Thursday, December 28, 2006

Living the Dream

I don't have any kind of major book deal or other big news to be thankful for this Thankful Thursday. I'm just thankful in general because I'm getting to live my dream. I had a particularly vivid reminder of this recently when I was getting a head start on my annual resolution to clean my office (a gallon of gasoline and a match may be my only hope at this point). I ran across one of those "values and goals" pages from my day planner that I filled out more than ten years ago, and what seemed like a far-fetched dream to me then is exactly what I'm doing today.

I remember quite clearly the day I filled out that page. We had one of those ice storms that coated the entire city in ice, so that the authorities were telling people to stay off the roads unless it was absolutely necessary to go out. My boss had informed us the day before that he considered coming to work to be absolutely necessary, and there would be no snow day for us. I'd planned ahead, and as soon as I saw the forecast earlier in the week, I'd started coughing, sniffling and rasping my way around the office (I really did have a bit of a cough and the sniffles, but I did elaborate somewhat). When the storm turned out to be as bad as they'd forecast, I was able to get away with calling in sick. I spent the day writing and drinking hot tea with honey and lemon, and it was pretty much my perfect day, except for the sore throat. I knew then that this was exactly the way I wanted to spend my life.

I'd already had four books published then, so it wasn't an unrealistic dream, but I was nowhere near being able to just quit my job. I found the blank page for goal setting in the planner that I'd just used to keep track of client meetings and started to fill it out. I knew I'd have to write a certain amount and save up enough money to have a financial cushion to tide me over during any publishing dry spells. I pinned that page to my bulletin board as a constant reminder of what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to work for myself instead of for a boss who cared more about keeping the doors of a public relations agency open than he cared about the safety of his employees (one of my co-workers got into a bad wreck that day on a freeway ramp when he demanded that she come to work even after she told him that the roads were impassible in her area). I wanted to do work that made people happy instead of having the kind of job where I actually made people's days better by not going to work (I'm sure there were a lot of reporters who enjoyed my snow day as much as I did). I wanted to spend my days writing instead of dealing with office politics and doing a job I generally hated.

And now, ten years later, I'm living the life I planned that day. I'm not rich by any means, but I am making a living as a novelist. I even made a profit this year, earning significantly more money than I spent on everything, including living expenses. I'm making people happy with my work, according to all the e-mails I get from my readers. Instead of harassing reporters about useless products, I'm helping people get through hard times and giving them something to look forward to after a bad day at work. The one downside is that I still don't get snow days, since I work at home and have no excuse for not getting to work, but I feel more creative on snowy days, so that works out okay. For all of this, I'm incredibly thankful.


Alfie said...

Love the post, Shanna. One of the nicest things about hanging out with other writers is that we all seem to be (at least more than the rest of the population) living our dreams--even if some days, the reality doesn't quite match the original fantasy. What a fortunate bunch we are! Thanks for the reminder.

Christie Craig said...


Great post. It reminds us all of the things we have to be thankful for.


Nancy Morse said...

I recall hearing something years ago that went something like this. When the person on the stage asked the audience how many people wanted to write a book, all hands went up. When asked how many had actually started a book, some hands went down. When asked how many had actually finished a book, more hands went down. When asked how many had actually sold a book, all hands but one went down. I think one more question should have been asked, and that is, how many actually make a living at it. I'm not prolific enough to earn my living solely from writing. I make a hefty salary at my day job and I'm greedy enough not to want to give it up. Maybe I'll eventually go from the day job to writing full time, although I doubt I'll make this kind of money from writing. But we're fortunate to be doing the thing we love whether we make our living at it or not. Having our words out there for others to is quite an accomplishment.

Anonymous said...

I'm very interested, Shanna, in what steps you took to arrive at your dream -- and manage to quit that hated day job.

JoAnn Ross said...

Having wanted to be a writer since I was seven, there are very few days that go by that I don't realize sometime during that day, how fortunate I am to be living my dream. Which, as Alfie mentioned, might not always be exactly how I envisioned it (funny how things change when your dream becomes your day job, lol), but still, a bad day writing beats a good day doing anything else. I'm glad you're living your dream, Shanna. And having written my first book in an Allstate booth in a Phoenix Sears story, working for a misogynist manager who could've been channeling Captain Queeg, I can definitely identify with escaping a job you hate!

Shanna Swendson said...


Mostly, to be totally honest, I saved up a lot of money and then got laid off from the job I hated. I was still in the middle of a bad publishing dry spell, but I had enough money in savings to live for a few years, and I had a few offers of freelance work, so I decided to take the plunge and focus on my writing. Then I got a great idea that led to a decent book contract and a lot of foreign rights sales, and the first book from that contract did well enough that I was able to get another decent book contract and more foreign rights sales, and as a result, I made a profit this year instead of continuing to dig into my savings.

Now, though, I need to get another contract, and I'm hoping the last book did well enough that they want more from me ...

I'm not sure I'd have ever felt secure enough to just quit if I hadn't been laid off, but having all that money saved up really was the key success factor. I'd put everything I made with writing and freelance work on the side into savings, and whenever I got a raise, I automatically put the extra money into savings and kept living the way I had been. Over the course of about ten years, that added up, and having the time to focus on my writing, as well as an implied deadline to accomplish something, really helped.