When am I going to go back to work?
Other than whether I've finished my novel, it’s the most frequent — even unrelenting — question I get. Particularly since returning a few weeks ago from a three-month writing retreat in Spain, the general consensus appears to be that I must be down to my last penny. Everyone who asks the question seems to agree: it’s time for me to get a job.
Yesterday I worked ten hours. I know because I clock in and out on a spreadsheet, to hold myself accountable. I spent four hours fact-checking my novel. I spent another six on marketing. I organized my social media posts for the next couple of weeks. I created a profile on yet another platform, Goodreads. Not only was it completely new to me, but it required that I revisit and document my recent personal reading history. It was actually sort of fun, but it was definitely work.
But that’s not the kind of work people are talking about.
People want to know when I’m going to get a paycheck; they want to know when I’m going back to the nine-to-five. I often get the impression they find it disconcerting I haven’t already done so. The assumption, of course — no matter how supportive they are of my literary endeavors — is that I will. It’s only a matter of time.
I understand their concern and bewilderment. I do not have a trust fund. I did not amass untold wealth in either of the tech booms, deliberately eschewing not only the first but the second start-up frenzies that have forever transformed my beloved city. Neither am I an undercover agent in the CIA, a possibility that has been extended by more than one family member (at first jokingly; later on, much less so). How else to explain my prolonged absence from the workplace, during which I've somehow done repeated, ostensibly suspect stints overseas?
If only the truth were half as intriguing. Sadly, it is not. In fact, it’s painfully dull.
I worked very hard in various corporate jobs, where I was fortunate enough to earn a decent living. I saved my money. I’m now spending that money.
Not on a house. Not on a car. Not on other material possessions.
On a passion.
No one has put more financial pressure on me than myself. Over and over I have drawn arbitrary lines in the sand: I will go back to work once I hit this amount. Each time I’ve drawn another line and dug still deeper into my savings, I’ve felt a misplaced need to justify my decision to others. Never mind that it’s my money, and I’m well aware of the sacrifices I’m making and their consequences.
And, to be clear: I am making sacrifices, and there are real consequences.
Indeed, even without running the numbers, there's no question: the rational decision would be to return to the workplace as soon as possible.
The thing is, there’s nothing rational about being a writer.
Or a musician. Or an artist.
It’s not about job security. It’s not about planning for the future. It’s not about measuring up, fitting in, or playing it safe.
That’s not to say, however, that’s it’s about heroics or martyrdom.
It’s not about that either; at least not for me.
Ten years ago I felt called to explore my creativity, to pursue something with more depth and meaning than the daily grind. Money is important. I need it, and I like having it. I like the options it provides. Yet satisfying my material needs alone was not enough. I needed to address my spiritual ones, as well, in a way that went beyond a weekend distraction.
Like any other plunge into the unknown, I couldn’t possibly have foreseen how much time, effort, or money it would require. All the same, having heeded the call, I have to see it through to its fruition.
It’s that simple.
At some point before my savings run out — long before I’m homeless and hungry — I will once again have a paycheck. Whether it’s from a steady stream of book royalties or something else altogether, only more time (and, yes, money) will tell.
Out now! "With Open Arms", stories of misadventures in Morocco. (More)