Why I am Failing as a Writer: Part 5 – Dolla-dolla bill, y’all

Show me the money. That’s correct, this post is 100% about the finances of being a writer. Admittedly though, while I plan to write a long, meandering post (I’ll try to make it fun and interesting, relax) about money, it doesn’t actually have a large part of why I am not being successful as a writer — other than the fact that I am not making much money at all from it.

Now for the catch-up: this is part 5 of my ongoing series that is aiming a self-critical eye onto my writing habits following the also ongoing series by well-established writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch on “How Writers Fail”. Part 5 of her series is about money. Surprise! So now part 5 of my responses will be the same.

And now for the other links:

My prior post: Why I am Failing as a Writer: Part 4 – Writers Languish

Kristine’s original post: Business Musings: How Writers Fail (Part 5) Money

Although I don’t normally say it out loud, I highly recommend everyone read her post on this. Kristine does a more-than-phenomenal job outlining different money-handling-personality-types, how money infects the American zeitgeist, and more. One statement that rings so true is, “Some people would rather answer in-depth questions about their sex lives instead of discussing how they handle money.” Even as my wife and I sat in a diner, the man who sat at the next table over continued to discuss in depth the financial difficulties he was going through. Both my wife and I felt weird about being able to hear it. I would certainly describe our level of comfort close to how we’d probably feel if he was talking about sex (although with our child there, we’d have been fully ill-tolerant of that).

In truth, my family had a very tumultuous relationship with money. It wasn’t until my late 30s at best that I started to learn how to handle money. My wife was always better at it, but she had me and my past to deal with. And let me say this: being in court because of debt is embarrassing. Even so, whether or not one is secure now, that fortune can change in a heartbeat. Especially if one considers the financial turmoil that is now entering the wider world. Inflation and an economic downturn can and will take all but only the most savvy of money-handlers out if not for luck itself. Sure, some people will thrive, but those are the exceptions. We’re not here to talk exceptions.

Much like Kristine describes, I was the college kid with a credit card and no financial sense. Even after that time, I never learned, as many never do. Room on a credit card meant money to spend. The concept that it isn’t your money, even though it is available for you to spend, doesn’t occur to many. That is a lesson I learned post-40. All the while, I know a few people personally who don’t see it that way. To boot, they also have no interest in watching statements, checking their accounts regularly (which EVERYONE should ALWAYS do), and maintaining a log of their finances — be it a checkbook register, an Excel spreadsheet, or whatever. Sure, that’s good practice to be on top of fraud to your accounts, but more importantly, it is a window into your own money habits. We are our own worst enemies; that includes both money and writing and just about everything else.

So how does it impact being a writer?

For me (as that is why I am writing these posts to start with), my present or past relationship with money has little to do with why I am failing as a writer now. My writing level (think video games and character XP level) isn’t high enough for that to come into play. I am still an amateur or a novice. One could say that I am a professional given that I have a few books out and have made some money through writing. Still, it was never enough to get me more than to buy a book or two to read, have a few cups of coffee at Sweetwaters (only the single best coffee and tea shop around), or buy a few songs through iTunes. Buying Scrivener or the lifetime license for ProWritingAid came strictly out of my own pocket and not from writing funds — although perhaps it is really 6 of one, half a dozen of the other.

If one is to discount those two writing purchases, my initial claimed goal of wanting my writing to be self-sustaining financially is already true. It costs me no money now for editing, as ProWritingAid helps (at least on the grammar and readability front), and even if I didn’t have Scrivener, I could use Word, Google Docs, or any number of word-processor programs out there — many of them free. On cover design, I do that myself too, using GIMP (a free, open-source photo editing program like Photoshop). It isn’t perfect as I am not a graphic designer. I manage, though. Formatting of my books is also done by me as I am fairly proficient in Word and Acrobat. Thus, any money that I earn from book sales can be called pure profit, as the expense is strictly time.

Keeping writing as a hobby, none of this would be a problem. My time would be the only thing spent. Granted, time is often far more valuable than money. Expanding my writing to a business, though, something that I earn money from at a grander scale, is where Kristine really shines on her analysis. After all, she is an established writer who grew from a traditionally published writer to a business owner/indie writer. I slash that last descriptor simply to help specify that she writes independently, but runs a business that is intertwined with said indie writing. I am nowhere near to that level.

Money is a good reason for many writers’ failure. It can leak back towards expectations (oh look, a call-back!). But it can also simply exist around the business side of the equation.

