Discover more from Midlife Anti-Hero
Does this newsletter make any money?
How I’m building a profitable writer’s life. (without making a profit)
The woman preparing my taxes studied the spreadsheet I’d prepared. I pulled off my pink Carhart knit hat and unzipped my jacket, but before I could make myself comfortable, she asked an uncomfortable question.
“Is this all of your income?”
I nodded yes. She shook her head no.
This was the year I was supposed to show a profit lest the IRS deems my writing a hobby, not a business. A hobby!? Don’t they realize how much time and effort I’ve spent building my new career?
“What they care about,” said the CPA while double-checking my math, “is how much you’ve earned.”
By any other measure, I felt rich. In the four years since I left my job, I’d been profiting in myriad ways: new adventures, new friends, new knowledge, new skills. I’ve worked late hours and stressed out over deadlines, but the results are hard to quantify.
My 4-year balance sheet looks something like this.
2 years of grad school
80,000 words of a first-draft memoir
Dozens of essays written and revised and revised and revised
68 submissions for publication
7 publications with 2 pending
1 prize nomination
This accounting doesn’t include the time I spent on “building platform,” meaning finding and growing an audience who might someday want to buy my book. By the way, have I thanked you lately for subscribing to and sharing this newsletter? 😉
When I left my job, I said I was “purposefully” not committing to anything new, and I didn’t for most of that first year. I spent leisurely mornings by the wood stove and took the dog for long walks.
Except I was a duck enjoying a glide on a glass-smooth pond while I paddled as fast as possible under the surface. What am I going to do? Who am I going to be? I cannot stop moving! I need to find the next thing—to be a success in my third chapter! How much will I earn?
Money as a measure of my worth in the world is a hard metric to shake. To be clear, I know that my circumstance is more fortunate than most. Though it was not always so.
Maybe that’s why my spending is too often as optimistic as the future is uncertain.
My mother recently gave me a canvas zip pouch. It’s just large enough for my favorite pens, a lip balm, and my checkbook. The text on it says, “I’m stuck somewhere between: ‘I need to save money’ and ‘You only live once.’
I doubt the IRS would understand, but at least Mom gets me. There’s a fine line between earning and living.
On Tuesday morning, I drafted an essay and then spent the rest of the day reviewing every line item of every bill, canceling subscriptions, and griping about the cost of groceries.
After Wednesday’s writing group, I wandered the nursery and bought a wagon-load of perennials. I spent the late afternoon digging in the dirt, with just enough energy left to watch the last episode of Ted Lasso. (Note to self: cancel Apple TV+).
Today, I created a Pinterest business account—building platform, I rationalized. In truth, I’m avoiding the more challenging work of my memoir project’s third draft.
From 2:00 – 5:00, I wrote one (ONE!) email pitch to a newspaper outlet for an article I hope to place for payment. Said article received five rejections so far—but this is how things work, I’m learning.
Research target publication. What’s the voice? Have they covered the topic before?
Learn target publication is for subscribers only. Sign up for a free trial, mark calendar to cancel subscription before it auto-renews to the tune of $199, and angers my tax accountant.
Find a “news peg” to make my article more attractive. Hey, do I have a debt-ceiling story for you!
Find the correct editor. Figure out their email address—not always publicly available—stalk editor on Twitter.
Read the editor’s previous work so I can personalize a compliment for the pitch email.
Read my essay out loud, edit one more time, hit send, and cross my fingers.
Update spreadsheet (of course, I have a spreadsheet!), then turn on email notifications in the unlikely event of a reply.
Wait an appropriate amount of time (days). Follow-up. Wait again (days). Rinse and repeat.
Lately, I have spent more time planning, drafting, and marketing (my former job) than I do writing (my new job. Part of that is sticking to my comfort zone, but I also worry that I’m paying attention to the wrong balance sheet—putting profit over purpose.
This is my reinspired life, after all! Or, in business parlance, I’m building sweat equity in my self-funded start-up.
I might satisfy the IRS’s definition of business, though I hope this isn’t true.
Money may not be a measure of my worth, but it is a measure of the value of my work, and I genuinely believe people should be paid for their work. But for now, I consider this more of an apprenticeship.
After I thanked Mom for the cute gift, she asked, “So, does this newsletter of yours pay?”
Not yet, Mom. Not yet.
Prompts to reinspire your next chapter
Drop a few lines of writing in the comments, and I’ll share mine too. There is only one rule. Be kind to yourself as you write and to others as they trust us with their words.
Reflection: How do you define success? What does your balance sheet look like?
Inspiration: Re-define “profit” without mentioning money.
Revise and repeat as needed.
Work hard. Be Brave. Believe.