changing my relationship with money and writing

What I learnt by failing at making a full-time living writing and self-publishing

changing my relationship with money and writing

This post is a difficult one for me to write. This topic of money brings up a lot of triggers for me and is also a reminder of the fact that I'm currently not in the best place to talk about things like how to make a living from your passion.

Not for lack of trying, though. I have been trying for the past five years to earn a livelihood by writing and selling books, and I've failed so far.

And perhaps that is why I am indeed best placed to write about how money — the desire to earn it, the fact of its absence or deficiency in our lives at present, the fear of never being able to achieve whatever money goals we may have set for ourselves — affects the very process of following our passion.

Because whether money itself is present or not, this torment surrounding it is ever present in my life. This has been the case for the last few years now. And I am absolutely terrified that I'd spend the next few years writing and not seeing any uptick in income related to it.

This fear shows up in my daily life. Instead of motivating me, it paralyzes me. And when another day ends without me having achieved any progress on the writing front, it only serves to amplify the fear.

I've often thought of securing a regular job, something even part-time, but my applications have so far led me nowhere.

After years of feeling tossed about like a driftwood by the uncertain waves of this industry and the financial anxiety I experience, I took some time last week to reassess what the hell is going on in my life and what I need to do about it.

The common advice out there is to first determine what we really value in our lives.

My immediate answers to this question were: parenting and writing.

But over these past few years, I've found that sometimes these two desires are at odds with each other. I was operating in a market that rewarded fast-movers, and so I had bought into the belief that I needed to write more and publish faster in order to make a living from writing. And that often led to me feeling irritated or resentful at my family (because I couldn't get more time and peace of mind to work faster) or feeling guilty (especially after I had picked a fight with KrA or snapped at D) or feeling utterly lost and completely incapable of doing what it took to make a full-time living as an author.

In my head, I had concocted a fantasy of perfectly juggling parenting and writing, and acing both. I'd be an awesome parent to D when he was around, and focus on writing and publishing when he was at school or during early mornings before he woke up or late at night after he had gone to bed. That was my ideal life.

What I didn't account for was the fact that being present and conscious as a parent takes a lot of energy, especially emotional and mental energy. If D has had a particularly difficult morning and I've put in the effort to be calm and patient with him, then I find myself left with little energy for the mentally demanding creative work of sitting and writing stories or formatting and publishing books.

He'd be away at school, and I'd end up having a slow day or even a no-output day. And that same old terror comes roaring at me: that I'd never be able to write and publish books fast enough to earn money.

(KrA is not like that. No matter what happens around him, he can still get to his desk and focus on the work at hand. I've come to admire and envy that ability of his in recent years — it's what helps us put bread on the table; it's also what I wish I could do but find myself unable to.)

I've often wondered if having a job with deadlines to meet and an external boss to report to would help me focus better and get more done work-wise. Believing that, I've applied for jobs on and off in the past several years but have met with little luck.

A few years ago, when D was younger, I was freelance-editing for a while. I remember taking on projects with great interest and enthusiasm, only to be forced to give them up because D would have fallen ill and needed to stay at home, or I was trying to get the work done at night when he was asleep but I ended up compromising my own sleep and sanity in the process.

Over time, I've also come to see that given my current frame of mind, I'm likely to perceive external deadlines as an imposition and constraint, especially when I value the time I'm able to spend with little D and prefer to savour life slowly, especially when I'm able to do so without constantly worrying about the work to be done or the money to be earned.

So then what is it that I really value? What is it that I really want?
At this point of time in my life, I find that what I really want is to be able to accept and value my life as it is without cursing it and wishing it were any other way.

I'd like to write and create without worrying about whether or not my stories will sell.

When D is in pain, I wish to be there to hold and comfort him without wishing parenting were easy so I could focus more and better on the other job of writing.

When KrA and I spend time together, I don't wish to have this nagging thought in the back of my head about how fleeting and precious this time is, and how there never seems to be enough of it these days.

I'm unable to accept the fact that I'm not a breadwinner for our family and that I haven't been one for the last nine years.

It stings.

In a different context, Susan Cain explains this feeling in her book Bittersweet. She quotes a haiku by Japanese Buddhist poet Issa, who lived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Issa witnessed a lot of loss of loved ones in his life. He railed against the impermanence of life.

"I concede that water can never return to its source, nor scattered blossoms to their branch, but even so the bonds of affection are hard to break." ~ Issa
It is true
That this world of dew
Is a world of dew.
But even so...
~ Issa
... there's a big difference between awareness and acceptance. Which is why "this world of dew / Is a world of dew" isn't the heart of Issa's poem. It's true, thrumming centre is those three unassuming words: But even so.
... How are we supposed to live, knowing that we and everyone we love will die? Issa offers his own bittersweet answer. You don't have to accept impermanence, I believe he's telling us. It's enough to be aware of it, and to feel its sting.
Because this, in the end, is what connects us all.
~ Susan Cain, Bittersweet

Reading these lines from Cain's Bittersweet made me realize that I was aware of my constraints but I was struggling to accept them. Now that I understand the difference between the two? I do. But even so ... But even so ...

