And yet, close to most author’s hearts – yes, we do have them, even those who kill off your favorite characters.
What is the biggest thing to get in the way of writing? Life. That’s what. For the last couple of months, that’s my literal story and I’m sticking to it. The truth is, I haven’t written very much since the big arrival of my latest Volcano Lady book. I haven’t really blogged, outlined, scribbled, promoted … nada. You may be tempted to say “no duh,” since finishing and releasing a book is stressful; I sure did. But there’s more to it than that. And, the good news is that in going through my life stress, I’m looking at redefining myself as an author, a creative-type, and a worker. This blog hits on the topic of paycheck earning and how not taking the obvious road can clear other paths for creativity. (see how I did that? Keeping on topic!)
Like many authors today, books don’t pay the bills. They fulfill dreams and give us enormous pleasure, but when the rent is due, we dip into our employer filled wells instead of royalties. If this is not you – you are able to make a living as a writer – I salute you. For myself, this seemed like a loose / loose situation. So I made one of those decisions you always see hyped in new age magazines or by PBS Insta-shrinks. And with much humility, I must admit that their advice to let go of money in favor of benefits is right.
I have been working as a contractor through the worst of this economic “downturn” (I laugh at that simplistic reference as I watched my paychecks and savings diminish.) As a contractor, I was in competition for a small number of contracts, paying less than market, and often reducing one to the status of “inconvenient but necessary, easily ignored servant.” Not every employer treats their contractors as members of the gang. We’re “resources” focused on saving someone money. If that is not enough to send you fleeing from the staffing recruiters (don’t get me started on that over-sold bill of goods,) the notion that you are always on the hunt for a new job is enough to make one nutty. Isn’t looking for a job one of those high stress activities, like getting a divorce or a death in the family, that is routinely credited with heart attacks or strokes? If you’re a contractor, this cycle never ends, even after you accept an assignment. And you can forget being creative.
Last month, I went through interview after interview, always coming in second. They liked me, really, and I have great skills, really, but there was this one candidate with more/we already know/we have no idea what we want so we’re not hiring yet. One interview, for a fairly lower level position, had me meeting 4 SVPs over a 4.5 hour period. It was grueling and I still didn’t get the job. They already had someone else in mind.
Then came The Job: meh pay, full time, tough commute, industry I know nothing about. I put off and put off because I wanted the cash flow. I wanted more money, like I was being tempted with by the staffing recruiters. But here is how things really compared – if, and I mean IF, I got a contract, it was always for short terms with reasonably okay pay. No real benefits. This place offered low but livable pay with amazing benefits. As long as I kept my eye on the dollar sign, I was going to be stuck in the contract-job search – contract cycle. And I could kiss off anything resembling a paid vacation. Who can be creative in that PTSD-inducing environment?
So, I made a hard call and took the full time job with the meh pay and great benefits. You know what: it was the best decision. The long commute and pay thing – I’ll learn to deal. It isn’t that bad – it won’t kill me – I can still be a responsible adult. Real medical insurance, paid time off, flex hours, and 401K. Good stuff, Maynard. But wait, like a Ginsu knife, there’s more! No more constant job search, great co-workers who laugh a lot, a team spirit that permeates the whole place, more exercise built into the commute, paid holidays, satisfaction, and yes, a lowering of my blood pressure. My inner “we’re gunna die in a van parked by the river – homeless and forgotten!” voices have shut up. Hey, this place even has free Peets coffee. How do you put a price on that?
Has my writer’s block vanished … not quite yet. I’ve only been on the job for a week and it requires a ton of learning, but already I’m hearing myself laugh, noticing I’m sleeping deeper, and generally allowing the toxic stress to float away. I don’t burst into tears at 5am while faced with a dead-end contract and another day of job hunting. I’ve had some good ideas pop into my head for Book Five, so yes, I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel – and this time, it isn’t the 4:10 to Yuma.
I promise to get back to writer-topics. In the meantime, I hope this anecdote gives you something to either work with or to ignore. Whichever serves you best. Sometimes the obvious answer (hold out for the money) isn’t the best answer (give up the stress and get back to writing.) Whatever you chose for yourself, be sure to factor in the priceless nature of having your creativity flourishing.