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?

Frozen in Time: Rewriting Characters Created in My Teen Years

When I was a teenager I wanted desperately to go to high school. My mother began homeschooling me at the age of eleven and continued to do so until I went to college. My daydreams consisted of things like lockers, football games, and parties on beaches with concealed alcohol and forbidden kisses. The next best thing to actually going to high school was creating a character who got to go there in place of me. I wanted to write about someone who was able to do all the weird and crazy things I dreamed up while I sat in the safety of my room behind an old desktop. And so, Joycie Conwell was born.

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Joycie was my alter ego. She was everything I was with the small change that she was going to experience the highs and lows of high school and have some cute boy pine over her in ways I could only dream. I would create scene after scene of what I thought being a teenager in public school looked like – which, of course, meant I had invented some off-brand versions of CW teen dramas. Realism didn’t matter because it was fun to simply imagine life in a place where I wasn’t some socially anxious, black teen who felt trapped in the suburbs.

I shelved my novel when I moved away to college. Joycie’s life suddenly felt two-dimensional, riddled with silly hopes of a clueless teen writer. The document sat untouched for two years as I gained “life experience.” Once I walked across the stage with a newly minted degree I started looking back to the character who had gotten me through those lonelier years. She was there waiting, of course, unchanged.

Inevitably, rereading the draft after years made me cringe. My chapters were laced with bad jokes and questionable interactions between Joycie and her love interest, Lincoln. Despite the disappointing writing the story still holds a special place in my heart. I decided to not let go of it just yet.

Rewriting Joycie has been a welcomed challenge. The biggest struggle I have encountered is still keeping part of that naive voice alive when writing her. I don’t pretend to know everything. But, I’ve grown enough over the years understand how silly it is to believe you completely understand yourself as a teenager. Part of the magic of writing back then was that my voice was simple. Now, life feels more complex and I want badly to communicate that within the story.

I just pray I don’t complicate things too much because Joycie isn’t some twenty-three-year-old customer service worker who has become a little jaded about life and love. She’s a kid experiencing first love. Somehow I have to get back to that mindset. Or, at least find a happy medium.

Ever tried to go back a re-write a character you created in a different stage of your life? Got any tips for me? Also, if you’re interested in watching me struggle to rewrite Joycie’s story check it out on Wattpad. It’ll be a rough ride, but fun. I plan on documenting the writing journey on this blog as much a possible.

NaNoWriMo 2018: My Novel + Novel(la)

And so it begins. In a hurry on Monday I managed to outline both of the projects that I’m working this year. My novel is a story I’ve been picking and prodding for almost nine years … Yeah, these characters haven’t left me alone for nearly a decade. I believe I finally have to the willpower to finish their story. I’m also finally trying to manifest things into existence.

If finishing one story wasn’t challenging enough I decided to tack on another. I wanted to write a novella mostly because I think if I stick to my schedule I’ll be able to finish the novel before NaNo’s over. I already have some of the draft written. And since I’ll be in the habit of writing I want to use that momentum to start another project.

So, my ultimate goal is to finish the novel, which is called Say When. And then, at least get halfway through writing the novella, which doesn’t currently have a title yet.

What are they about?

Minimalist Photo Wattpad Book Cover(1)

Say When‘s a young adult novel about a girl who has been homeschooled all her life and now, during her junior year, her parents decide to enroll her in the local public school. It’s about mental illness, first loves, and family dynamics.

[image could not be found … because I didn’t bother to make one yet]

The untitled novella is an adult romance following a young adult who plays a princess at a theme park (it’s inspired by Disney face character actors) and her prince is replaced with a guy who dumped her in high school.

Current tracker

Say When

 

If you’re doing NaNo this year I hope you’re off to a great start! And if you’re not it’s never too late to join. 50k doesn’t have to be the only goal. Honestly, it’s worth writing even a little because knowing there are so many others around the world writing at the same time makes the writing process more fun than usual.

An Unconventional Approach to NaNoWriMo

I’ve attempted to participate in NaNoWriMo twice. My very first attempt was made in 2012 with a project called Kings, which was a retelling of King Thrushbread. I did zero planning and managed to only write 1k words before getting tired of the idea. I know, I possess an amazing amount of stamina.

The second attempt was in 2015 with an untitled YA manuscript. I did a little better that time. I vaguely remember it being about some girl getting into this elite school and a young documentary duo following her around to get the inside scoop as to what was happening behind closed doors. It was supposed to be a romance/thriller, but it was just a mess due to the fact that I – once again – did absolutely no planning. I made it to around 33k before abandoning the manuscript.

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I can’t find either files of these manuscripts on my computer. They’re forever lost, but their memory is immortalized on the NaNoWriMo website

Since 2015 I haven’t considered trying to do any sort of writing challenge because 1) I struggle to outline 2) under pressure I tend to freeze up. In the untitled project, I remember writing whatever came to mind just so I could have something the page. It could be gibberish for all I cared. I would narrow in on the target word count and pound out nonsense. Suddenly, writing wasn’t fun anymore and I rationalized that the big experience was fine because once the month was over I’d at least reap the benefits by having a finished novel. Unfortunately, by day 25 in 2015 I had burned out so much and had such negative feelings associated with writing that I took a long break. Not only on the draft but writing in general.

I approached NaNoWriMo as a numbers game. Focusing on the numbers made me really hate sitting down to write. But, I still feel like there’s something valuable I can gain from attempting NaNoWriMo this year. Thing is, I have to change my mindset about the event.

Writing by Chapter and Not Word Count

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Photo source: pixabay

This year my goal isn’t to write 50k words. I’m focusing on finishing the project, not making a certain word count.

Thinking about the numbers terrify me. But, thinking in terms of scenes within chapters is much less intimidating. Since focusing on the scenes is my priority it’s unavoidable to pants this situation. I suppose some people could but with my track record, my projects will turn quickly into lost causes.

Projects & Outlining

I want to work on two projects this year. Yes, it’s a huge and possibly unwise undertaking for someone who hasn’t finished a novel yet but hear me out. I’ve already written and outlined a decent chunk of my YA project. By the time November 1st rolls around I will have at least four more chapters written which gets the manuscript up to nine chapters. I’ll be working towards finishing the other seventeen during the event. Here’s the projects I plan to work on:

YA Novel | Currently at 15,359 words (this will be the only time I mention word count until the end of November). I want to tell the story within 25 chapters so that’s how I’m going to plot it.

Romance Novella | Currently at 0 words. I feel like I can tell this story in 15 chapters.

I’m using Evernote to plan both stories. My collection of folders include an overview, character profiles, and chapter-by-chapter outline

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This is a random novel I’ve been plotting. Not going to pursue it for a bit though.

To be honest, this experiment may or may not be the greatest approach to writing I’ve ever had. But, I’m willing to put in the effort and even … give up social media for it. I know it’ll be worth it. Besides, using my free time to write is wise no matter how wild my plan is to finish these projects. Wish me luck. I’ll check in weekly to report how much of a mess I got myself into.

If you’re giving NaNoWriMo a try this year two questions: Are you pantsing or planning? And are you sticking to the original challenge of the event or are you modifying it for your needs?