I am going to preface everything you are going to read in this article by saying that the choices my husband and I have made about how to live are not typical.
We decided, from the very beginning of our marriage, nearly twenty-two years ago, to live in such a way that only one of us would ever need to work. This did not mean that we could not both work, it simply meant that our budget would only ever rely on the salary of one person.
We also made a decision, from the very first days of our marriage that we would do everything in our power to live debt-free. This means, for example, that we do not own a home. We paid cash for our car. What we own we own fair and square.
There were years when we both worked. During those years we saved my salary until we were able to buy a new car. However, our family budget was based on just the one salary. For years we lived beneath our means, living frugally as if we only had one salary.
There were years when I was the one working to support us while my husband pursued a juris doctor and Masters of Urban Planning. There are now the years during which he works while I…well…I do what I am currently doing.
We also made another decision once our first scalawag was born: our children would always have at least one parent available to them at all times. We got started late in life having children and had, over the years, developed strong opinions on child-rearing from our lofty place as a childless couple. We would have been hypocrites to not put into practice what we proclaimed so ignorantly and liberally to be true: kids need to be raised by their parents. This was important to us, just as important as living debt-free and on one salary.
Because I am the one not paying the bills right now, this task of being unfailingly and exhaustingly and mind-numbingly available for the scalawags falls to me when my indulgent husband is working.
Not working, but working
This arrangement works out nicely now that the scalawags are in school. Now, once I drop the boys off for school, I fill my hours with creative projects which I consider, quite seriously, as my work.
I write obsessively. I have obsessively detailed spreadsheets for plotting my novels, I have strict words-per-day writing goals. I have meticulously mapped out the world I have created in which my novels take place, so that one day, when they are published, someone will pore over the maps the way we do when we read a Tolkien book.
I also sew obsessively. I do this to prime the creativity pump and to keep myself sane when the hormones start flying. I consider this part of my “work”. Yes, it is fun. Yes, it is crafty. But it also is a way for me to dress myself without spending money, which, now with two extra little people gobbling it up and only one salary coming in, is stretched much thinner than it used to be.
The example I want to set
My husband does not enjoy his job. This makes me so sad for him. It is something I feel acutely on Sunday evenings, when all I can do is think about the dialogue I am already concocting for my characters to speak, which I will write down the instant I get home from dropping the boys off at school on Monday morning, all while my indulgent husband is quietly dreading the fact that he has to go back to work in the morning.
He doesn’t complain, but the lack of enthusiasm stands in sharp contrast to how I feel about the work that is waiting for me.
It may seem unfair. Maybe it is unfair. However, I harbor a quiet, secret hope that all this investment in world-building and obsessively plotting will one day help me become an author who can live off her writing. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, so that my husband can become the one who drops the boys off at school and picks them up while I lock myself in an office and write until my hands fall off.
I want to set an example for my boys of doing what I love and showing that hard work always pays off. This is, perhaps, the one thing I want my boys to understand: when our priorities are in order and we work hard, there is always a pay-off.
They are my priority: I want to raise a handsome little pair of self-reliant, intelligent, resourceful, frugal, funny, wise men. That is my most important work right now. I arrange my creative work around them. Whatever extra time I have when they are not around I attempt to multiply and one day support them with the fruit of that work.
It’s a slow go, especially that self-reliant and wise piece of the puzzle. But it is my life’s work.
In my Ideal Life I am a person who:
- has a vision and can see it through
- loves what she does
- inspires others with creativity
- understands her creative process and lives in harmony with it
- does not overvalue the fruit of her labor
- has a work plan and goals for today, for this week, this month and this year
- is her own boss
- makes time for what is important
- has a plan and gives herself the time and space to accomplish it
- can financially support my family
- does not have to sell anything
- trusts that if my priorities are in order, everything else will fall into place
What is working? This question can usually be answered by any a-ha moments I have had regarding the plotting of my books. The stories are constantly bubbling in my subconscious, and sometimes suddenly a plot hole gets resolved while I am walking the boys to school, setting me up for a sudden explosion of ideas for the rest of the story. These are exciting moments. Sometimes, what is working can be that I met all my goals when I am less in the “fireworks” phase of creativity, but rather, am slogging through the first draft process. It can also be “I researched agents to represent my novel,” or “I had an information interview with an editor.”
What isn’t working? This is often more related to the structure of my work time. Recently, COVID has impeded my work hours more than I would have liked, therefore I am behind on things like recording and editing my podcast and querying agents. (That said, my priority remains those two little scalawags, and keeping perspective on this fact is critical.)
Things to consider: Right now, I am considering what kind of financial investment I am willing to make in my novels…meaning, am I willing to pay a professional to edit them, so that when I send them to agents, they will be reading something that has been gone over with a fine tooth comb for punctuation, grammar, flow? Where exactly do I intend to get that money from? The editor I spoke with seemed to think that having a flawless manuscript, corrected by a professional, will put every single chance on my side, which I totally get. But then…suddenly by making a money investment in my books, this becomes something that takes away from the resources of my family, those little scalawags who are my priority numero uno. So…anyway. I need to consider these things.
Things to do: Make progress on my podcast, even if it is just a thirty minute block here or there. (In my defense, this requires the moving around of a lot of “stuff”–moving a table in to the Boudoir, setting up my microphone, sound-insulating as much as possible–and this seems overwhelming if I am only going to spend thirty minutes on it.)
My Ideal Life in regards to Work is very much colored by the way my husband and I have chosen to live from the very beginning of our marriage. I know that this could be hard to relate to for people who have made other choices.
The choice to “live small” is not always easy, and I do sometimes dream of having a successful career as a writer…doing book tours and meeting fans and seeing my novels turned into Hollywood blockbuster movies (which they totally will be) on which I will be consulted for every small detail, especially the fashions, which are the geeky elements of world-building that set my novels apart from other character-driven speculative fiction. Have I digressed? I think I may have.
Living small so that one parent can always be available for our kids is my priority. I’m the one whose work allows her to be available. Therefore, mine is the work who gets most superceded. Keeping perspective on my priorities is essential.
In my Ideal Life, I do what I love.