Monday, January 30, 2012

Needs - Making The Jump To Full Time Writing Part 3

I wrote a screenplay called The Scenic Route, in which a not-very-bright robber expressed his relationship with money. He and his gang have just discovered that the take on their robbery isn't nearly as big as they thought it would be, and they are all terribly disappointed. But Luther -- the gang leader -- is an optimist....

LUTHER: What difference does it make? If you didn't tell me how much there was, I wouldn't know. It looks like a lot.

(He looks again at Brenda, who shrugs.)

LUTHER: Fuck it. Come on. Come ON.

(He kneels down and messes up the neat piles of money. He scoops and shapes a mound, and the takes out two big fistfuls, and gestures for Brenda to come and join them.)

LUTHER: You too. Grab a fistful. A big one. Yeah. Hold on to it.

(Sol and Lucy take up a fistful of money. Brenda just settles down beside the money and looks.)

LUTHER: Feels good, doesn't it.

LUCY: Yeah.

BRENDA: Is this why you don't fold your money?

LUTHER: Exactly. It's no good folded. You've got to feel it. Let it breathe.

(Brenda reaches out and ruffles the money, takes some, rubs it between her fingers. Sol and Lucy push the money around, play with it. Luther just holds on to his.)

LUTHER: New rule. We don't count the money. There's only two amounts of money. Either there's enough, or there isn't.

BRENDA: Honey, there's no such thing as enough money.

LUTHER: Sure there is. Look at it. You want to buy a pack of smokes? It's enough. Tank of gas? It's plenty. You want to buy a race horse, it's probably not enough. At least not for a good one.

BRENDA: What do you want with a race horse?

LUTHER: Nothing. It would just be neat if we could, you know?

Luther is an exaggeration of some of our foibles. He has a hopeless life. He knows he is not bright (and actually underestimates himself much of the time) and holds no hope beyond a fistful of money he can clutch right now.

He is rather like most writers, and most Americans. We seldom stop to count the money -- other than for fun. Instead we tend to focus on what it would be cool to have right now. So a thousand dollars or a million dollars or 100 million all seem kind of the same.

But Luther does have one thing that many of us don't have: He knows what he needs.

Luther doesn't need a racehorse, so he doesn't need to know how much money he has or how much more he needs to acquire. He knows he has more than enough for a tank of gas and pack of smokes. And when that runs out, he can always steal more. And if he gets caught? He'll get fed at the state's expense. Why should he need to count his money?

Another difference between Luther and most writers is that Luther has no interest in changing his life. (At least not yet, and certainly not in regards to money.) If you are reading a post called "Making The Jump To Full Time Writing" odds are you DO want to make a major change in your life, and it does have to do iwth money.

And odds are also that, when you think about making the jump to being a full time writer, you're thinking things like "If I can make $XXXX a month, I can quit the job." (XXXX = how much you make at the job + safety buffer.)

This is the wrong place to start.

You're making two mistakes when you think that way:
  • You're not thinking about what you need, but about what you have, which are two different things.
  • If you're thinking about changing your life, why are you basing it on keeping your life the same?

Have you ever noticed how your needs grow and shrink with your income? If you make more money, it just kind of disappears. And it's not that you're wasting money. Sometimes it's just that if you don't have money, you put off dental work, and you get by. We adjust our needs to suit our income.

If you really want to be happy, imho, it's a good idea to first stop thinking about money, and instead start thinking about what you want out of life. Once you have identified it, you can start looking for information on how to get it and how much it will cost. And once you've done that, you may discover that you can afford to make your life better well before you can quit the day job.

So here's the exercise:

You've got this wealthy Aunt Una. You have no idea how much money she has, but she is thrilled with the idea that you have a dream, and she wants to fund you. Except... she feels that money distracts artists and dreamers, so she won't give you cash. Instead, she'll just pay your bills, perhaps behind your back. You may have a little cash allowance for incidentals, but mostly you have credit cards and you never see the bill.

