In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know. Our next guest is the incredibly hard working Amanda J Spedding.
Paying for my passion; let’s take a look at what that could mean. How do I support myself as a writer? Can I support myself and my family with my passion for writing? What non-monetary price do I ‘pay’ for following my passion to write? What price does my family ‘pay’? What sacrifices must be made so I can follow my passion?
Sounds incredibly self-centred when you break it down, and for me there’s always been an element of guilt associated with what I do, justified or not. I’m an author, editor, mother and partner. I run my own business from home, and the way that all came about has a lot to do with the choices my husband and I made when our children rocked into our world; the decisions we both made as to how we wanted to raise these amazing tiny humans.
I’m a journalist by trade—I worked incredibly long and sometimes stressful hours but loved every minute of it. Once our kids were born, however, well…tiny humans! Our income halved and our expenses increased, but my husband and I went into the decision with our eyes and hearts open and our pockets somewhat lighter.
I still had the hours and deadlines with my adorable little dictator, who was joined three years later by her sergeant at arms. The sacrifices we made during this time were materialistic—we didn’t go out for dinner or to the movies; we rarely holidayed, and leisure activities revolved around anything that was cheap or free. It was hard and it was beautiful.
Writing time was pretty much catch-can—a half hour here, twenty minutes there. But it was sleep I chose to sacrifice. Once the kids were in bed, dogs walked, laundry done…I’d write ‘til midnight or later—it was my time. I treasured it, and if it meant I lost a few hours of sleep, I was more than willing to do so.
But as the kids grew, I began to receive an abundance of “input” as to when I would be returning to work to make a “valuable contribution” to society. When I said I was a writer, it was often met with “no, I mean work-work”. How do you answer that? Identity; I’m not ashamed to admit I lost it for a while. It’s a shitty, shitty feeling, not having a sense of worth. And let me be clear—this was never ever condoned or said by partner, he’s amazing—but it came that I would dread the question: “what do you do?” There was an enormous amount of guilt, too—my “contribution to society” couldn’t be monetarily measured; what did I give back to society?
Apart from raising two awesome kids that would make up part of society, I wrote. When the kids were napping, when they were at pre-school, when they’d been put down for the night. I’d grab time between washing clothes, playing with the kids, doing dishes, picking up after our ever-growing menagerie. So it was sleep I sacrificed during that time. Instead of going to bed, I’d sit up and write, hone my craft. Learn. Write. Edit. Rewrite. Edit. Rewrite.
My husband does shift work, so returning to the workforce posed a whole set of different problems for us. Finding a job outside the home and within school hours was so incredibly difficult, and we did the sums—if I went back to journalism, almost 90% of my pay would be spent on childcare and we’d lose time with the kids. It made absolutely no sense to us, and defeated the purpose of our initial decision to always have one of us home when they went to school and when they returned.
So I went back to school. My journalism credentials were…well, they were old. I studied hard, but I loved it, and earned a Diploma of Publishing (Professional Book Editing, Publishing and Proofreading) and a certificate in Editing. I would work from home.
It hasn’t been easy. Getting the business off the ground took a while. During this time, my husband was the ‘breadwinner’, but he had been for the last ten years—that hadn’t changed. Nor had the guilt, mind. What had changed was my desire to contribute financially to our lifestyle, to improve it for our children and to give my husband back some time. Time for himself, more time with the kids, and time for him to sleep.
We’re at that point where my business is doing well and my husband doesn’t have to work the hours he used to. My contribution isn’t to society as most people believed it should be—it was to him. For supporting my desire to be the writer I’ve always wanted to be. You see he never saw his work as ‘paying’ for my passion, he saw it as a way as giving back to me for all I did for him and the kids.
Now? Well now, I have to be far more structured in my time management. I still sacrifice sleep for my writing as my days are filled with editing others’ work between running the kids to and from school, helping with homework and all the other things needed to keep the house somewhat presentable… well, keeping the kids fed, clothed and clean.
There’s still the guilt, only now it’s based around me sometimes having to sacrifice time with the kids to edit another’s work. My kids are 14 and 11, and pretty self-sufficient (both know how to make me coffee—have I told you how amazing they are?), they have their own social lives, things they enjoy doing, but still there’s the guilt. I don’t know whether that will ever go away.
I don’t have as much time to write now as I’d like (goodbye sleep). A lot of my time is spent editing, and don’t get me wrong, I love working with other authors and helping them with their stories—it really is an amazing job. Writing, however, is what drives me. The editing helps me “justify” my writing time—and as weird as some people may think that is, it’s my truth. There are times when I sit down to write and the guilt rises because I haven’t done the dishes or folded the three baskets of laundry, or that I should be gaming with my kids or the like. There really aren’t enough hours in the day to assuage the guilt.
I’d love to be able to write full-time, to earn a living from writing alone. Thing is, I’d find it pretty difficult to give up the editing side of who I am. If it came right down it, storytelling is always going to win out, and maybe, just maybe, one of these days that will happen. Until then, I ‘pay’ for my passion by working hard and giving back to my family as they give back to me.
Amanda J Spedding is an award-winning author whose stories have been published in local and international markets earning honourable mentions and recommended reads. She won the 2011 Australian Shadows Award (short fiction) for her steampunk-horror, Shovel-Man Joe. Amanda is the owner of Phoenix Editing and Proofreading, and between bouts of editing, she is writing (and rewriting) her first novel. In June, her horror comic, The Road, will be launched at ComicCon in Melbourne. Amanda lives in Sydney with her sarcastically-gifted husband and two very cool kids.