Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Staying Unemployed: It's Not as Easy as You Think

My friend and SCBWI Regional Advisor Mary Cronk Farrell contributed this week's guest post.

Thanks so much, Tracy, for the opportunity to guest post. My experience is not about quitting my day job, but about withstanding the pressure to get one. It’s about going for years between book contracts, making no money and still believing in myself.

When I took leave from my job as a TV news reporter to raise my three children, I intended to go back when my baby was a year old, two, then three, then when he started kindergarten. Somewhere along the way I polished off a dream. I wanted to be a real writer. (Whispered aside so TV people won’t hear. In a weak moment I may decide I do need a real job.)

I loved being my own boss, working my own schedule, choosing my own assignments. I loved that reading books was all in a day’s work. Sad to say, my baby was nine before my first book came out. Then I published two more books in the next two years. So what if my only income was a royalty statement for thirty-dollars and twenty-nine cents?  Surely, soon, my next book would be published, earn out, go into a second printing. Who needs a day job?

Then I hit a dry spell. Five years passed and I didn’t sell a book. My oldest son went to college. I visited schools, spoke at conferences, focused on improving my craft, wrote one manuscript after another. My daughter went to college.

I should mention here, I have a patron. My husband has a steady job with health benefits. At no time was I a starving artist. We downsized, moving across the state for a lower cost of living. We had the necessities, but we lived on what we called the “Farrell Austerity Measures.” We bought second-hand, learned to replace broken windows and fix appliances. One of our two cars was stolen and we didn’t replace it. I enjoy cooking, so we rarely eat out. I make our bread from scratch and grow vegetables. Family vacations are drives to visit relatives.

My husband worried about retirement and student loans. He believed I’d topped out as an author. He fretted about home maintenance. I said, “Give me a year, and if I don’t sell a book, I’ll get a job.”

I swear that was the fastest year of my life. But it was enough time to realize writing was more than a career for me. It was a way of being in the world. Whether I ever published another book, writing was how I made sense of life, how I discovered myself.

When five years turned into six and then seven, I never stopped believing in my next book. More importantly, that was no longer the point. I wanted to spend my hours being what I was—a writer. I see how the geese fly south too soon, how a budding branch can snap, a voice grow faint.

Every so often, I doubt myself. Internal whispers urge me—get a day job. I feel guilty not helping support my family. I get depressed. Other writers bid me keep on.

Mary Oliver asking, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” and reminding, “You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried/with its stiff fingers at the very foundations.../It was already late enough....”

Vanita Hampton Wright warning, “Expect to be misunderstood. Perfectly fine people will think you’re wasting your life if you don’t get a real job that gives you a nice retirement package. Perfectly loving friends and family will keep waiting for you to grow up and get over this phase. Well-intentioned religious people will worry about your dealing with dark and uncomfortable topics.”

It's not fun having less disposable income than most of my friends, living in my 1970's kitchen and bathroom, wondering how my daughter will pay her college loans. Getting that social security statement showing I haven’t made money in twenty-years? That’s really not fun.

But for today, I find courage to spend the working moments of my life writing, following my passion, being true to my creative calling, living in joy. That’s my day job.

Mary Cronk Farrell just received a contract for her first YA nonfiction book, forthcoming from Abrams in 2013. Her novel Fire in the Hole (Clarion) is a Notable Children’s Trade Book in Social Studies, a New York Public Library Best Books for the Teen Age, a Bank Street College’s Best Childrens Book, and winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award for best juvenile fiction. Mary blogs about history, literature, and demons and other dark holes of the writing life.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

This 'n' that

Miscellaneous musings this week.

           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *

Definition of the "Saturn Return," according to the all-knowing Wikipedia:
“With the first Saturn return, a person leaves youth behind and enters adulthood. With the second return, maturity. And with the third and usually final return, a person enters wise old age. These periods are estimated to occur at roughly the ages of 28-29, 57-58 and 86-88.” I got married at 28 and will retire at 57. I guess wisdom awaits me at 86.

           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *

Here's an interesting article reminding us that even if we look on ourselves as artists, publishing companies are a business, and it would behoove us to remember that.

           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *

Thank you, Ryan Gosling:

           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *           *

Some cautions about viewing retirement through rose-colored glasses.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It’s All About Balance: How to Keep Your Social Life

This weeks guest blogger is Margo L. Dill.

When Tracy addressed her four fears of quitting her day job and writing full time, one of her fears was: Would she still be social? It’s a fear so many of us SAHW (stay-at-home writers) have—we’re afraid we might turn into a recluse. Let’s face it, how easy is it to stay in your pajamas all day and not take a shower for a few more?

But  never fear, you can stay at home, write, and in my case, also take care of a one-year-old daughter, and still have a social life. You just have to be careful. It is so easy to say “yes” to everything you’re asked to do, as you might be starving for human contact. When your mom calls because she wants to run to the mall and you’re not “working” so can you go with her, it’s easy to say, “Sure.” But then, are you going to reach your 2000-word goal for the day as well as finish up the guest post for your upcoming blog tour? Probably not.

So, how do you balance? Balance is the key—you have to have family, social/friend, and work time. It’s crucial. Here’s what I do:

First I look at my week as a whole with a calendar and a pen in hand. I make a note of any appointments or un-fun things (like an oil change or grocery shopping) that I have to do. Next, I look at any social things that are already scheduled—and yes, I consider my writing critique group meeting to be a social event. Although it helps my writing immensely, it is still me, socializing with friends who happen to be writers; and it takes me away from my keyboard and daughter. This category also includes family dinners (not with your immediate family, but maybe Sunday night at your parents’), church, yoga—anything where you are out and about and interacting with other people. If you don’t count these, you will never have time to write.

Once I’ve looked at appointments and any social engagements, I schedule in my writing time. This is especially important for any of you who are also staying home with young ones because your time is limited. My writing time is limited to my daughter’s naps and bedtime, and times when my parents or husband watch her. I have to schedule my writing time, so I know I’ll have time to write at least once a day and a couple large blocks each week.

What time is left now? Well, probably very little, but there will be some left. You have to eat and exercise and possibly do holiday or birthday shopping, so here’s where you invite a friend to go along. Sometimes, I’ll ask my friends with little ones to go mall walking with me or come over for a play date. I schedule a dinner here or there. I send emails to schedule dates—stay off the phone. It’s a time-sucker! 

You can do it. It just takes a little extra effort and balance. The important thing is to remember your goal—to do what you love—write!

Margo L. Dill is a children’s author, online instructor, and freelance writer and editor. She has three books under contract with the first one, a middle-grade historical fiction novel, coming out in 2012. She currently teaches online classes on blogging, social networking, and children’s writing for WOW! Women On Writing. Find out more about Margo and read her blog about using children’s books with kids here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Excuses, excuses

No post this weeka combination of the last-week-of-classes crunch (and I'm well aware that this is the last time I'll be able to use this excuse) and a bad cold got in my way. See you next week!