This past Tuesday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting held by my local RWA chapter, Desert Rose. The main event of the evening was a Q&A with five published authors. The topic? How to make a living as a writer. For me, it was very pertinent. Over the last few months, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make the psychological adjustment, both for myself and within my family, of being a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) second and a writer first.
Over the last six years, I’ve been very, very fortunate to be a full-time SAHM, raising two boys who are only 14 months apart. They’re old enough now where they’re in school most of the day, or they can occupy themselves when they’re not, and I don’t like being idle, but the idea of doing more loads of laundry, making bread from scratch, baking cookies, or whatever other domestic challenges might await me just isn’t satisfying.
At the same time, extra money would be nice, but I’d like to avoid going back to an office job if I can. I like being at home when my boys are through with school, I like that I’m the “Mom on the Street” in my neighborhood, keeping tabs on everyone else’s kids when necessary. I like that I can still do a lot of the domestic stuff during the day and spend my evenings doing things I want to do, rather than things I have to do.
This is why I started writing fiction. For me, it’s a job. Unlike many of you, I didn’t grow up knowing I’d be a writer. I didn’t have seven journals filled with short stories by the time I was fourteen, and I don’t hear voices in my head. What I have always loved, though, is reading, particularly historical romance.
In a dose of irony, I did end up becoming a writer after college, but it was technical…user manuals and the like. Until I started the McDaniel Romance Writing program, I wouldn’t have known about something like conflict if it had hit me upside the head.
And then it did.
In the past year and a half, I’ve spent a lot of time writing, learning, rewriting, editing, researching, and of course cursing and swearing (yes, I believe every writer does that, and if they say they don’t, I think they’re lying). However, a fundamental challenge remains: how to get my family to understand that THIS is my job now. It should be treated no differently than an office job. Yet I think they see this as lark, or something I won’t stick with, or that I shouldn’t be taken seriously until I’ve sold something. In other words, it’s a HOBBY (gasp!). What’s worse is that I still feel that taking care of the household is my first job. Since I started writing, if I had to choose between doing laundry and writing, I’d typically choose laundry (guilty conscience, “this is your first job,” etc.). So not only do I have to help everyone in the family adjust their perspective, I have to adjust my own.
My husband, who is an entrepreneur, told me a few weeks ago that he’d take my writing seriously when I sold something. His comment resulted in the following (paraphrased) conversation:
ME: So my writing is only “real,” only a priority, if I’ve sold something. Well, let me ask you, then…when you started your latest company, did you have clients right away? Did you have income right away?
HIM: Well, no, but I’m the breadwinner, so we both know that my work comes first…that it has to be taken seriously.
ME: Yes, I understand that. I’m not questioning whether you’re the breadwinner…I know you are. What I’m questioning is your perspective. You’re creating a double-standard. Until you regard my writing as a job, as a career, then it will always be a hobby to you. Unlike a desk job, I don’t get paid the second I start writing. I’m just as entrepreneurial as you…I’m working hard to garner clients (readers, agents, editors), but I’ll never get there if I’m not given the respect (in the form of dedicated time to write, shared workload around the house, shared childcare, etc.) necessary to get it done.
(Before you decide to seek out my husband and throw rotten fruit at him, you should know that he’s a wonderful man, funny and kind, who works his backside off so that we may live comfortably and I may stay at home. He’s been incredibly supportive of my writing, but with the small caveat that taking care of the household is still my primary responsibility.)
Fortunately, after our conversation, he saw where I was coming from — that in order to have a finished product that I can sell and make money from (and to do more of the same), I need buy-in from him that what I’m doing is just as important (psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, if not financially) as what he’s doing. He loves his job, he loves running companies, he loves being an entrepreneur. And I love writing just as much.
My husband is trying to embrace this new reality, translating that into shifted responsibilities around the house, but it’s a work in progress. No doubt it’s a major adjustment to go from a life where I took care of most everything to life where I hand over a load of laundry to fold, but I believe very strongly that I have to put my foot down and enforce this new reality, or my writing will forever end up being regarded as a hobby.
I’m curious how other writers have managed the shift, both for themselves and within their families, from “hobby” to “career.” Please share your thoughts/advice/comments, as I think this is an experience that many people find themselves having.