How I Didn’t Make $250K . . .
. . . And why I don’t regret it.
It’s been awhile since I’ve put out any sort of meaningful personal update up on here. Articles, videos, Podcasts, sure. But very little about myself. While Cities of the Mind is moving towards being a general resource for writers, I feel that hearing from someone in the thick of it, in this case me, is still part of the journey, right?
Well, I’m Connor Rickett, and I write for a living. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes that’s hard. Sometimes it’s more like hard drugs. Right now, I could make more money doing something else. Actually, that’s not true; I could always make more money doing something else. I’ve got a hard sciences background, and I’m a pretty smart/driven guy. I could take out student loans, and go back to college for, at most, two years, to add an engineering or math degree onto my credentials. I haven’t done that, though. I hope what I’m saying here will help some other potential writers and freelancers out there; either to prepare them for what’s ahead, or just to avoid a costly mistake.
It’s all about where you are, and where you’re going.
Where I Am
Things are actually going really well for me right now. I’ve had a lot of jobs recently, I’m going to be blogging under my own name, for real money, starting sometime quite soon, and I feel pretty good about the future. I’m rather excited about the paid blogging bit. I just got a cartoon version of myself today, which will be “me” on their site–I’ve never been a cartoon before! I’ve been a ghostwriter and ghostblogger for a good while, in fact I just picked up another gig doing that, too, but being recognized as a writer with my own voice is exciting. I’ll have more info on that once things are up and running.
Let me talk for a moment about what it’s cost me to get here. At this point, my decision to follow this writing path, as opposed to synthetic organic chemistry, a job in a research lab, and so on, six years ago, has probably cost me between a quarter and a half a million dollars. I’ve made some very real sacrifices to get to this point.
The rather telling point regarding the decision, for me, is that I don’t really mind. I could have been someone else, who did something else, and had a lot more money. Instead, I’m me. The price has been one I’m willing to pay, so far.
As my friend pointed out (in a related conversation we’re having as I write this) a quarter million buys a lot of world travel. He’s right. All I can say is that it’s hard to be the sort of person who chooses the safe option to stay in the lab, but still chooses the bold option outside of that context . . . you decide who and what you are every day, not during two weeks of paid vacation.
I think, anyway. I could be wrong. Which is a hell of a thing to say five years in, after I’ve essentially bet a house on it, but that’s how life works–you can’t read ahead. It certainly wouldn’t have been this rough a journey if I’d had a better idea of where I was going when I started out. One of the reasons, by the way, you should be subscribing to this site! There are a lot of barriers out there. When I started out I’d spend a couple months whacking away at one, and when it didn’t break I’d just move on to another.
Where I’m Going
With the voice of hard experience, I can tell you that was the wrong way. It’s more important to pick your targets, pick your tools, and keep swinging until you break through. Of course, it’s better to be swinging in the wrong places than not to be swinging at all. Swinging in the wrong places makes you stronger, and it teaches you where not to swing, right? Too many people who want to be writers (of any stripe) spend their time staring at the walls, with hammer in motionless hand. So swing! It’s not easy, but at least it’s not boring.
If you’re looking at getting into writing, I have to warn you; it’s going to be rough. It will be much easier if you have a spouse or some other financial support structure, because the hardest part of freelancing is the ups-and-downs. Not just in making money, but in getting paid. Remember how I said things, are going well right now? As I write this, for example, my finances are great on paper, but walking a tightrope in my actual bank account, simply because I haven’t received payment for a couple projects. I say I’m doing well because I know that this month’s money’s coming, and I know where next month’s money is coming from. It will get here, and then I’ll be fine, but it complicates life, it does.
Then there’s the next hang up. When you’re getting into it all, you’re competing with people like me, who are really determined to succeed. And stubborn. I’m only still here, I only got this far, because I’m stubborn. Even then, I wouldn’t still be doing this without help and support from friends and family.
Let’s talk about stress. I’m not even going to talk about the times when some big project fell through at the last moment, or I was trying to make rent, but couldn’t, because someone was a month overdue on some payment they owed me. Those moments of want to shout out loud don’t matter in the big scheme. I’m going to talk about the moments when something big came through, and I felt a knot in my chest release that I hadn’t known was there. That’s the sort of stress you can probably look forward to on this path; stress so thoroughly ingrained in your existence that you completely forget you’re carrying the weight. And if you aren’t the sort of person who can forget it, function with it, you’re in trouble.
If I have any advice, it’s this: Drop the romanticism, embrace the challenge. Writing for a living takes a lot out of you. On the one hand, I can say I’m not selling my soul to anyone. On the other, it’s a good thing I’ve got it close at hand, because I’m burning my soul for fuel. We often equate the unknown with darkness, and, well, if that’s the true then this is a path with many, many, unknowns. A path where, often as not, you are your only source of light.
Are you the sort of person who can walk into the dark, knowing that, if their light goes out, they may never find their way out? Are you, honestly, that? I have to remind myself, sometimes, “I had easy, and I chose hard.” Most people who do what I do give up, and do something easier. Sooner or later.
I’m sorry if this all seems scary. Life is full of choices, and the good ones are hard. I’ll end on an encouraging note: If you think you can do it, you’d be robbing yourself by not taking that swing. There’s always work to be done . . . and I love it.