Who knew there would be an adjustment period to living the dream? I certainly didn’t. Many of you know I published my first book in December 2006 and it’s been a dream of mine for longer than I can remember to support myself solely on my fiction writing income. After many years of incredibly hard work, I managed to make that dream a reality and I left my post at The Leader to live the dream.
In my daydream fantasies, I always imagined this transition to be smooth and filled with bouts of jubilant jig-dancing, clicking my heels and singing something along the lines of “Zippity-doo-dah!” as I increased my productivity on my own clock but in reality it went something like this:
First day of self-employment:
1. 1. Woke up, sent kids to school. Realized with a start that I had no reason to get dressed. Or brush my teeth.
2. 2. Sometime around lunch I thought about showering but instead watched an episode of some show I’ve never watched (nor found interesting); realized show still didn’t interest me but I should probably catch up on some of my actual DVRed shows. One show turned into a marathon and yet, I’m still not caught up and now I have guilt for spending so much time in front of the television.
3. 3. Day is nearly over, husband will be home any minute. Another thought of a shower occurred but I figured, at this stage, what was the point? Besides, he agreed to love me through sickness and health and that clearly included days when I didn’t shower or brush my teeth.
4. 4. Husband dutifully kisses me but gives my overall disheveled and messy look a dubious once-over, however, wisely keeps all comments to himself.
5. 5. Kids are put to bed and I realize I haven’t written a single word all day. Panic fueled by guilt prompts me to pound out a few words until late in the evening and everyone else has since gone to bed.
6. 6. Stumble to bed, eyes bleary and brain fuzzy. The good news is I don’t have to find pajamas because I’ve been wearing them all day; bad news is, still haven’t brushed my teeth.
Second day of self-employment:
1. See steps 1-6.
After several days of devolving I realized living the dream was hard. I never realized how much I depend on other people for a myriad of different purposes. For example, unlike many writers who prefer the solitude of a writing cave because they are inherently introverted, I am the exact opposite. I love people and I love being surrounded by people. Working from home has removed the people component from my life and it’s definitely taken its toll. I finally get the term “stir crazy” because I have bouts of it. For me, the care and feeding of my muse is a delicate balance of quiet moments and raucous noise and I’ve lost that balance.
I also used to be much better at time management because I had to be. Now, as a “Lady Who Lunches” I meander through my day, drifting from one project to the other at a decidedly sedate pace, which is crippling to my muse. That crazy creative creature NEEDS crunch time (16 years of journalism will do that to a person), needs deadlines and consequences in order to make the magic!
I wrote a full book in three weeks. And yes, I broke my brain in the process but the exhilaration of making my impossible deadline was like crack! And then, to make matters far worse, my editor said it was the best I’d ever written! “No!” I wanted to cry. “Don’t reward me for this kind of crazy behavior!” Of course, she didn’t know I’d written the book in three weeks but I did and worse, my muse did.
Let me take a moment to breathe deeply. I’m happy to report; I’m on the road to recovery. I have an assistant who keeps me grounded and on task, reminding me of deadlines and whatnot; and I have a new understanding of my creative needs.
Let me share what I’ve discovered:
1. 1. I need people. To that end, I do pop into the Leader office and hang out. I have attended a staff meeting or two (armed with donuts, of course!). As a reward, I got to string for the Leader and it was AWESOME!
2. 2. I need to pretend I still have a day job because it helps me with time management.
3. 3. I need to get dressed and brush my teeth — every day. Because unlike my darling husband, the UPS man did not agree to love me in sickness and in health and I’m starting to scare him.
4. 4. And finally, approach each day with an attitude of gratitude because I am truly living the dream.
And so, if you ever find yourself in the position of working for yourself, remember it’s not as easy as it seems, there will be adjustments, and finally, accept that the reality will be different from the fantasy but that doesn’t mean it won’t still be amazing.
Kim Van Meter is a former staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She continues to contribute occasional columns.