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If you’d rather read instead of listen, I’ve included the abridged transcript below the links.
Welcome, welcome to the show! I am so happy that you’re tuning in.
This is the first episode of The Fearless Creative, and today I am talking about the thing that everyone wants to do…that thing that everyone talks about doing…that thing that you have been dreaming about but not really committing to…
Leaving the 9-to-5 grind to run your creative business.
I’m going to share just a snippet of my personal story and how I went from working 40 hours a week for other people to being a full-time author.
At the time of this recording, I have written and published 16 — soon to be 17 sci-fi novels — under my pen name Tarah Benner. I live in sunny Colorado with my husband, my cat, and two very spoiled dogs.
But six years ago, my life situation was very different. I was fresh out of college, living in the middle of Missouri, and working at a job that I was not very passionate about.
I had big dreams of being an author. Instead, I had a career in marketing. I think it’s a pretty common story. Many creative people end up working in what Julia Cameron calls “Shadow Careers.” Often these are jobs that are just one or two degrees removed from what we really want to be doing.
I was working at a small content-marketing startup because I was a recent college graduate and I needed a job. I was working with great people who were kind and supportive, but I found the work itself very unfulfilling. All day long, I wrote and edited articles for company founders and Fortune 500 CEOs. These articles were destined for Forbes, Fast Company, Business Insider, so my job was to make them sound really smart and innovative even if they couldn’t use a comma correctly to save their lives.
All that time, I was busy building other people’s brands so they could run their companies, but what I really wanted was to have my own creative empire that centered around my fiction.
So, every day, I would wake up at 6 a.m. I would get out of bed all bleary-eyed and stumble over to the coffeemaker. I would pour myself a cup of coffee, shuffle over to my writing desk, and I’d write stories for an hour or an hour and a half every day before I went to work.
I’d get ready, eat breakfast, go to the office, and work for another eight or nine hours on the same laptop writing for other people. Sometimes I’d read through my manuscript over my lunch break or read books by authors who’d done what I wanted to do. Then I’d come home and do it all over again.
I worked through the weekends, and I started making headway. I published my first novel in September 2013, and I immediately started working on the next one.
It was draining, doing all this writing all day every day, but I was so obsessed with my dream of being a full-time author that I didn’t have the space to worry about getting burned out or to think about how tired I was.
About four or five books in, I started making some real money from my work. I had one complete series, and I was working on another series that people really seemed to like. I was growing fast as a writer, and I was collecting a nice little fan base.
Every cent I made from my books, I either reinvested in the business to pay for editing and cover design or I saved it. I began to really imagine a future when I could quit my job.
Within two years, I was surpassing the income from my job with the money I was making from books. This was a big deal for me, but I was scared, so rather than quit, I decided to transition slowly.
The company I worked for let me go from full-time editor to part-time freelance writer, and I used this freelance income to supplement my book income. Eventually, I felt confident enough to let go of the freelance work, and today I am my own boss living on the money I make from books.
When I tell that to strangers, I think some of them assume that I have a rich husband who lets me play around with my little sci-fi novels while he makes the real money or that I somehow just got really lucky with one breakout hit.
They don’t see how much work it takes to produce a novel every four months. They didn’t see the years of backbreaking work I had to do to begin living my dream or the months and months of uncertainty and feeling like a fraud. It took me a couple of years of working at this full time before I really believed that I could do this, so it’s understandable if you’re wondering if you can do this.
But since I’ve made it to the other side, I’m here to tell you that it IS possible. You CAN do this — if you’re willing to do the work.
If I could boil down all my great advice for creatives into one sentence, it would be that one: Just do the work.
It sounds really simple, but of course it’s not easy. Many people want to commit to their creative dreams, but they get scared and their brains start making up excuses.
The number one excuse I hear from would-be writers and creatives who want to make a living from their work is that they just don’t have the time to make their art.
I’m gonna call bullshit on this right now.
Time is the great equalizer. You can say you don’t have the money or you don’t have the skills or you don’t have the guts, but we’re all given exactly twenty-four hours in one day. The problem is that many of us spend what little spare time we do have scrolling through Instagram, watching Netflix, cleaning up other people’s messes, and doing all these things that we think we “should” do.
There’s a great quote by Amber Rae in her book “Choose Wonder Over Worry.” It goes like this:
When I hear people say they don’t have enough time, what I’m actually hearing is this: I’m filling my life with so many things, and I haven’t decided what is most important.
Well, I’m here to tell you: Your creativity is important. Your life is important.
You should be filling your time with that thing that makes you happy. You do have time for what brings you joy. What you don’t have time for is all that other bullshit.
So here’s what you do:
- Just start. Start somewhere — anywhere. You just have to decide that you’re going to begin working toward the creative life you really want — even if that first step seems small and insignificant.
