How to Survive as an Artist
When I was finishing my last published novel, back in 2012, I locked myself in my office and wrote away. It was Summer in Brazil and my girls got invited to travel with my father and his wife; then with my mom. I got almost three weeks alone, during which I wrote eighteen hours a day, obviously making myself sick to the point I had to go to the ER twice with a gastritis and tendinitis in both arms. The only things I would ever leave the house for were my Pilates, and some groceries. I looked like crap and my girlfriends were planning an intervention, but I would never pick up the phone or return their calls. It was absolutely impossible to get to me. I was isolated and would just talk to my immediate family.
By end of March, I had finished the first revision of Book of Leah. But it would take the publishers one full year to release it. My task had been accomplished, but obviously I felt the empty nest syndrome: my characters had just left me, and I had been relying on them much more than on real people. On top of that, I had the empty pocket syndrome, which was a sign that I had spent too much time being an artist and very little making money.
I had been working on writing, publishing and promoting my books.
Talking to my editor, he suggested that I go see a career coach. I had never done that, mainly because I had never chosen a profession – I had been chosen by writing very early on. I wrote my first book as a Christmas gift to my family when I was just eight years old, and I wrote journals every day of my life. Then I started writing for the movies and TV series and it worked, and, later on, I had decided to become a book author, which, if you ask me, was one of the boldest moves of my professional life. And it had worked – my fourth book had been published! But the more I invested in my artistic life, the tighter the money became. But what else could I do? My overdeveloped creativity and imagination, alongside with my storytelling tradition, were my only breadwinning skills.
Feeling lost, I went to see Tonia, the career coach, on the 24th floor of a skyscraper. It was a corporative company that planned the careers of Coca-Cola and Shell CEOS. I got to say, I was in total disbelief about the process, my impression was that it was really for businesspeople. Well, I could not have guessed, but it was almost like a therapy session.
“I want to start by saying that I loved your book, Laura,” she told me, to my absolute surprise.
“You’ve read it?”
“Not only, but I have referred it to some important clients who are transitioning from jobs or positions.”
I immediately thought she was mistaking me by someone else, after all, how could she be using my epic novel with her executive clients?
“Laura, your Joaquim character reinvents himself so many times! He starts from zero and that’s exactly what my executives need to do while crossing some bridges as changing jobs.”
OMG! It was true, because of his immortality and eternal youth, my Joaquim would constantly reinvent himself, move places, change professions and jobs. But until that very moment I had never ever thought about it in that way. That was quite a great surprise!
“Now, let’s talk about Laura, the creator of Joaquim, who had a very different story, and has a blossoming career?”
“Yes, but self-employed, unstable, and not prolific enough to make money, you know, for me and the girls…”
“I understand. Looks like you need stability, then.”
“Laura, everybody needs money!”, she laughed.
“Very true”, I replied, as I reflected that I had, somehow, been ashamed of needing money!
Tonia gave me a test to find out my DISC profile (influence type, if you may know) and we talked for two hours. As a result, she told me I needed to find a job with a paycheck, even if it meant a 9-5 job. Meanwhile, I should strategize the marketing of my book and keep working until I would be able to transition to my books’ income.
9 to 5: commuting became part of my routine! But so did dressing up! And meeting new people!
I was in shock; I had never had a formal job and I had no idea if I could bare one. I took a bus home (I was trying to save on gas) and as I looked at all the people coming back from their long work journeys, I thought to myself: that is how the world works! People spend more than half of their lives in offices, interacting with individuals they have never chosen to meet in the first place. Why had I spent so much time daydreaming of becoming the new best-selling author?
A type of shame grew into my chest, shrinking my pride, erasing my accomplishments. It was the raw realization that things were not coming out as planned; and that life is indeed (as the saying goes) what happens while you are making plans – or writing books.
As I stepped into my old, dusty building entrance, filled with street beggars outside, people who just like me had not calibrated life correctly, I got a letter from my doorkeeper. It was a notice saying they didn’t want to renew my lease unless I would agree on a price surcharge. It would go up U$2,000, almost doubling! I could renew it or walk away. I took a deep breath and quickly understood that I would be lucky to lend a 9-5 job.
God Bless Paychecks!
One of my greatest qualities (and flaws, of course) is that when I set my mind up for something, I only stop when I get there. I am hyper focused and can even get sick on my way to reaching my goals, but until I touch the end, I rarely rest. So that’s what I did. I went job hunting for a couple of months, putting the literary career on the back burner until my new book got published. Thanks to my great friend Sílvia Fiuza, who had an opening for a job at Globo, the biggest TV network in Brazil, I got, for the first time in my life, a 9-5 job, in front of a computer, not scripting series, but writing docs and journalistic stuff.
It was an open floor-plan with twelve people writing in their computers, and just the idea of having to spend my days in a small fish tank felt very inorganic. Indeed, the first day dragged on, the minutes took hours to pass… All I could think about was my daughters alone with a new nanny that I had just hired, and me having to smile and blend in with the people there.
Luckily, they were very nice. Soon enough I got to know the team, and I started to feel excited to have people around, to share ideas and go to work, to dress up to get out of the house, and to have lunch with other human beings! It was a whole new world opening up for me at age 38. But I got to say, nothing topped paycheck day. That feeling, oh my goodness, was a fucking awesome feeling!
Thriving is the best feeling
On March 13th, 2013, I launched my fourth hardcover, Book of Leah. I continued working at Globo, and, in parallel, I was commissioned two scripts and I signed two new book deals! My working hours were crazy, I would wake up at 5 or 6 am to get a good start on my writing before leaving for work at 8am. I was also working lunch time, nights and weekends.
So, although my schedule did not clear up an inch, my bank account was starting to smile again, and now I was beginning to dream of a down payment for my own house. I had proved to myself that I could keep being an artist. I could be a book author. A screenwriter. And have a job. And a family. It is amazing how much we can accommodate when we love what we do, and when we are happy, just by being present in the moment and feeling gratitude. Of course, something was missing. Did you guess yet?
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