doing what you love is the accompanying temptation to do it all the time.
In addition, COVID proved somewhat of a challenge. Many writers found the stress of a pandemic intrusive. During that same period, I served as guardian for two parents with Alzheimer’s. My original drive to preserve the happiness aspect of myself and my family carried me through both of these realms. After working so diligently to establish myself as a writer, I could not let life’s obstacles kill it dead.
The laptop went with me, and between doctor appointments, in hospital halls or alone at home unable to leave, I wrote stories. The escapism fed me in spite of all the problems around me, ultimately protecting me from the backsliding so many experienced during the pandemic.
Morning walks, gardening, diet appreciation and, most recently, strength training, kept me and continues to keep me keen. The more efficiently blood pumps through me, the more oxygen feeds my creative mind, and the more level-headed I am in managing this precious life I’ve sculpted.
Exercise feeds my writing… which feeds my happiness… which provides an income for my family. That’s a much more preferred priority list than my former life.
Sacrifice sounds noble in stories and on the screen, but to sacrifice to the detriment of contentment and quality of living is to rob everyone in your world of your full contribution.
In hindsight, my relationship with money sabotaged pleasure in so many ways.
Advancement, paying bills and strategically orchestrating retirement all seem noble measures of the successful. But when those tasks consume your days, your weeks and ultimately your years, the end result can leave you empty of accomplishment other than the cold paper dollars in your fist and minimal joy in your heart.
🥑 Thanks for reading Healthy Rich, where we share stories that illuminate the diversity of our relationships with work and money.
Question: never writing for free? I wish she had said more about this, especially in relation to starting out, building an audience, a portfolio. Can anyone else speak to it?
Of course :) And thank you!