Pay yourself first


When you work for yourself, it is vital to pay yourself first – with money. When the money comes in, it flows to you (to your savings account, your investment account, your retirement account) first. Before the bills claim anything, you must pay yourself first. Freelancers, take note. Pay yourself first even if it means paying minimums on bills.

So how does the “pay yourself” mantra apply to those of us who write and publish for credentials and experience, but no money?

We still have to pay ourselves first – with time.

If you want to be a writer, you must carve out space and claim time for yourself to do the work. I’m not talking about the idea bursts, lightning bolt moments, and brainstorming sessions. I’m talking about revision. You know, the hard work that is required to take a draft from messy impulse to polished gem ready for an editorial review.

One of the most common excuses I hear from students of all ages, whether in my classrooms or in my workshops, is this one: “I don’t have enough time.” Another variation is: “I’m so busy.”

I’ve come to believe that this excuse is made easier to utter by the fact that no one in the writer’s inner circle (except the other writers and artists) has any idea the amount of time, mental exertion, and energy necessary to revise and rework a piece of writing until it shines. All they have ever seen is your finished work – they have no idea about – and no interest in – the revision process, which is the most extensive, time-consuming, and draining aspect of being a writer.

These same people, who may claim to be supportive and may even try to understand what you do as a writer, will also make it damn near impossible to claim space and time without a guilt trip.

“Oh, come on! We’re only in town for the weekend! You can work on that later.”

“Just do it tomorrow. Don’t you WANT to spend time with me? Don’t you value this relationship?”

“It can’t be that hard. You don’t really need all morning for a few spelling fixes.”

Variations on these statements are legion and equally misguided and annoying for the working writer. You must be strong and draw a boundary. If you know it will take you three hours to revise your latest piece and you have family coming in for the weekend, and several social events, but you want to finish that piece? You must look at your calendar and carve out three separate hours at different times for YOU and YOUR WRITING.

Pay yourself first by making your writing process and revisions a priority. And if your family balks? Let them. And if your friends protest? Let them. Smile, cheerfully say, “I’ll be back in an hour!” and leave.

Claim your space. Create the time. Pay yourself first and you WILL make progress on any given piece. Published writers are only published because we set boundaries around our own process, treat it like the work that it is, and claim the time that we know we need. Join us. 🙂

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