Write like you're rockin' a sweet mullet: business in the front, party in the back.

When I signed with my second literary agent back in 2002, he asked me the magic question: "What do you want to do?"

I chattered a bit about money, book deals, steady employment and making a good living as a writer (a distant dream for me at the time), but he shook his head and said, "Obviously, you need money. Everybody does. But that's what you want to get, and there are much easier ways to get it. What do you want to do?"

I realized I'd known the answer since I was a little kid. "I want to tell stories."

"Okay," my agent said. "Let's talk about a five-year plan."

As our strategy for world domination unfolded, it included magazine articles, a syndicated newspaper column, book length fiction, and (unexpectedly) ghostwriting. Over the years, my career has evolved. At times I thrived, other times I barely survived. I seriously stepped up my professional side, worked harder and smarter, and reaped financial rewards far beyond the goals I set when making money seemed like a goal worth setting. The agent and I eventually went our separate ways, but that guiding principle (and the excellent habit of maintaining a fluid five-year plan) stayed with me. It's a litmus test that helps me budget my time and energy. I've always kept the underlying theme of storytelling, because that's the thing that gives me joy.

In Do What You Love; the Money Will Follow, Marsha Sinetar says: "Any talent that we are born with eventually surfaces as a need."

That line slapped me in the head. It's not only what you want to do, it's what you need to do. And the rewards of doing it are entirely available to you once you know what it is. If you want to make a career in the arts, work and joy can't be mutually exclusive. You've got to rock it like a sweet mullet: business in the front, party in the back.

So what do you want? If the answer is "money", go get a real job. If the answer is "I don't know", don't be surprised that you're not getting it.

Cue the Bangles.

Comments

Love this post - and laughed my fool head off at the title!

Thanks!
Love this post, love the bangles, and digging the 5-year-plan! Cannot WAIT to work with an agent, and cannot WAIT to get my book to the point where it will be possible to. I think that was what disturbed me about the creative writing program; they had that work/party relationship completely reversed. Or rather, they had the work/talk about work relationship reversed. I saw an awful lot of posing and not an awful lot of writing.
oh and I love that song. Right up there with "Complicated Girl," also by them.
Jeanna Thornton said…
I look forward to the next five years...great post!
jeanna
I do also have to say, though, that there's money and then there's a living wage. It's much easier when there's a second income in the house, and for that I am grateful, but I think about my friends who do not have that to fall back on, and I understand why they have to think about this a little differently. Too often people starting off tend to think very black and white about everything; they either imagine tons of money and being a bestseller, or they imagine being dead broke and not being able to pay rent. The truth is that if you're a working artist, you'll probably fall somewhere in between.
Scott said…
JR,

Thanks so much for the comments on Nathan's blog. 75K, eh? Well, we'll see where I'm am at when I've written everything I think I need to write. I have no clue where I'm at right now, I've just been writing what I felt I should.

I'm a former newspaper reporter. Most of my editors would tell me to write the story for what it's worth. I think your advice is sound. If it turns out that I can't hit 75, I can always go straight to Kindle or whatever. I want Nathan to be my agent in the worst way, though.

Thanks again,
Scott
Mylène said…
You're really rockin' it today, J!
Joni Rodgers said…
Hi Scott ~
I don't know Nathan, but he does seem like a terrific guy to have on your side. Good luck with your project, and remember, there are no rules. I just tossed that out there so you'd have a frame of ref. First and foremost, let it be what it wants to be as a work of art and a labor of love, then think about selling it. Chances are, questions about how/where will answer themselves.
Stay frosty ~
jr

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