Before I elected to take this particular career path (that is, being a writer), everyone had warned me about how little money I’d make. I was 19 and I’d respond, so full of hope, “But at least I’ll be doing what I love, whenever I want, however I want.” I was very naïve about how important money would be to my happiness — a testament to the privilege that allows so many of us overeducated white people to take this particular career path.
It’s four years later, and I write more in a day than I ever did, but I have to take a lot of jobs I don’t like because they’re the only ones paying. My financial security is better described as insecurity, considering the frequency of invoices being paid months later than expected. I’m sure there are plenty of freelancers who could have warned me about that before I got here — but before I got here, I didn’t know anyone in this line of work. I’ve had to navigate self-employment entirely on my own. In the process, I’ve found a lot of what doesn’t work but also, fortunately, a lot of what does. Chief among those things recently has been my commitment to regular journaling.
Writing for a living, it’s easy to lose the joy in creativity. When I have to write 20,000 words about alligators and proper fencing, I wonder how it got to the point where this is the thing that pays my bills. I fall asleep at my computer, have to get up to do stretches every five minutes, and have developed a great love for the distraction of a full laundry basket. It’s easy to spend a whole day writing copy ad nauseum and never get around to writing for myself. I still haven’t gotten around to putting together my second chapbook — something I so desperately want to do. I haven’t submitted to contests in over a year. Until recently, I hadn’t put a physical pen to physical paper for anything other than a to-do list.
But one day, while I was typing my usual venting iMessage to a friend who was also miserable at her desk, it occurred to me that she’s not my therapist, and that my therapist doesn’t usually get enough of the gory details in the moment. It’s a mystery how I got there, but I googled “How To Start Journaling,” and ended up on r/journaling, where I found this list of daily journal prompts for every month of the year. I hit the ground running with an easy one: What are five things you love most about your partner? From the second I read it, I couldn’t wait to gush. And once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. The prompt had served as a great jumping point to wax poetic about the love of my life, and before I knew it, I was writing delicate and poignant prose littered in between shitty poems that had been stuck inside for far too long.
Much like that first prompt, the prompts that followed served as perfect starting lines for whatever writing needed to happen that day. Some days I fill whole and multiple journal pages with my ever-flowing thoughts, and others I just write a brief reply to tell myself I did it. I’ve reshaped my mornings to journal as soon as I wake up — before I check my email, before I look at the laundry basket, before I open Twitter or respond to a text from when I was asleep — and it’s helped me immensely. Getting back to the discipline of writing without payment (or writing “just for fun”) has aided in bringing the joy of writing back into my life. And as a result, I write more and better than I did while I was fighting burnout.
For those who ask “better” to be qualified, and for the sake of this piece, my writing better has returned me a 30% increase in the money I theoretically take in each month. I say “theoretically,” because even though I may write $2,000 of work in a month, I may still only receive $200 by the end of it due to the aforementioned waiting on payments. All this means is I’m invoicing more — and for larger amounts — than I had been prior. I’ve had the privilege of taking in more clients and being offered a few more long-term projects, which is the closest I’ve been to the guaranteed income of a day job since I started freelancing. I might even begin working on my chapbook soon.
Freelancing is still very much a terrifying economy to have inserted myself into, and I don’t know if the existential anxiety of checks ceasing will ever subside, but my work is up. I’m able to fill many more of my days with work I enjoy more than the work I was doing this time two months ago. So if you’ve ever been curious about journaling, just start. If nothing else, I’m more in touch with myself. I send my friends fewer walls of texts abusing their interest in my stream of consciousness. Beyond the professional benefits, I simply enjoy seeing my handwriting on paper again.
Ally is a Leo sun, Aries moon, Cap rising with way too much to Tweet, so she started a career.
Image via Unsplash