Thursday, April 28, 2011

Do you do it for love or for money?

Life's been a bit chaotic lately, as you might have guessed. One result of the divorce and my intent to hold on to this house without resorting to prostitution is that I've rented a room to a 20-year-old college kid.

It's not as inconvenient as you might imagine. The house is quite large, and most of the time I don't even know my young tenant is here. He stays in his room listening to music and doing whatever it is young males do behind closed doors.

I'd rather not dwell on that.

The other night, I wanted pork chops. Since I love to cook and it's not any tougher to prep a dinner for two people than for one, I invited my young tenant to join me. He seemed downright giddy at the prospect of a home-cooked meal, and chattered amicably with me as I prepared pork chops braised with shallots in a honey balsamic reduction, rosemary garlic mashed potatoes, and roasted asparagus.

Once he stopped being perplexed at the lack of a frozen pizza on the table, he dug right in.

"This is amazing," he gushed between bites. "Why didn't you become a chef?"

It was such a funny, typically 20-year-old question that I almost laughed.

"Because I like to cook," I told him. "If I had to do it for a job, I might not like it anymore."

It was such a foreign concept to him that he stopped chewing and stared at me. "You mean you want a job you don't like?"

"Not exactly. It's just that loving to do something doesn't necessarily mean it's a good career choice."

I refrained from adding that if I set out to pick a career based on what I love most, the prostitution thing might not be such a bad idea after all.

It did get me thinking though. Not about prostitution, but the fine line between loving to do something and making a living at it. In a roundabout way, I've been writing for my supper my whole adult life. The bulk of my career has been in marketing and public relations, so the writing portion of it taps a different part of my mind than romantic comedy does.

Still, there have been times when the day job sucks the creative writing center of my brain to the point that it resembles a deflated udder. To say that makes it tough to come home and crank out chapters in a novel is a bigger understatement than if I told you I have a mild fondness for being groped.

My urge to protect my creative energy is the main reason I avoid accepting freelance writing projects on the side unless I'm bribed with large amounts of free food and cash. I know my well can run dry, so I'd prefer to save the water for a sexy bubble bath rather than a load of laundry.

I didn't say any of this to my young tenant, of course. By then he'd grown bored with the conversation and was busy texting someone with one hand as he shoveled up the last of the mashed potatoes with the other.

"You're a very good cook," he said politely.

"Thank you," I replied. "You're not going to eat the asparagus?"

He frowned. "It's green."

"I can't argue with that."

How do you find the balance between having a job you love and one that pays the bills? If you're a writer, do you ever reach a saturation point where you fear you might kill your own desire to do it?

Speaking of doing it . . . oh, never mind. Writing is pretty much like prostitution anyway, right?

31 comments :

D. U. Okonkwo said...

First off - the fact that the guy panicked at the sight of green veg is very worrying! Greens are the first and last fundamentals of our diet - or at least that was what God intended. Man, what has marketing and McDonald's done?? LOL

On the case about money, I don't think it's something to overly think about. If its what you're meant to be doing you'll do it whether you make lots of money or not. The real issue is our passion. That's what makes us either continue with something, or not.

Anne Gallagher said...

"If I had to do it for a job, I might not like it anymore."

I was a chef. I hate food now. I cook as little as possible.

As for writing, I'm at my saturation point right now. Makes me wonder if I should bother trying to be published. Perhaps if I had a contract and I KNEW it was my job it might be different, but with two books out to query, and working on two more with no sign of yes in sight makes me think I'm shoveling sand against the tide.

Claire Dawn said...

In the earthquake aftermath, I missed the original post. I just wanted to let you know how sorry I am. Be strong, and I'm here if you need me. Which would be totally weird, except I know that you hurked in your undies :)

Let's see, I do it for love. But I'm the type who walks when the love is gone. I'm 29 and I've worked in 5 different industries (retail, military, tourism, debt collection, and education). I hear lots of people say you should think of writing as a job, and you'll be more disciplined and expect sacrifices and hardships. But that is one of my main reasons for not thinking of writing as a jon. When a job gets me, me gets going.

Also can you email me, on a completely unrelated note? muchlanguage (at) gmail (dot) com. Thanks :)

Claire Dawn said...

"Thinking of writing as a joN" = BESTEST. TYPO. EVER. lol

Patrick Alan said...

