I’ve mentioned this before, but I have two full-time jobs. This is partly by choice, because I actually enjoy my non-writing career, and partly out of necessity, since I don’t make quite enough money at either my non-writing career or via writing to let one or the other go. (It’s not just money. Being a full-time writer means paying $400/month for health insurance, versus $40/month via my day job. But you get the idea.) People ask me all the time how I do it, and I’m always a little perplexed by the question. I don’t have children, for one thing; any writer who does that and a day job deserves your awe, not me. I actually have a day job; I spent awhile without one a couple of years back, and that was no fun at all. Still, not gonna lie; it’s tough sometimes, juggling two demanding careers.
This is not helped by the fact that I suck at managing money. Not that I’m profligate or anything; quite the opposite, I’m kind of a cheapskate. But sometimes I’m stupidly cheap; I obsess over the minutia, don’t think of the big picture. Maybe this is typical of people who live paycheck to paycheck, but more likely it’s just me being dumb.
Here’s an example: in New York, apartments are small. It’s rare to be able to have your own washer and dryer. Usually you have to share a communal laundromat in your building, or in the neighborhood — and because it’s communal, and this is New York, you have to stay with your clothes if you want to keep them. There’s rarely any space for comfortable sitting and writing in laundromats, and even if there is, you might not want to whip out the laptop in mixed company if you want to keep that, too. My own laundromat is underground and has no internet access. So basically, doing laundry means 3-4 hours of mind-numbing, mostly-wasted time.
Yet I did this for years, because the alternatives were things I thought of as luxuries: namely laundry pickup/delivery or dropoff service. I’m a writer, I thought at the time; I gotta pinch pennies if I’m going to make it. I figured all these fancy-schmancy services were aimed at executives, who earned executive-level pay, or who didn’t want to get their hands dirty. But that was a false assumption; these services are aimed at busy people, who would rather spend their time doing other things besides watching the spin cycle. So I sat down and calculated how much more it would cost me to use dropoff service. The average price difference was minimal — it costs $5-7 more than doing it myself. $7 is significant; that’s dinner.
But. Doing laundry myself had a cost too. Not just the financial setback of detergent and a granny cart, but all those hours of writing time meant something. Yeah, yeah, time has intrinsic value, but it means something financially too, especially for a professional writer. In 4 hours on a good day I can write a rough draft of a novel chapter. If I get a $10,000 advance for that novel — not saying I will, just using a hypothetically round number — and that novel has 40 chapters (as The Killing Moon does), then that afternoon blown on laundry is costing me $250. That’s pretty damn significant too.
So I’ve had to reassess my life as a writer, and decide whether some things that I’d previously dismissed as too expensive on a financial basis were, in fact, costing me far more in the long run due to lost time. I made one of these choices a long time ago: I don’t have a roommate in my tiny NYC apartment, which is something most single people here don’t do. But I came to the conclusion that the amount of time I would have to spend on (possibly) arguing with a stranger, getting up earlier or going to bed later because I’ve got to work around someone else’s schedule, seeking new roommates when the old one left, and suing them if they don’t bother to pay what they owe — granted, all of this is the worst-case scenario — would cost me far more in time and stress than I’m willing to pay. (I’ve had good roommate experiences for the most part, but one very very bad one, and the risk of dealing with that madness again is too much when I’ve already got a dayjob and deadlines to worry about.) Having my own apartment still feels like a splurge. But it pays off in that home is a haven for me, where I have complete control over my environment. When I walk in, stress drops away — so even after a long, tiring day at the office, I can always get at least a little writing done, even if it’s only 250 words. Even the little wordcounts add up. And thus is a book written.
Other worthwhile investments I’ve made in my time:
- A DVR. I don’t watch many TV shows or movies, but I don’t want to be distracted by them if I happen to be in a really hot writing Zone at the time they come on.
- A dishwasher. Yes, even tiny apartments can have one. And for about $250 I’ve bought myself 30 minutes every night that otherwise would be spent on washing dishes.
- Got this for Christmas: a Roomba. I might never have bought this on my own, because I wasn’t sure how useful it would be, but since Mom was buying, I got one — and holy crap, I love it. Granted, I don’t spend a ton of time on cleaning; I tended to sweep once a week because I’ve got a cat, and vacuum every other week. (I have mostly hard floors.) But that’s another 30 minutes a week saved. And it’s cute! I named mine Lil.
- Grocery delivery. In my part of Brooklyn, most supermarkets are small; there’s a good chance that one market won’t have everything I need, and I’ll have to schlepp to another one. Then I’ve got to get it all home — a daunting task on a day of bad weather, or if the subways are packed, or if I have a lot to carry. So instead I use any one of several services that bring the groceries right to my apartment. Costs $5 for delivery, which is a small price to pay for my time — and my back.
Here’s how this all adds up. Yesterday I went off to write at the local cafe. Turned on the dishwasher, started the Roomba. Along the way I schlepped to the laundromat and dropped off a load. I was at the cafe for maybe 7 hours; I got a ton of work done on a proposal which might turn into another book deal. And then I came home to clean floors, clean dishes that made making dinner quick and easy, clean clothes that I wore to work this morning — and just because the urge was still there, I got another 500 words written before bed.
This is not to say that splurging on gadgets or services will make you a better writer. It won’t, unless you use the time. And this is not to say that every shiny thing is a good investment. I’ve made mistakes. Bought an XBox with the Kinect sensor thinking that I’d use it to exercise, instead of blowing money on a gym membership and time on transportation/getting dressed/showering/waiting to use equipment. But what I didn’t factor in was fun. It was much more interesting to do a Cardio Sculpt class at the local Crunch back when I was a member — and because it was more interesting, I exercised a lot more. Now I’m thinking about joining a gym again, which means the money I spent on the Kinect was wasted.
All I’m saying is, keep the big picture in mind. If that shiny expensive thing will actually help you get that book done? Maybe it’ll pay for itself, in time.