Over the years I’ve had quite a few clients who’ve expressed their frustration, sadness, and sometimes shame that their writing wasn’t bringing in any money. It’s a real concern for a lot of writers who carve out time, shell out lots of money for support (coaches, classes, conferences), and who may end up self-publishing and paying even more for their work to get published and out into the world.
Despite these niggling feelings of guilt many writers get from time to time (or maybe they plague you), there’s another competing force: the call to write. And then you find yourself in a bind—a pull between the belief (or maybe even a judgment) that your writing isn’t worth anything until you earn money from it, and the desire to just be with your writing, and all the joy that you know lies beyond the place where the critics loom. It can be tough to get there for sure, but do try to hang on.
To start with, reframe what your writing is for you. Perhaps you can think of it as therapy (especially all of you memoirists!). Or education. I’ve had clients tell me that their one-on-one work with me was more valuable than an MFA. (I’m not suggesting this is the case for everyone, but I know a lot of people who’ve gone through expensive MFA programs with not much to show for it.) Or maybe it’s just your personal retreat, like a spa. Maybe you can think about gifting yourself the time and resources you put toward your writing because you’ve earned it. Because in addition to making you a better writer, it completes you; makes you more self-aware; makes you a better person.
I don’t think I’m going too far here, even by a little. Your memoir has a life force of its own. If you’re writing one, you know. You can pile your resentment upon it, or you can come to it with an open heart and mind. Sometimes you might do both in one week, and that’s fine, too. But try to avoid placing upon it the expectation to earn you a living. Maybe it will make money for you somewhere down the road, and maybe it won’t. Maybe you think time well-spent needs to be about producing, or more specifically about making money. Maybe you’ve been taught that anything valuable is measured by how much it earns. But I assure you that with your memoir this is not true.
What’s valuable about your memoir is your relationship with it and what it’s teaching you about yourself. If I were to write a Mastercard commercial about memoir it would go something like this:
Cost of a ream of paper to print out your most recent manuscript: $10
Cost of getting your manuscript professionally proofread: $1,500
Amount invested in classes over five years to make you a better writer: $3,000
Cost to self-publish after unsuccessfully shopping agents and editors for two years: $4,000
Benefits of completing and publishing a memoir you’re proud of: PRICELESS
And yes, some writers do get big money for their books, and it’s great to visualize this—even plan for it. But no matter what, while you’re writing (and especially if you’re actually working to become a better writer), you will shovel out the money and shovel out the money. And so I encourage you to think about your memoir as a high-maintenance child or friend, whom you spend a lot of money on but who gives you much more in return than monetarily possible to quantify.
What is your monetary relationship with your writing? Good, bad, neutral? We’d love to hear.