I’ve been reading with interest several posts from women who have been honest and brave about sharing some of the major sacrifices that often come with choosing to write. Ann Bauer and Laura Bogart opened up about their experiences with depending on someone else for financial security, or eschewing that “sponsored” security and pursuing the pride of independent accomplishment, even when that means time, money, and relationship sacrifices.
I’m more in Bauer’s position right now. After we returned from 6 months of travel, Andrew and I agreed the best career choice for me would be to pursue freelance writing full-time. I’d hustle to establish myself in a line of work that offers me flexibility and fulfillment, and Andrew’s salary would give us the stability we need. He is, arguably, my sponsor.
It does chafe, knowing that I am still struggling to contribute more than a sporadic check to our finances. I’m at least covering my start-up and training expenses, with a little left over. I don’t need to feel that Andrew is financially indulging a hobby, but the problem of not making “enough” money is that it’s all too easy to start thinking of the work as a pastime. On slow days, I wonder if people see me as a 21st-century version of an Austen-esque lady of leisure, taking up sending pitches and writing blog posts instead of doing needlepoint as a way of being properly industrious. It’s so tempting to hide the fact that I need my husband’s paycheck, because to admit that feels tantamount to identifying as a “kept” woman.
Except it’s not. I could get a job and moonlight freelance assignments, as I did when I lived on my own. I can work 50 hours a week, cut back on sleep, write until the moment I turn out the light, and sacrifice leisure time to make ends meet. I’ve done it before. There have been times where a Target and grocery run represented the bulk of my “fun” outings for the week. I was stressed and close to broke and so proud of the fact that I could make it. My bills got sent on time, I read poetry on the couch because I couldn’t afford cable, and in the midst of working as hard as I ever have, I was still writing. I can live like Bogart, who cares about the integrity of her “brass knuckles” life too much to really envy Bauer’s “golden handcuffs.”
Except I can’t. Because what jumped out at me in Bogart’s essay was her admission that she “has given up time with friends and any semblance of a love life” to secure precious time at the keyboard. Before I took on that 50-hour workweek (plus grad school, plus writing), I ran it by Andrew. Not to get his permission, as such, but because it mattered to me that he would support me emotionally, that he would stay. My scraps of free time at dinner or on those weekend errand runs were spent in his company. I needed my independence and that sense of pride and accomplishment, but I also needed a sense of intimacy and partnership. I love writing, but I will not sacrifice a committed relationship for it. It’s too high a price to pay.
So here I am, still craving financial self-sufficiency as a way to prove my writing matters, still unwilling to budge on having a marriage and family. It’s not a mutually exclusive set of desires, even if sometimes it feel like it might as well be. Bauer and Bogart’s essays scare me because they represent extremes of how “real” writers make it work, and they key into my self-doubt. I don’t have Bogart’s fierce resolution to commit to writing above all else. I don’t have Bauer’s sense of ease with setting her own standards for what counts as successful. I’m still somewhere in between, wanting to have it all, hoping that being in between sides doesn’t disqualify me.
It really is good, though, that writers like Bauer and Bogart are sharing themselves so frankly. Writing isn’t an easy gig. It’s often undervalued and over-romanticized. Sacrifice is part of any writer’s life, in time or money or freedom or love. Talking about it publicly is one of the ways that we can help each other understand the real prices behind a writing life, and learn to discern for ourselves what we are able to pay.