When I left the traditional workplace five years ago, after ten years working part-time as a fundraising writer for Nebraska public television and radio, I never expected I would want to return to a “regular job.” But here’s something I’ve learned in five years of full-time writing: flexibility and an open mind are key to having a fulfilling, productive, sustainable creative life. If something’s not working, you have to be willing to admit it’s not working and have the courage to try something new.
As a Triple Type A planner, it’s been hard for me to live in the gray space of not knowing when my next project will turn up. Off and on over the last five years I’ve often been anxious about whether I would get enough freelance writing and editing assignments and whether I would land another book contract in order to be able to contribute financially to our household. I missed the stability of a steady, reliable paycheck (to say nothing of human interaction – turns out, the Beagle-Corgi and the Philodendron don’t quite cut it).
Five years ago, I also didn’t realize that a writer typically doesn’t get a book contract every year or so…nor should they (I know of a very small minority of writers who manage to do it, but the fact is, writing a book every year is nearly impossible). That said, I realized I had begun to rely on book advances as a part of my income, and the pressure to produce book after book was becoming increasingly burdensome.
Here’s the real deal, friends (at least the way I see it): unless you have a very large platform or have established yourself as a multi-book best-selling author, you are likely not going to be able to earn even a part-time living as an author of books without supplementing your income in a variety of creative ways — and even then, you might struggle. The truth is, even with three published books under my belt, several freelance book editing projects a year, a paid monthly column in my local newspaper, and a handful of paid articles every year, I was still barely eking out a very modest part-time income.
Please know, I don’t say this to deter you from pursuing your creative dream, whether it’s to be a writer or a musician or an artist or a crafter. We need to pursue our passions. I believe from the top of my head to the tips of my toes that creativity is imperative to the health of our souls.
All I’m saying is that you should pursue your passion alongside a healthy serving of reality. If you are looking to earn a living as an author, you better also have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and be willing to get creative with making the most of your skills in new and unique ways.
Honestly, I don’t have much of an entrepreneurial spirit. The idea of launching a series of web classes or an online membership community for writers or an I-don’t-even-know-what (see? not creative in that way) makes me want to shave my head, don a drapey orange robe and eat Godiva chocolate bunnies while chanting in Sanskrit. In other words, retreat as fast as I can into a monastic existence that also provides copious amounts of quality chocolate.
Alas, all this to say, I am thrilled to have accepted a part-time job as a writer for The Salvation Army Western Division! And despite the fact that I just dedicated the preceding seven paragraphs to talking about money, money isn’t the only reason I am delighted with this new opportunity. I’ve been freelancing for The Salvation Army for a few months now and have enjoyed every moment of it.
Plus, ever since I wrote a chapter in 50 Women about Catherine Booth, co-founder with her husband William of The Salvation Army, I have had a tremendous respect for the work The Salvation Army does with the people who are most in need in our communities. It’s an honor and a privilege to work for an organization that for more than 150 years has been serving those society has deemed unworthy of support, respect, and love.
Add to that the fact that as I was perusing an old journal this week, I saw I had written a prayer a couple of years ago asking that I would find non-profit human services organization that would be a good fit for my skills. I’d forgotten all about that prayer, but God hadn’t. As God has fanned into flame my desires to serve others with my specific gifts, he has been moving me toward this point in my spiritual and vocational journey all along. God is the best!
So that’s my big news. And just so we’re clear, I’ll still be writing here once a week or so, and I hope to continue to write books, God willing. Truth be told, I’m a little anxious about adding 20 hours of work to what already feels like a pretty full schedule, but as my agent Rachelle reminded me, I tend to be a person whose efficiency increases with my workload (thank you Triple Type A personality), so we’ll see. Something will inevitably have to give; time will tell what that something is.
Am I disappointed that I couldn’t make a viable part-time living as a full-time writer? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. But I’m also absolutely comfortable with and genuinely excited about this new phase of the journey.
The moral of the story? Pursue your passion with gusto, don’t be afraid to make mistakes (that’s the only way we really learn, right?), and know that there’s an infinite number of ways to make it all work. God’s in it, and he always, always has our best interests at heart.