I was thinking of a comment, but really I can't get away from thinking that 'he' discovered he was gay...

Do me a favor. Pull the 20 year old aside and explain to him that he wants to marry either a physical therapist or a romance writer. Or a billionaire. Better yet, a former PT, romance writing billionaire.

Going on 6 years of writing conferences and workshops and still no completed novel. I suspect this means I haven't quite found that work/write balance.

Danielle Spears said...

I just love this post. Once your book comes out, you probably won't have to worry so much about losing the house. :)

I used to think I had a routine, but I was only lying to myself. I write when I can write. There is no balance, sadly.

Danielle

Sarah W said...

I work in a library, which makes research a cinch.

But I also blog and write articles for our website, which can be draining. And all those books on the shelves, no of which are mine? A bit intimidating . . .

Missy said...

I find it ironic that when I was a professor, we were expected to write as part of our job. The more you published, the more you got paid. However, you also had to publish lest you perish.

Things have changed now. I'm still writing my scientific articles and they are getting published. But my heart is really in the non-scientific things I want to write. However, I'm consulting in order to pay the bills. I love the work but it is keeping me from writing.

On second thought, maybe I'll try that prostitution thing out.....

Taryn said...

As a college student, I try not to think too much about bills. However, I have two plans: (1) sell a major deal before I graduate, and (2) coach swim teams to pay the bills while writing.

I think we all know which one I would prefer.

In other news, if you're ever looking for another tenant, I'm looking to try independence!

Summer Frey said...

This. This! This is what I try to tell people when they ask why I don't want to try to write full time.

I'm one of those who needs my job to be as polar opposite of my love--writing--as can be. Otherwise, that resentment builds.

I'll take the asparagus! Kid doesn't know what he's missing.

LynnRush said...

LOVE THIS! I can see what you mean, though, about the not wanting to freelance write to avoid tapping the well dry.

I love your stories. That make me smile, Tawna.

Have a great day!

Laura Maylene said...

This is exactly why so many aspiring novelists and poets seem to end up in various journalism/media/marketing/PR jobs. I love my job (I'm an editor for a very specific niche trade magazine) but it definitely does drain my brain for my creative writing now and then.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I had gone into an entirely different field. But sadly (or not?) moving words around on paper is always what I return to, and is what I do best. So here I am. Never mind that last night I was so exhausted by meeting my work deadlines at the last minute that I came home and did nothing but watch stupid tv shows and drink milkshakes.

Linda G. said...

I have to admit, I'm curious as to whether writing books for money will somehow inhibit my fun. So far I'm okay with it. Then again, I'm not very far into the process. I'll let you know how it works out. ;)

Danica Avet said...

Really great post, Tawna! See, my mom paints. She's very good at it and for years people in the family have been trying to get her to paint and sell her paintings. She won't though because then it becomes something she HAS to do rather than something she loves to do.

Sometimes I wonder if I should've just written for the pure hell of it and not followed the road to publication. It isn't that I'm tapped out, but I feel pressured (by myself because I'm anal) that the next story has to be so much better than the first.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

Because I'm not done with grad school yet, I have no choice but to work low-wage jobs that I don't like very much; they (sort of) help me pay my bills. Writing is a good way for me to escape the work that I don't like, because unlike those low-wage jobs, writing is something I actually look forward to doing.

abby mumford said...

it's during the moments of mind-numbing data crunching at work that i thank my lucky stars i'm saving my creative juices for my own writing time because, yes, i agree one can reach a saturation point. but one does need to bring home the bacon, so the day job stays, and i continue writing amidst the moonlight.

Jason said...

The simple fact of the matter is you have to pay the bills, whether you love what you do or not. Sure, you CAN get around this, by choosing to live your life a certain way that involves less/lower bills. Then again, what if you thought you loved what you were doing, got used to a certain income level and lifestyle, and then found out you don't like the job? I don't know a single lawyer who loves what they do, yet they aren't walking away from their jobs (Angela Choi of Hello Kitty Must Die actually did) because they have families that depend on them to pay those bills. When you get other people dependent on you, you can't walk away, even if 10 years too late you decide your job blows.

Can you tell this hit a personal note? :) I'm there, right there, right now.