Kristine outlined 8 separate direct reasons writers fail because of money. Here they are with what they mean to me:

“They fail to realize what their financial weaknesses are.” — Here is where my life experience is helpful. Having gone through those terrible times in mismanaging money and coming out of it, I am better prepared if it comes to pass that I earn some reasonable income from my writing.
“They fail to see that they’re actually building a business that is theirs.” — This is easily one of my biggest shortfalls. As listed here in a prior post, it has taken a lot of time and soul searching to come to the understanding that I need to start treating this endeavor like it was a job, like it is a career, that is worth doing.
“They expect to earn as much money as the braggers out in the world.” — Again that word “expect”. I learned long ago to ignore them. Whether or not the figures that these writers tout are truth or lie, I learned through my own financial episodes and through other lessons that comparison is a killer. Jordan B Peterson often states that one should only compare themselves to who they were yesterday, and in this case, I absolutely agree. (OK, I agree in ALL cases, but still.) I have an ideal financial number in my head — but that leads to the next one.
“They give up because they haven’t hit some magical dollar figure.” — That ideal financial figure to me is a certain number that will signal that I can quit my job. In other words, it will displace my salary after taxes and expenses (including health insurance and other things my employer supplements). And within that figure is a timeline that I have written in that I need to hit with that income (be it equal to or greater on average given as it won’t be like a normal paycheck) before I resign. Then there is a magic dollar figure of earnings that says if I hit it, I quit my job, regardless of stability — which, of course, means a level of success few ever see. For me though, it doesn’t matter if I do or don’t hit any of these figures, I am not quitting writing. I may continue to flail about, but I am going to keep at it.
“They fail to analyze their numbers.” — I like numbers. I can analyze a data set to death. That comes with being a technical-type guy working as a chemical engineer. However, I don’t even have the figures to analyze yet, so I do not yet know if my skills here would even matter. And given that my experience is limited, once these numbers start coming in, it will take time before I even learn what they mean and how to react to them. Time will tell.
“They put unrealistic financial pressure on themselves.” — If I really tried to do #3 or #4, then I can see this. Right now, though, I don’t feel a bit of financial pressure. That might change if I end up achieving success. Time will tell again here.
“They equate writing with winning the lottery.” — Nuthin’ goin’ here. Until I choose to quit my day job, my earnings from writing are essentially a bonus, but I don’t view this whole endeavor as a means to a financial windfall. It will be some luck combined with the appropriate amount of effort that will “win” me any financial success through writing. None of it is guaranteed though, and I don’t see that changing.
“They allow success to put them in a financial bind.” — Out of the 8 reasons here, this one is the one that gives me some pause. Referencing back to #1, I have showed in the past that I am prone to see a sudden positive change in finances as a reason to splurge. Paid off all my credit cards? Time to go celebrate! Next thing I know, all the debt I eliminated is right back in the balance sheets. Granted, I stamped a good deal of that behavior out in the last few years. It worries me though that given that since this is “bonus” money until I quit my job, my brain will short-circuit and old habits will swing back at me. Being aware of this may help, but we’ll see. Again, have to get to that point first.

Kristine is also careful to outline some other choices on the money front that writers often fall for. From editors to agents to money-managers, she points out that a writer needs to be aware of what they pay for and why. Having some sense about things helps, too. Like not paying someone to edit simply because they had “editor” in their title in a past life. Or paying a money manager who is at best a middle-income earner with limited experience to handle millions in finances. Or turning over all money dealings to an agent without running even a credit check.

Being that I mostly “go it alone” with my writing and the surrounding activities, it won’t be until I find some level of financial success before I get tested on many of these fronts. Until then, my failing as a writer, as far as money is concerned, revolves around my not earning enough through writing. I cannot invest in advertising, or for an artist to produce images for my covers, or for an editor (if I really need or even want one — there’s a lot of argument there), or for any other business need to expand and grow. My personal finances don’t have room for my writing business. That’s OK. They should be separate for now. Eventually, they may be one and the same, although if I am careful, I could essentially “pay” myself a salary out of my writing funds and then re-invest the rest into those things that better feed the business.

All this is putting the cart before the horse. It will pay to be aware of them ahead of time, that some knowledge precedes the probable event, so that I am not caught unprepared. Even if I never achieve a level of success as a writer, that won’t change that I intend to keep writing, regardless. Money will only equate to failure on the business side then.


One response to “Why I am Failing as a Writer: Part 5 – Dolla-dolla bill, y’all”

  1. I can totally relate with you on this. When it comes to money, I falter in general, instead of just in writing. And yeah, the business of writing can be pretty skimpish on the money. I do write for a living, but having a full-time job isn’t necessarily comparable to fiction, where I’ve only earned enough to buy a month’s worth of groceries in my lifetime, lol. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

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