I Stopped Writing Because My Earning Potential as a Creative Scared Me

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(an actual photo of me thinking about finances) Photo by Burst from Pexels

Money can’t buy happiness, but my god is it a stepping stone to it. I grew up believing my underwear wasn’t replaceable until it had a few well-worn holes. The same pair of workout shorts got me through middle school, high school, and university (last week I finally decided enough was enough and got rid of them). When I walked across the stage last year to receive my degree the house I grew up in went into foreclosure. Not having enough money felt like an everlasting curse that got worse for me and my family as time went on. And the cherry on top was the only thing I’m in love with doing is writing — which leads to a career infamously associated with struggle.

Being a writer was never a choice, but deciding to try and earn a living off of words was a whole other story.

I decided to study English Literature over Physical Therapy because I knew deep down all I wanted to do was tell stories. I didn’t want to be sensible when it came to my career because if I settled on such a vital decision I feared I’d develop a habit of settling for other big life choices. Going to university to improve my writing was the closest I’ve come to complete rebellion — don’t judge me too much, I was a shy kid. Choosing to be a writer as a career is a romantic notion I’ve since revisited over and over in my mind. For the past few months, I’ve been paralyzed with doubts if I’ll be able to live a comfortable life as a full-time writer. In all honesty, I often feel regret about not having a wider range of skills and a little sense of dread about the huge potential of failure.

Stability is what I desperately crave as each year passes.

I’m neck-deep in debt with a full-time job that pays me just enough to support myself and my family as we get back on our feet. In response to my fear of failure, I’ve been attempting to formulate contingency plans. At first, it pained me to feel like I needed a Plan B because maybe that meant I wasn’t cut out for this life of full-time writing. Because struggling is par for the course as a creative. If I don’t want to struggle does that mean I don’t deserve to call myself a writer? When I don’t pour every ounce of energy into writing will the result be never reaching my goal?

I need to put food on the table, keep the lights on, and water running, so I work a full-time job I hate. It cuts into my writing time immensely and makes me feel less like a “real creative.” You know, the kind that will risk it all for their craft even if it means couch surfing for years. It’s that blind faith I feel I lack. And, I think my lack of faith in my ability shows when I approach the page. I pour my energy into so many other worries in my life so, at the end of the day when I’m faced with a blank page, I have nothing left to give. I exchange energy for stability. I’m comfortable but never satisfied.

The realist in me compromises with my romance side so I can fall in love with creating again.

Over the years, my relationship with writing has changed tremendously. Writing was once a beautiful escape that turned into a skillset I needed to develop and eventually monetize. The love waned as the pressure to making a living and eventually, I wasn’t as enthralled with the idea of storytelling. To start writing again and release pressure to monetize my craft I’ve given myself three rules:

1. Pretend I am confident that my skills are (or, one day will be) worthy of decent compensation.

The biggest new flash after becoming an adult was the reality that people rarely know what they’re doing. And they rarely believe in their worth in terms of salary. And even if they have confidence in both their knowledge and how they negotiate their paycheck, they don’t know exactly how they’re going to get their end goal.

At work, I’ve learned that the people who speak without a falter in their voices are listened to longer and trusted more easily. Online I’ve learned writers who don’t have much technical skill but make up for it in prolificity get more opportunities. Life’s a game that I mistakenly thought had strict guidelines. Reality is you can speak with conviction on a topic you just learned yesterday. And you can share your writing even if it’s not fully developed to your liking.

Confidence won’t always get me the freelance position I want or that book deal I dream of, but it’ll open the door to the possibility of personal and career growth. At the very least, confidence will give me the push I need to write more content.

2. Write at least one paragraph a day.

I say these exact words to myself as I clock out of work: “Just write one paragraph. No more, no less.” Thinking of writing this way makes approaching my novel and unfinished articles much less intimidating. It’s a recipe for slow progress, but better than what I’ve been doing, which has been sporadic writing sessions sometimes split up by months.

After five sentences I usually get into some type of groove that makes me want to write more. It may not be the same as when I use to write 3,000 words daily as a teen, but it works for the person I am today. And that person wakes up a 4:30 AM to go to work. So, yes, there is cause for an adjustment in my writing habits.

3. Gradually learn to accept that writing may never fully support me financially and that’s okay

My family has suggested I transition to part-time work since I hate my job so much. My boyfriend encourages me to move in with him and relax for a bit while searching for a position I enjoy and has something to do with my degree. But, having a steady income that pays all my bills and allows me to save does wonder for my self-esteem. By keeping my self-esteem up I release some of the pressure to make writing my bread and butter.

I may never sell more than a few copies of my novel once I finally finish the dang thing. I may never get more than minimum wage writing content for companies who don’t care about underpaying for their outsourced content. Writing may never pay for more than a cup of tea and a few muffins. Accepting that will allow me to relinquish some of my fear. I’m going to stop thinking about potential gross income when it comes to finishing my projects. I can’t continue to let my fear about earning potential steal my time from writing. The craft gives me the emotional outlet that paychecks could never give me. So, it’s finally time to separate the two.


