Economic Basis for Fear…
Last week I asked some basic questions, the premise being that I am questioning why I made simply writing for five days on that last novel something special.
And on Thursday I asked a number of questions that got some fantastic responses.
It is pretty clear that it is fear in one form or another stopping or slowing down or influencing most fiction writers these days. In all sorts of areas. Lots to talk about this week.
And I believe some of the fears are just bogus and some have some pretty solid basis in reality.
So I want to address a fear I have fought since I was a kid first and that is very real. And still, to this day, after forty years in this business, tiny elements of this fear creep into my decisions. This fear is very, very real for more writers than anyone ever thinks about.
Best way I can think of describing this is:
“Fear of No Perceived Security.”
J.D. Brink said it very well in a comment…
I have to agree with Colleen and Ellen: money/support/stability is a big fear factor.
Personally, my biggest fear is not having the stability of a “real” job to support the family and pay the bills. In my dark corner of reality, and especially in my family, everyone works their whole lives, never gets far, is afraid to retire because they’re not sure they can make it not working, and then dies poor. (Depressing I know — sorry.) But one “myth” I don’t know if I can get past is that there are people who *don’t* exist in that shadowy reality. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that anyone could write *for a living*. Blows my mind. And even though there are obvious examples to the contrary (like Dean and others here — though maybe you’re all just phantasms in the internet ether…?), I’ve never known anyone that didn’t live and die clutching at jobs they hate to go to every day.
So for me, believing I can let go of the edge of the pool and swim on my own, while still preventing my family from drowning right along with me… Just hard to accept. But that’s the dream!
I think J.D. described it perfectly.
I grew up very poor, with the attitude that you worked a job for eight hours that you hated, made just barely enough to get by most times, and kept doing that until you were 65 or older or until you died. Weekends and vacations were to be treasured and made special.
(That “special” word again… hmmmm.)
But luckily for me, early on in my life I had the ability to look around and decide I wanted nothing to do with that path. (Disliking my parents and family helped that.)
So when I was young and had nothing to lose, I tried to not follow that route. And every time I got tired of a job or a career (as in skiing and golf and architecture and law) I quit and moved on.
At one point I was homeless, living in my car for a long time, and even after I went back to college, got a masters, then went on into law school, I did the same. I dropped out of law school with just a couple tests to finish my third year. Instead of being a lawyer, I continued to tend bar.
Now the pressure to not do that was so intense from everyone around me that I had at the age of 34 fixed my place in life as a failure in everyone’s mind. (The pressure was so intense I even went back and signed up for that last semester two times in the next two years and dropped out again both times. Yes, I paid for four years of law school and never got a JD.)
And by that time I had been through two marriages as well and was close to homeless once again, living in a room in a hotel.
I pretty much considered myself a failure by everything I had been raised. A successful person would be working a “real” job, raising a family, saving for retirement. A successful person didn’t work as little as possible to give myself more time to type made-up-stuff on a typewriter.
The concept of being a fiction writer was so alien to how I was brought up that I didn’t even realize until I was almost thirty that real humans wrote all the novels I read. Yet I loved the challenge of telling stories.
And I think I loved more than anything that making up stories wasn’t a “real job” that people would accept. My estranged mother, right up until the day she died, thought I had wasted my life.
“Wasted my potential” as she used to say.
And by the time she died I was a major bestseller. Didn’t matter. To her way of thinking, the real job way of thinking, I didn’t really work.
I didn’t get a paycheck, cash it, try to make it stretch until the next paycheck. Therefore I was a failure. Period.
The very real fear of not having a real job if you were raised in that kind of thinking is almost impossible to break. To this day I honestly don’t know how I escaped it. And I haven’t escaped it completely.
So What Do You Do?
The first thought is to make writing a job. DO NOT DO THAT!!!!
Let me repeat that.
DO NOT MAKE YOUR WRITING A JOB!!!
If you make writing your job, in the way of thinking we were bought up, the job becomes something to dread, something to escape from, something only bringing in money. You make writing your job and the writing drys up quickly. Seen it happen to a lot of people, myself included until I realized what I was doing.
Start catching yourself when you say you are “going to work” when talking about your writing. Danger! Danger!
—Keep writing the fun place to play, the place to escape from the job.
This is a critical attitude. When I was young, my family thought going up to a nearby lake on a warm summer afternoon was the height of getting away.
I try to keep my writing in that same feeling. When I get to go sit down and tell a story, it is an escape. It is fun. It is something I don’t want to leave.
—Keep the money out of the real life.
As you do more and more writing, you will make more and more money. Don’t spend it on rent and food and such. Keep it in its own business account. At first, when the money is small, when you have a little extra writing money after some expenses, do something fun and special with it.
And do that fun and special thing with the family. Make sure they know that it is your writing money paying for the special thing. That helps them support your fun hobby.
Extreme caution with the money from writing because money is tied to that old attitude of barely getting by.
—Get professional help as the money increases.
And yes, I am talking about counseling. Suck it up. If you want to ever get out of the day-job grind, you have to retrain a ton of crap in your head. Go get help. (I did for years and years.)
—Get your family in on the fun.
Include them in your writing as much as possible, get them helping you like they are in on a giant conspiracy. “Dad (or Mom) is doing some thing strange and it’s really fun. Shhh, don’t tell anyone.”
Make sure you let them know they help and that the entire thing is fun.
—Do not make escaping your day job a goal for your writing.
I hear this all the time, but the pressure is too much on the writing because the day job, the “real job,” is what makes everything tick.
But don’t worry, if you keep the writing fun, keep your family supporting you, keep learning, eventually the money from the business side will overwhelm the day job money. And by then you will have gotten help to deal with it all mentally, right?
Just don’t make the writing so important, so special, that it threatens the “real job.” If it does, you will grind to a halt fairly quickly because how we were all raised doesn’t allow threats to what pays the bills.
If you are starting to understand that fighting this problem of growing up lower class, working a day job to survive, has some real problems, realize that I’ve only been talking about one area. You will also need to learn business and how to take risks with your business, two things not taught in that “real job” thinking.
Step back and look at yourself and your life. If your background was the “real job” world of paycheck to paycheck, some of your writing problems may be coming from that background.
Keep the writing fun. That really is one of the major keys to solving so many of these fear issues.
So go have fun.