And yet, unprepared as I am, I am dancing in the streets anyway.
The truth is, even though my writing business is not ready, I am ready. I've been preparing for this for a while. I talked about this in some earlier posts:
- Making the Jump to Full-Time Writing, part 1
- Money - Making the Jump to Full-Time Writing, part 2
- Needs - Making the Jump to Full-Time Writing, part 3
- The Forty-Dollar Sandwich - Making the Jump to Full-Time Writing, part 4
But there are some other things that I've done that aren't mentioned in those posts.
Previous Freelancing and Entrepreneurship
Everyone in my father's family had a side business. They were farmers and teachers and they lived in a place with a seasonal economy, so they did all sorts of other things too. That's just how you get by. You pack stuff away for the dry times, and you pick up work where you can, and you make and buy and sell a little something on the side: whether it's spare berries from the patch, or home crafts, or copyediting.
When I was in high school, we boarded horses on our farm to help support my horse. Then my dad converted one of the pastures and built three professional level clay tennis courts. He did it by hand, totally on a shoestring. Wheel barrel, shovel, a bit of screen on a frame to sift the clay. He'd buy some hardware here, and hire a local farmer with a backhoe/bulldozer to do a little digging or smoothing there.
We didn't have much in the way of cash. My dad was a teacher in a poor district. So every summer, my parents would give tennis lessons, and hold tennis tournaments -- every single weekend -- and maybe rent out the courts to some up-and-coming player who was looking for more experience on clay before a big time tournament. We had two antique pop machines which we used to sell pop to the trickle of customers. We also spread a sheet on the tennis court fence and projected 16mm film to have movie nights, with popcorn and hot dogs.
I have an uncle who made (and lost and made again) many fortunes with bigger versions of that sort of thing, but for us, it was just the way we lived. Just a way we could have a life we wanted. Boarding horses meant I could have a horse. Tennis lessons and tournaments meant my dad could play with dirt and play tennis all summer. Selling pop out of a machine meant we had pop.
And so that just seems to be a natural way to live for me. I never had a lemonade stand, but instead of comic books, I liked to read Mother Earth News, especially the "bootstrap businesses" column.
So it was perfectly natural for me to start a business selling buttons at science fiction conventions when I was in college, and especially after college. It paid for the computers I used to design and create the buttons. And the car I used to transport them to the cons. It was also natural to take the job as a noon-time playground supervisor, and do tutoring, and help people write their resumes and fix their computers, not to mention freelance script analysis, and um, you know... writing fiction for magazines! I did these things in lieu of regular work, and in supplement to it.
So I never really saw any source of income -- even my Day Job -- as anything but another income stream. The Day Job was like showing movies on that tennis court: it was fun, rewarding, and it kept me in hot dogs and chips.
So I was never emotionally dependent on that job. It was never my identity.
What that job did for me, though, is allow me to become financially complacent. Sure, while I worked there I still designed t-shirts for Printfection, or wrote SEO articles for eHow on the side. But I didn't need to, and so I didn't do it "for reals." It was more experimental than lucrative.
I never made a lot of money at those other activities, and one thing this 25-year temporary job did for me was to give me cash for investment. Which is the other thing that makes this transition go better.
Investing and Saving
Because of my squirrel-like upbringing, I have a tendency to pack stuff away for winter. It's not just my bank account, and my IRA, and my brokerage account. I have nuts buried all over the place -- from penny jars and first edition books, to tiny amounts of stock in direct investment programs.
My investment secret is this: Stock is a cool toy. If you feel like buying yourself a cool toy (like, say, a wireless mouse) buy stock in the company that makes it instead. (Or some other company you've already vetted.) If you buy a toy, you'll have some fun, and then a year or two down the line, you'll have junk to get rid of. If you buy stock, you still have the value of the stock. Even if the price goes down, you've got more than you had with the toy. (And over time, stock prices trend upward.)
And because I am a squirrel, I am always thinking of what value something could have later -- in the long term. Amusing anecdote from work: long ago I had a coworker who was a neatnik. He noticed that when he threw things away, I'd often pull them out of the trash and stick them in my crowded office (not everything, just a few key items). Then later, when we had a crisis, I'd pull out one of those items to save the day. After a while, he started asking me to assess the hidden value of items before he threw them out.
These assets I pack away include my writing and art. My blog posts are savings bonds. I don't have time or energy to convert them to cash right now... but down the line, I have some potential books or booklets out of it. That sketch I did of a policeman and a trench-coated reporter way back at the beginning of this blog... that could adapt into an interesting book cover.
I have a freezer full of rice, and you'd be really shocked at how much you can get out of even 10 square feet of garden, if you work at it and go vertical. (Also if you're home and not too busy to notice whether the beans are setting seeds. Whoops.) I know how to grow cucumbers and how to bake great bread from scratch.
I think one of the reasons that going over to the freelancing lifestyle is hard for most people is because it's not just about schedule and time. It's not about what you do, it's about how you think -- and that way of thinking takes years to develop. It takes years to know what works for you and what doesn't. Sometimes you do something for one reason, and fail, but you find some other value in it.
In some ways, the freelancing lifestyle is about always making lemonade. You fail constantly, so you recycle.
It also takes years to acquire the tools you need for that lifestyle. Whether it's a spading fork or a Kitchenaid stand mixer, or Adobe Photoshop -- or a computer -- or the knowledge to use any of the above; having the tools to do your work makes that work possible.
So you could say this post is a warning to others.
I'm going blithely into this not because I expect to make enough money at writing. That's a very big question, with no proof of concept at all. I am blithe because I have layers of options, including that of being incredibly poor.
But even with all my options, it takes time to sort things out. I'm taking October to sink into the new lifestyle. Next Wednesday, I'll post new goals, and talk about the transition -- changing habits.
See you in the funny papers.
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Here's a link to a list of my books. And ... hey, look at that! There's a donation link right below this sentence. (Donations are via Paypal)