In January 2014, my husband’s 2013 W2 forms started coming in the mail. That was when it hit me. For the first time since 1991 (when I was 18), I had earned nothing. I had no income to claim. I had made zero dollars.
By all other standards, we were doing well in 2013. My husband had been offered a new job in Texas at the end of 2012. We moved 900 miles away from everyone we knew and landed in what I still think of as the “perfect house for right now.” It isn’t a small task to move six people across the country. There is the physical part of loading and unloading box after box. There is also the tedious job of moving our finances, making accounts for online bill pay, and creating an entirely new budget based on new income and new expenses.
And then there was the most difficult part, the emotional task of getting four kids settled into their new schools. One child needed Gifted testing, another needed to jump through dozens of hoops to get into a special ed pre-K program. One child had a 504 plan for anxiety, and another cried because we had to leave her best friend back in Tennessee. Also, with new insurance covering more treatments than our old, there were many doctor appointments, referrals, and therapies to schedule and transport kids to and from. The changes were a roller coaster ride of highs and lows.
I hadn’t noticed, through all the chaos and literal “work”, that I was not making any money. It was the farthest thing from my mind until my husband’s W2 forms started to roll in.
It’s strange how I can move 900 miles away from my family, have barely any time to breathe for the work which must be done, yet never feel trapped by the loneliness or trapped by the responsibilities. I felt at home with my tasks and my place in the world. But, as soon as I realized I had not earned a single cent in 2013, I felt walls shoot up around me, boxing me inside.
Over the years, my role had shifted. I had once been the parent who worked while my husband studied for certifications as he switched careers. When my second daughter was born, his career-switch was complete and he earned enough money for me to quit my job, but not without sacrifices. I had sold vintage clothes online for a while before becoming a substitute mail carrier. My availability plummeted when my son was diagnosed with autism and had almost daily therapy appointments. Add to that how my babysitters were no longer comfortable dealing with him. So, it reached a point I had to quit work. A month later, my husband landed the job in Texas.
Throughout our time together, my husband had gotten another bachelor’s degree and a plethora of certifications. He had chosen his path and accomplished his goal. He is now the happiest I have ever known him to be with his job.
And me? I have always felt it was important for me to stay at home with my kids. But I often felt I was neglecting the other part of my “self”, the part of me which is not just a receptor and processor for the needs of others. I am good at it, and I love it, but that is not all I am.
I resolved that I would have an income in 2014. I would start a business, like I had when I sold vintage clothes. Perhaps I would open and Etsy shop and stitch together patchwork dogs and owls and other animals. (I love to sew, so, so, so much!) But stitching up one animal would take me an entire day or longer. And there was no way I would make my money back from the hours I put in.
In the past, crafting, sewing, and resale had been things to fill up the few hours I had between infant feedings or diaper changes. I always had toddlers milling about, wanting to help, or screaming at each other from the other room. I made the best I could of it, always having a project to escape to on the rare moments when there was silence and peace.
But in 2014 my son was finally in Kindergarten, the last of my kids to go off to a six hour school day. For me, the first couple of months were one Netflix binge after another, catching up on all the adult television I had missed in the last 13 years. Then came the realization that I was doing “nothing”, earning “nothing”, becoming “nothing”. Crafting had been necessary therapy. But it was not my dream.
Writing was my bliss. Oh how I loved to write! All of my life I had loved it. All of my adult life I had wanted to write a novel, or a work of nonfiction, a children’s book, a collection of poetry, or ALL of it. The way it feels to look at an object and think of how it makes me feel, and then to roll around words in my mind until just the right ones come together to describe that very thing… I had forgotten what it was like, because it was impossible for me to do with the kids at my feet. I had let go of the dream after childbirth like I let go of skinny jeans and make-up. There had been no place for it. But suddenly there existed a place for it again.
“I’m just going to try this,” I told myself. “It’s not like I’m doing anything else with my time. I’ll just begin, see where it takes me.” I declared myself a writer.
What did I expect? Honestly… I expected to write a novel and make a couple thousand dollars in 2014, maybe more in 2015.
Naivety is a necessary stage we all must go through.
I wanted to do everything perfectly. I had a long list of things I needed: awesome cover art, an editor, proofreader, beta readers, a website (a cool one), social media accounts, ISBN numbers, advertising…. I had a long list and no money to pay for any of it. I refused my mother’s repeated offers to assist me. I refused to put anything on our credit cards. I needed, NEEDED, to become an author all on my own.
My first book was published in September 2014. The only thing I paid for was my “doing business as” license, ISBN numbers, and my cover art. In four months, my first novel earned about a dozen dollars more than what I spent to create it (not including time).
So far in 2015, I published my second novel, paying for that means I’m currently at a loss of a few hundred dollars. I basically dug a hole. But I have two books to show for it, two books which have received overwhelmingly positive reviews by those (few) who have read it. Those books will still be there, no added work needed, for the rest of the year. Hopefully they will gain some attention, but I am no longer foolish enough to expect anything either way.
I accomplished my goal for 2014. I became an author and I earned income. I no longer wonder if I am missing out on my dream, or worry that I might fail. I no longer exist as only a servant to those I love. My life feels complete with the work I do as a mother and the work I do as a writer. So I have no regrets at all. I am blissful.
Blissful, and still unable to support myself.
Take from that what you wish, new authors-to-be. I mean it to be neither encouraging nor discouraging. My only advice for you would be: Do not expect to make enough to repay your debts. The amount of your book’s awesomeness will not necessarily equal the amount of your book’s earnings. If that doesn’t scare you away, then carry on.