Now, before you go running off like Minnie the Moocher and buying diamond cars with platinum wheels, remember that there is a catch: Aunt Una doesn't have a unlimited amount of money, and she won't say how much she has. All she'll say is that you are the only one drawing on the account, so there is no point in competing to empty it first. But she assures you she had enough to cover what you need.

So... sit down and think about the life you want. Try to stay away from budget thoughts. Don't think "I will need $400 a month for my wine budget" but rather, "I'd like to drink better wine." Identify what you want, and then worry about pricing it later. (Besides, Aunt Una is really good at getting things wholesale.)

Think about things that have nothing to do with money too. If you don't have your day job, are you going to get bored and lonely? Do you hate to do certain jobs, and you want to hire help? Would the ideal writing life involve having an assistant? Would you like to move? Would you like to have the electrical service in your house upgraded? If you have 2000 cable channels, would you have time to write?

What is your ideal day? Would you like to have an office? Would you like to hang out at a club, or a cafe? Would you like to indulge in hobbies or other activities?

Heck, if you are Minnie the Moocher, think about that diamond car. Maybe the risk of running out of cash is worth it to you.

Get a good idea of that lifestyle in your mind. Think about it over time. Think about tradeoffs. Indulge in the diamond car fantasies, and then peel it back and think about more modest levels of happiness. Just don't think about money.

Now, there is one other thing you should keep tabs on while doing this: Does it make you nervous that you don't know when it will end? If Aunt Una was kind of a flake, and you think she may not have nearly the money she claims to have, could you be happy, or would you always be worrying about it? Would it make you feel better if she was willing to let you know how long your good fortune would last, once you had established the lifestyle you wanted -- so you could adjust if you were spending too much? Or what if she were willing to put a specific amount into an emergency fund, which would be yours as cash if the rest of the money ran out? Kind of a golden parachute -- would you feel safer if you knew exactly how much that was?

Because security is a part of your happiness. You've got to figure out what you need to be happy, and also what what makes you nervous. (Don't worry yet about how much it would cost to feel more secure, just get an idea of how bad your nerves affect you.)

After you think about that for a while -- like a week or so at least (although you can go back and revisit it) -- then you can start putting a dollar value on your happiness. I'll talk about that next week.

In the meantime, here's Cab Calloway and Minnie The Moocher:

See you in the funny papers.


David Michael said...

IMX, people don't like to have their lifestyle threatened. Even in theory. Not even by themselves. Americans seem especially sensitive. But they would almost certainly be just as happy--maybe even happier--if they would take the time to decide what it is they really want and need.

Back in the early 2K's when I was more prone to Indie Preaching, I would try to get would-be indies to look at the money coming in from their indie endeavor as *extra*. It's not replacing your current income. It's in addition to it. $100/month isn't a lot...but it might pay your gas bill. Or fund a night out at a spiffy restaurant. Or whatever. Let the day job cover the bulk of your expenses. Let the indie stuff be pure gravy, especially in the early days when the income stream is hardly a trickle. Don't compare $100/month to $5000/month (or whatever). Compare it to something more its size. Like a stack of DVD's that you didn't have before but always wanted. =)


The Daring Novelist said...

David: I'm posting these because I've been getting lots of requests for it.

I'm not talking to folks who don't care to hear it. They're a different audience -- they're the students who aren't ready, and posts like this are invisible to them.

What I'm saying here is basically "Personal Finance 101."

David Michael said...

Am I coming across as negative? I'm sorry. That's not my intention.

Just sharing from a common-ish experience.


The Daring Novelist said...

Sorry, I suppose the phrase "Indie Preaching" misled me. (I didn't take it as criticism so much as a "why bother?")

What you say is true. And imho, instead of paying the gas bill, maybe it should take a seat in your IRA. The key is for folks to figure out if they want it to make a difference to them or not... and if they want it to make a difference, they have to THINK about it.