I know that for as long as I continue to write, the reminder that I wasn't able to make a living from it will continue to sting. I will still write for my soul.

For as long as I parent, the truth that I don't own or control my child, that his future will unfold in ways beyond my foresight, and that all I can do is show up in the moment and be there for him now, when he is still young and of a tender age, will continue to hurt and baffle me. I will still show up as a conscious parent for him; this is something I'd do for my own growth just as much as for him.

The only difference is that when I write, it will no longer be with the frenzied approach of one looking to finish the work and put it up in the marketplace for sale. It will come from a place of simple delight and joy, like it did all those years ago when I first started to write with the singular intention of writing well, with the singular hope that my words too may soothe and comfort readers the way so many authors' words have looked after me in my times of need and distress.

The only difference is that when I parent, I will do so from a place of unhurried presence, because I no longer have other more pressing matters to attend to. I can give all my attention to this little person I've been so lucky to have in my home.

Ever since D was born, I knew how lucky I was. I tell him I've won the lottery because he was born to me. Somewhere along the way, in my ambition to monetize my writing, I had forgotten this truth.

And I ended up resenting him and his dependence on me, I'm ashamed to say. I thought I was an awful parent who hadn't taught or encouraged her child to undertake independent play. I thought I was a smothering mom who had spent too much time playing with him when he was little.

I am so sorry, little D. You are such a precious soul. I don't regret a single moment I spent with you. I regret doubting myself for loving you so much, for wanting to give you a happy childhood filled with presence and attention and connection.

When I look at life this way, I can see I'm already living my dream life.

Why did I want to earn money from writing?

So that I can enjoy a life of freedom, not tied to a 9-to-5 job with limited leave. So that I can be there for my child as he grows up. So that I can spend much of my precious life with KrA. So that I can lie in bed in the afternoon and look out of the window and watch the white clouds drift across a splendid blue sky.

These are the things that matter to me, and I already have them.

Sure, I don't own a lakeside mansion, but all I need to do is walk about a kilometre down and I reach Paletta, where the wind rocks the waves and sweeps clouds across the skies!

Does it matter that I'm only a housewife? Like my mother and almost every woman of her generation was? It used to sting.

But now I see the gift I bring to this world, the gift that is not of the monetary kind.

I can help ease suffering.

My words ease the pain of those who read my posts or newsletter, as I gather from those who reach out to me and tell me how much solace my words brought them.

My writing skills came in handy when KrA suddenly got a letter from a debt collector demanding we pay up more than 100 grand. It was a matter of similar names, but my ability to compose a neat, succinct email helped clear up the matter to a significant extent.

My writing skills are coming in handy now when I had to compose an email to D's school this morning to complain of an injury a classmate inflicted on him yesterday. I haven't had a response yet, but the very fact that I'm able to use my strong voice and express my stance with compassion and understanding but also firmly tells me that I've come a long way.

It's funny ... I started out writing thinking that I'd be free to set my own work hours. I ended up demanding much more of myself than any employer ever did, and even berating myself in terrible ways when I fell short of my own over-the-top expectations.

When I had my freedom, I ended up building my own cage around myself.

There are a lot of things I've come to realize about my writing in the process.

I now know that I don't like working on the same project day in and day out. So if my mind tells me I need to switch, it's OK for me to do so.

I've also realized that I don't wish to force myself to write 5—6 hours a day to achieve a goal of 5,000—6,000 words, which apparently is the definition of prolificness. Who cares? I don't. That is not what my life is suited for.

I hate routines. I love some routine — for instance, a monthly newsletter is as much as I'm willing to commit to. I'll make no weekly promises of content to anyone. But daily writing sessions are not what fill my cup. I will attempt to write when D is at school, and that is more than enough time when I don't squander it on berating myself over all the could-have-beens and should-have-beens.

I have a full life with my husband and my child and with writing at my own pace. I am very lucky that KrA was my first patron and he is intent on supporting me until the very end. I have already won the lottery in this life! And I intend to never forget this henceforth.

In conclusion, I think I should have titled this post as 'changing my relationship with life'. Because, that's what this post is about.

I had been resisting my life, pushing myself to do more to change it, and falling short every single time.

It's high time I accepted it.

I love you, life. It's true. I had some mask over my eyes that kept me from seeing the truth and beauty of what I already have.

And when that longing comes, that longing for whatever — friendship, family, fearlessness — I now know that it does not signal the absence of something meaningful or purposeful.

Instead, I can cherish it as a reminder of my ability to feel the inevitable bittersweetness of this life. It is the craving of the soul, for a union with God.

In Bittersweet, Cain points to a poem by Rumi, titled 'Love Dogs', translated by Coleman Banks. This is what I leave you with.

One night a man was crying Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with praising,
until a cynic said, “So!
I’ve heard you calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
“Why did you stop praising?” “Because
I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.

I too am a love dog. An incredibly longing one. 💕