Scalzi has a great post up about writing and money.
Everything he says here is basically stuff my roommates have been telling me. You know, they of my same age who have a house, two cars, no credit card debt, and IRAs.
I wouldn’t take back any of the shit I did in my early 20s. They were awesome experiences. Looking at it, though, I would have managed my Chicago job money a lot better. I blew loads and loads of money on books that I have since given away and/or never read and going out to eat twice or three times or more a week; blew loads on coffee, of all things (at one point I was spending, I think, nearly $200 a month in books and coffee).
Going on trips is one thing; blowing money on food, coffee, and books you’ll never read is quite another. I also very nearly slaughtered myself the year before I got sick by nearly passing on the “free” health insurance I was getting through my company. I mean, hey, I’d get nearly $80 a month back if I chose to opt-out, and you know, I never got sick, so why not?
Yeah, seriously, in December when we were renewing, I seriously thought about opting out. In May I got a 30K hospital bill, all but 7K of which was paid for by my insurance company.
It’s not worth opting out.
In some ways, looking back at everything that’s happened the last few years, me getting sick is the best thing that could have happened for me, financially. Why, you ask, when health costs are so high?
Because it’s forcing me to keep my day job no matter what kind of advance I get for ANY book EVER.
I spent much of my early 20s just spending money like water, figuring I would pay off the debts with my first 10K or 20K book advance. After that, I’m sure I would have quit my day job with the next Great Advance as my career improved, but that’s always been my goal: make enough money writing full time to make it my day job. Give up the 8-5 grind.
But, well… It’s something I can never do now. I pull my own weight in every relationship I get into. “Quitting” just isn’t an option, even if I were to ever have a spouse that had benefits (which would also require me to get married. It would take a pretty fucking amazing person to convince me to marry them. I have yet to meet this person. So).
So I work for my own benefits. I make more as a technical writer than a lot of freelance writers who write fiction exclusively make, and I have great health insurance.
Living alone in a garret and bleeding all over your pages while slowly starving to death or dying of consumption sounds a lot more romantic than it actually is. I lived something close to that in South Africa, and though it’s fun for a year, it’s not the kind of life I want to build.
I want to be financially secure and successful. That means every penny I make right now is going toward debt. And it fucking sucks. All I want to do is go to Chipotle and buy some expensive cheese and go to the movies all the time and some shows downtown. As it is, bowling is something I can do maybe twice a month and about the only sort of dates I can afford these days are coffee dates and maybe some evenings spent watching Netflix.
And that’s how it’s going to be for the next couple of years. Because you know what? I’m tired of being poor. I’m tired of being uncertain, and being poor doesn’t make you a better or worse writer than anyone else. Starving for my art just isn’t all that cool.
Like Scalzi said, writing is a job – my day job, in fact, and my weekend passion – and I treat it like a job.
I’m inordinately lucky to be able to do a job from 8-5 that I love and get paid for it. Not everybody’s that lucky. If you’re going to be a writer who makes an actual living wage, though, this is a nice way to do it.
I like my living wage, my downtime for freelance writing, and I’m currently looking for other freelancing opportunities to help with aforementioned debts and bowling money.
Being poor isn’t any fun. Not going to Chipotle isn’t fun either, but it beats being poor.