There’s this wonderful freedom in just deciding.
Instead of being paralyzed by uncertainty and fear or resentful that you’re not doing that thing you want, you are freed by the knowledge that you are doing what you want to be doing and that you are actively taking steps toward living your truth.
If you don’t know what your first step is, I want you to get out a piece of paper and a ruler and I want you to draw a big pyramid with four five levels — sort of like the original food pyramid. If you aren’t familiar, just draw a triangle that fills up the whole page.
At the very top, you’re going to write your big scary goal — whether it’s to write a novel or have an art show or buy a food truck. This is what you’re working toward.
Now if you think you can accomplish your goal in less than a year, you only need four sections.
If it’s going to take multiple years, you’ll need five sections. So for example, if you want to replace your $30,000 or $50,000 salary with money you make from your creative business, you’d put “Make X dollars a Year From My Creative Business” in that first of five sections.
Then, in the section under that, you’re going to write what you need to achieve this year to bring you closer to your goal. Maybe this year, your goal is to make $5,000 from your art.
Don’t go running away with the math and freak out that it’s going to take you 10 years to make $50 K and that you won’t possibly be able to support yourself.
These things tend to be exponential, so you can’t assume that you’re going to make the exact same amount of money or progress year after year. You’re going to build on the progress you’ve made as time goes on.
That section immediately under your big scary goal is focused on what is realistic for this year.
In the section below that, you’re going to write down what you need to accomplish every month.
In the next session, write what needs to happen this week and every week to get you to your monthly milestone.
In that bottom section, that’s your goal for today and every day in the near future.
This is a version of the goal pyramid from Jillian Michael’s book Unlimited. I’ll put a link to her version in the show notes in case you’re more of a visual learner.
I used this same system when I finally made the decision to write my novel.
- I knew a novel was about 80,000 words, so I put that at the top.
- I knew I needed to write a little over 6600 words per month, so I put that in my monthly goals.
- That comes out to 1500 words per week, which was 300 words per day if I only wrote 5 days a week.
For you, those milestones might be pieces of art you create or money saved for your food truck. (I’m a little obsessed with the taco truck in my neighborhood right now, food truck’s going to be a frequent example.)
The point is that a goal that seems crazy unattainable at first becomes much more realistic when you start breaking it down into smaller and smaller goals.
- Pay yourself first. Managing your creative energy can be a challenge when you’re working full time and making your art. When I worked a full day at the office, the last thing I wanted to do was open my laptop to write.
Of course, I know people who are committed enough to do this. I know people who go into their studio after they get off work or chug away at their side hustle after hours, but for me, this was just too hard. I couldn’t squeeze nine hours of creativity out of my brain for other people and then WILL myself to squeeze out some for myself.
So I adopted a concept from finance which says that you should always PAY YOURSELF FIRST. This saying usually applies to saving money from your paycheck before you pay anyone else, but I think it works here too.
If you can, do your creative work first thing. PAY YOURSELF FIRST in terms of your energy and your time. That way you aren’t left with crumbs at the end of the day when you’re finished serving everyone else.
- Find your virtual mentors. Once you start devoting your extra time to your creative work, you might find yourself saying no to Happy Hour — no to hanging out with people you only sort of like — no to extracurricular work functions — and retreating to your cave to make your art.
Once you start living your truth, you’re going to realize what your priorities are, and you’re gonna start cutting people from your life who consistently bum you out and bring you down.
This practice is healthy, but it can make for a lonely and isolating time.
And if you don’t have supportive and ambitious people in your immediate circle, it can be hard to stay committed to your goals.
When I first started writing seriously, I was embarrassed to tell anyone what I was doing. I told no one — not my friends, not my co-workers — not even my boyfriend at the time.
I was living in the middle of Missouri. I didn’t have any real-life creative mentors. The only writers I knew were the old biddies at the writer’s guild who turned up their noses when I wrote in first person present tense.
But I found some virtual mentors that acted as my guiding light.
- I listened to podcasts — so many podcasts.
- I read books by other indie authors who were already making a full-time living from their work.
- I listened to motivational audiobooks whenever I went for a run.
Listening to these people every week reminded me of the life I wanted and that it was actually POSSIBLE.
I want this podcast to be that for you. I want to help you lay the groundwork for the creative business that you want. I’m going to try to be honest and transparent about my personal roadblocks and the challenges I’m working through. And I’m going to be straight with you about what you really need in your life to start making shit happen.
I’m here to tell you that what you want so bad is not only POSSIBLE…It’s INEVITABLE if you show up every day and do the work.
In the next episode, we’re going to be discussing accountability and how to create an accountability system so you can figure out what works for you and create more amazing stuff.
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See you next time…and happy creating!
Photo by Corey Agopian