I have a job with a nice salary. I have a writing gig that pays me enough to enjoy things. These are important because my wife is not working and going to school.

Sometimes, pie in the sky, it's easy to say do what you love and everything will work out, but in reality it's not nearly that simple.

And yet...one has to make choices. I'm close, very close, to giving up the extra writing job, partially for the reasons you mention above. It's hard to feel sufficiently creative at the end of a day that involves a 5:30 alarm, two hours of commute, eight hours in the office, and two more hours at home working on the other job.

It's all about choices - the ones you have to make and the ones you can live with making.

As for the green stuff...I didn't eat it when I was in college either. He'll be fine. :)

lora96 said...

At the risk of missing your point by a country mile, could I have the recipe for the shallot-balsamic reduction yummy sounding pork chops?

Diane Henders said...

I suspect prostitution would provide a more dependable income source than writing, but it might be harder to find ergonomically correct seating.

Or maybe not, considering that Wikipedia defines ergonomics as "the study of designing equipment and devices that fit the human body..."

Rick said...

I refrained from adding that if I set out to pick a career based on what I love most, the prostitution thing might not be such a bad idea after all.

I was about to say!

Stephanie said...

Writing is my second career. My first I gave up to start writing full time. My passion for it faded and all i could think about was writing. I worry that the same thing will happen again. For now, i am so so so so happy being able to write as my job. But I guess if changes come in the future, I'll move into somehting else that makes me happy. And I guess that's what life is all about..finding what you love. The hard part is then finding a way to make money doing it.

Kristie Cook said...

"Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for money." - Moliere

There you have it.

I'm also in marketing, which not only includes written communications but sometimes graphic design, too. And yes, there have been many nights when my creativity was just too sapped to be able to write a paragraph. I look forward to the day when writing does pay the bills...and maybe then some. And just have to hope I don't come to hate it as a "job." I love my characters so much, though, I don't see that happening.

And the asparagus...sounds like something my teens would say but your dude is missing out. My teens have recently discovered they like something green - asparagus!

kmullican said...

So does a $0.99 eBook just make you a cheap whore? ;)

Great post as usual! Interesting choice of roommates - I'm smelling novel material here...not really... 20 year old boys are gross.

Ricky Bush said...

I've never been in anything for the money. That's why I spent 29 years teaching.

M. M. Justus said...

When I was a kid, I was an avid gardener. Then I studied horticulture in college. Then I went to work in a plant nursery one rainy winter between semesters for three months. When I got back to school, I switched fields of study.

It took me a long time before I reverted to being an avid gardener again (and I still to this day do not like the smell of geraniums).

Carolyn Arnold said...

Very interesting post. I believe when it comes to writing (and continually enjoying it) it requires some balance. Although this is coming from a person who pretty much breathes it for oxygen. But I also do have a day job, and it does tax another part of the mind. Maybe if all I had was my writing, I would have to incorporate other activities in throughout M-F so it wouldn't become "work".

Betty Fokker said...

I like to think of motherhood as the toughest job I've ever loved :) Being a stay at home parent, I am certainly not doing it because it's lucrative.

KendallGrey said...

Forget all the talk about prostitution, writing, and delicious food. I want to hear about this 20 year old tenant! *Rests elbows on end of the couch, props head in hands, smiles dreamily* Is he hot? If so, what are your chances? Sneak a pic while he's in the shower, will ya?

Kendall Grey
Cougar Wannabe

Matthew MacNish said...

Personally, I have the perfect solution for all of this. I have a steady, secure day job that I do not love, but don't really hate either. I can't say much more about it than that, except the best part is that I make time at work to write, shhh.

So it's kind of like I'm getting paid to write, but not really.

And why am I not surprised that you had a healthy young man move in? I hope he knows how lucky he is.

Michelle Miles said...

Thank GOD I'm not alone in this. I feel pressure every single day to produce and writing and get out of this hell hole I call a job. But I can't, you see, because I have a kid to raise and bills to pay. And it depresses me. Which makes me not want to write. I'm not sure I love writing enough to want to continue, to be honest. It's something I've been struggling with for a while now.

Amanda said...

I write freelance (magazines, etc.) for money, and fiction for love. It's tough, though, because I'd rather work on the fiction all day, but realistically that can't happen until it pays the bills -- and not just the tiny ones. Like for milk. And a box of jello.