The verdict had been handed down over videoconference an hour before my husband and I were to leave for our Labor Day vacation. After only five weeks of work, my job was ending. I sobbed into my husband’s shoulder, leaned back to smile because now I could be a full-time writer, then leaned into him to sob some more about our halved income.
Who am I without a job? I looked for meaning everywhere. The morning I got the axe, we learned the crack in our kitchen floor would cost $15,000 to fix, and we had to repair it before moving, which had been our plan for the New Year. I saw myself as an unemployed person with a massive crack in the room that nourishes her family.
En route to the mountains, I spotted an orange hot air balloon and spun a quiet story about how this life moment could be my agent for liftoff. Then I saw the balloon was tethered, and I quickly edited: Even though I had air, I remained tied to cultural expectations of how the workday “should” look.
I listened to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast interview with comedian and author (and actor on TV’s How I Met Your Mother) Jason Segel, and wondered if I could really survive as a writer. I rewatched Wild and thought I should take a hike. My voice caught on the line, “It’s such a waste to grow up lonely” from John Mayer’s song “Born and Raised.” I could justify the jelly-jar glass of Elijah Craig bourbon in my hand. Labor Day weekend, when this American worker lost her job, was a lost three days of moping in a cabin sans labor to celebrate.
After the sleepless vacation, I made myself wake at 6:30 in the morning of my first workday without an average job and cycled through my go-to websites. Once I’d consumed the Internet, I forced a mindset renewal and determined a daily schedule.
I took hold of my narrative and laughed: I had some dreams coming true right now. This isn’t how I thought it would happen, but it’s what I’ve always wanted.
I’ve been forced into the decision to write for the rest of my life and never encounter another empty coffee pot in the break room, which means I’ll be crazed about having enough money, concerned about being perceived as a stereotypical housewife, constantly asked where I’ve been published and anxious over whether I’m living it right.
I tell myself I’m not allowed to enjoy activity during work hours that aren’t profitable, so The Mary Tyler Moore Show marathon is out. Do I now need to become accustomed to cheaper, off-brand deli meat? I hadn’t realized how I’d spoiled myself before, back when I received paychecks with commas.
I spent that first day setting myself up with free accounting software, updating my Thumbtack profile (where I connect with clients seeking writers and editors), revamping my personal website, researching how to set up an LLC, requesting LinkedIn endorsements of my work and wading through healthcare.gov.
To stay on task, I decided to document my daily word count and set attainable, easy wins, such as adding 750 words to my novel and sending three client queries a day. The file reads like a burst of motivation, but let me divulge that I did it from bed and with the intent of proving to others I’m still productive and competent.
The evolution from proving oneself to bosses to satisfying oneself as the boss has been ongoing and trying, but guess what? Even though my new boss is hard about deadlines and requires boring tasks, she’s more passionate about her work, smiles more than ever, drinks fewer lattes and smells nice.
I find it increasingly vital that we as a writing community share specifics about how we make it work, how we really make it work. It helps us find honesty in a world where – for fiction writers, at least – we’re lying all the time.
The truth for how I really make it work is that I worry daily about my financial contribution to my marriage, a relationship without which I would absolutely be living rent-free with my parents and playing Yahtzee at night. I went from a $63,000 salary to an average of $281.92/month. That’s a salary of $3,383.10, not including expenses, if I’m able to continue generating freelance work.
Changing the mentality of a dollar amount value of my name is hard work. I’ve embraced a set schedule, devoured books on creativity and writing by Anne Lamott, Elizabeth Gilbert and Stephen King, finished my first novel and started the second. And I’m looking for new revenue streams – as long as I don’t use its payout to define myself.
Katie Lewis is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville. She has written for The Tennessean, Nashville Scene, BookPage, QuarterReads and Advertising Weekly.
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