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Mamihood, Writing, and Money: Moving Past My Money Shame & Crafting a Creative Life I Love
Recently my friend, poet and scholar Raina J. León, had her essay "On Labor's Value" published in the VIDA Review.
In it, Raina asks: "When and for what should I be paid? And when I am not offered compensation, to what will I say no in favor of my family, my art, my life?"
For Raina (as for me and others I'm sure) so many of these questions -- which have always been there -- have taken on a new urgency since the birth of her child. Raina explains:
"How do I also negotiate between the labor maternal and the labor that takes me away from my son so that I can creatively express myself and also be compensated for that expression and thereby provide for my son? In short, how do I get paid and provide for my household for the labor that takes me away from my son?"
My question is: shouldn't we all be asking (and searching for answers to) those same questions alongside her?
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ON LABOR & CREATIVITY'S VALUE
In "On Labor's Value" Raina also describes her first payment for her writing:
$8 at age 22.
This sparked my own memory: I earned my first $1 for a haiku at age 29.
(That little poem went on to win "best in issue" along with a prize of $50! Woohoo! That's like the haiku jackpot!).
That is all to say what we've already known: poetry (by itself) doesn't pay.
Which is followed by my own truth: I don't write my poems so that they can make me money.
I write them whether they do or not.
I'm not saying writers don't need to be paid for their labor.
They 100% should be paid.
I'm just saying that I'm writing poems and essays whether I get paid or not. I'm sharing my writing whether I get paid or not. *For me* my writing is not the thing I'm going to rely on for steady income. It's just not.
I think about what Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear:
In a FB post, she goes into more detail, adding:
"This is why I made a promise to my writing life when I was about 15 years old. I said to writing:
"I will never ask you to provide for me financially; I will always provide for YOU.""
Her words ring true for me. I don't want to put earning pressure on my writing, but I DO want to be compensated for some of the work I do in the world.
My labor--creative, maternal, mental, emotional, nurturing -- is worthy of compensation.
So what does this look like for me? For what kinds of labor do I feel comfortable charging? How are others in my creative communities navigating these questions?
On Fear & Shame
I'm glad we're having these conversations. They're necessary but also scary because we're all starting from different places, have different needs (financial and emotional), have different relationships to our work and to money, and have different overall goals.
Mostly these conversations are scary because talking about money is uncomfortable and doing so pokes at our shame.
And yet, I know that the last two years with my kid have contributed financially in the form of childcare savings, with the added benefit of having filled my cup. I love being home and taking the lead on activities with our kiddo. It suits me and has been labor I've (mostly) loved.
As we've added a few hours of childcare into the mix, I'm re-calibrating and sorting out the balance of time for my art and time for income generating activities. These need not be mutually exclusive -- I'm open to having my art earn income, but I'm not relying on it.
Instead, I'm taking a proactive approach to finding ways to earn money that align with some of my personal goals of :
Amplifying Puerto Rican and underrepresented voices
while supporting aspiring & emerging writers
through my writing, teaching, and advocacy.
I don't have answers for anyone else, but since last year, the answers are becoming clearer for me, and in the spirit of transparency and bringing these conversations to the forefront, I want to share what I've learned, what preliminary steps I've taken, and what I'm planning for 2019.
MONEY MINDSET SHIFTS & FINDING MY PEOPLE
This book hit me like woah. So many stumbling blocks I had around money came up to the surface, and I began thinking about ways to reshape my relationship with money. I also started brainstorming new ways I could earn money (both short and long term) that accounted for my reality as a stay-at-home mom.
One point Jen Sincero makes is that: "When it comes to money, who and what you surround yourself with has a huge effect on how you perceive it and feel about it."
I realized that earning money was not going to look the same for me as for the other women in my book club -- both full-time engineers -- so I started looking for other models.
I searched for models who mirrored living a creative life while talking straightforwardly about the money piece. I also wanted a few models who could address the particularities of staying home with a young child.
That is all to say I was looking at the entrepreneurial side of my creative life more closely and I was in search of some guidance from others who could light the way.
I began to find "my people" by listening to podcasts. Here are a few of my favorites:
The podcast listening led to some good reads, including The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman.
She reminds us that:
I didn't have what I would call a "business," but The Business of Being a Writer and Joanna Penn's podcast The Creative Penn Podcast both convinced me that all authors could benefit from an entrepreneurial mindset.
At minimum, us authors should care about knowing how to best protect our copyright / intellectual property and about the basics of book marketing, so we can be effective advocates for our books as they make their way in the world.
I wanted more frank conversations about all of these new (for me) ideas I was engaging with, but there were a few stumbling blocks for me.
On the one hand, most of the creatives I knew weren't talking about the money piece in depth or out in the open (one notable exception is Lisbeth Coiman who writes a regular series called "Writing on a Budget" for the Women Who Submit blog).
And, on the other hand, most of my other friends have jobs in more traditional workplaces, not the creative and/or online entrepreneur space.
Since the space I wanted didn't exist, I started a small private facebook group with a few writer friends, so we could share our experiences navigating writing and money.
This was a valuable first step, but we were all kind of figuring things out as we went, and I still wanted more guidance. I wanted some frameworks, advice, and some kind of roadmap to help me chart a course that felt right for me.
ORIGIN: A NEW FRAMEWORK
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