 

How do you deal with the battle of making a living and doing what you love? Are they always separate things or have you managed to meld the two?

Lessons from Purchasing a Car When I was Depressed

Technically, I can’t afford my car (meaning, I’m putting way too much of my income towards it, not that I can’t make the monthly payments) and even worse, it’s actually a pretty crappy vehicle. The front seat headrests are torn and hollowed out from previously installed DVD screens, there are cracks and scratches all over the back of the seats. Anytime the AC turns on there’s a knocking sound on the passenger’s side, which probably means something important loose beneath the dashboard. The brakes make a hissing noise any time I stop after driving for short distances (something two mechanics have assured me is fine, but I’m not convinced) as if to constantly remind me, every time I turn on my car, I was insane to sign my name on the dotted line, dedicating 72 months to a vehicle that most definitely isn’t worth this much of an investment.

When I went to the dealership I was having a depressive episode. I had already signed my papers for a 2011 Honda Accord which wasn’t great (it stalled whenever I accelerated) but definitely didn’t give me as much anxiety about my 2017 Kia Sportage. The dealership called me to come back in under the guise they’d forgotten to give me some financing papers to sign. In reality, none of the banks approved my loan because of my short credit history, which simply consists of student loans and a single credit card I used for groceries in university to build some semblance of a credit score. My first time at the dealership had been with my boyfriend and his friend who had previously been a car salesman. So, I was confident there was no way any of the salespeople would try to get over on me. But, for “signing the financing papers,” I went alone and it’s the first major decision I regret making in my adult life.

The moment I stepped into the dealership I knew something was wrong. The dealer that had been trying to get a hold of me on the phone greeted me with a well-practiced smile and told me to wait “just one second” for him to get the paperwork. I sat there for nearly an hour with a dying phone and an itching instinct to come back when my head cleared from all the spiraling thoughts. It was getting dark outside and I had been up since 4am for work. At this point, everything I had researched about car shopping had fallen out of my head, into the abyss where most of my memory and sense goes to die once the depression sinks as a replacement. And my god, did I pay for the absence of sense.

Life lessons are difficult to handle when I know some of the pain could have been avoided if I was mentally healthy. And the lessons are even more of a headache when I have to pay for the mistakes by facing years, and years of debt. What I know now is this:

If you have mental health problems, DO NOT make a major decision if you’re not feeling well (or, at least, don’t make it alone).

My depression has been on a steady decline since I graduated from college. I had been receiving free therapy for my constant mental health problems, and the support from my therapist had been something that got me through a terrible year of my life. Without that mental support, things have been falling through the cracks faster than I can manage to figure out what to grab onto and when to grab onto it. My head was far from clear that night at the dealership and my thoughts were bordering on suicidal before I even pulled in the lot. As the dealer gave me the whole spiel on what a great deal I was getting I simply nodded and told myself my decision didn’t matter because I wasn’t going to be alive for long enough for anyone to collect that amount of money.

I’m not completely better now, but I can definitely examine things past the fog of my mental illness. One thing that would have saved me from myself was having a second party there to share their perspective. My thought process when I’m in a depressive episode understandably irrational. If I had spoken up and confessed this to my boyfriend then I would have had to second head I desperately needed.

Just because you can fit it in your budget, doesn’t mean you have to.

My planned monthly car payments went up $120 dollars when signing for the new car. I’m very meticulous when it comes to budgeting, partly due to my anxiety. And partly due to my fear of being homeless because of a close scare a few months ago. When I saw the extra money tacked onto my monthly payments the first thought was: I do have enough money for that.

Knowing my income would allow me to make monthly payments and still not be in the negative was a feeling of relief. I was only considering the surface level outcome of the situation. Sure, I could write a check and not worry about rent and food. But, extra money going towards my car was money I could have put towards savings or investments or something that would pay off in a better way.

You can’t always see them immediately, but there are other options.

One of the repeated thoughts that circled through my head while at the dealership was that I had to make a decision right then and there or I’d be out of a car. When in reality there were/are plenty of car dealerships that would have had a suitable car within my budget. I could have found financing on my own or took Lyft to work until I managed to figure something else out.

Depression and anxiety enjoy making me feel like choices need to be made in an instant. When my anxiety levels reach their peak I feel as though there’s a clock ticking in my head, encouraging me to point to which answer I want when I don’t even understand the question. But, honestly, the majority of life’s choices don’t happen in a heartbeat. And they don’t need to because there’s no bonus points for quick answers.

 

What I have now is a car that will — after I factor in the repairs — cost me more than my four-year degree. It squeaks, knocks, and eats my pocket for gas way faster than I ever thought was possible. This car is my introduction to decision-making as an adult. Hopefully, a few years down the line I will be grateful for everything this choice has taught me. Because now I understand how much my mental health can affect my finances. And now, I’ll have a painfully expensive reminder of how serious it is for me to factor in how I’m feeling when it comes to signing away thousands of dollars I have yet to make. At least, it’s a lesson I won’t soon forget. In the end, maybe that’s all that truly matters.