I Write for the Money

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I was one of those kids who could wander off into the woods and spend the better part of a day on a project.

When my teacher gave me a notebook that I could use for anything, anything at all, I filled it up with stories and drawings.

When my friend and I started thinking about a fun thing to do after school, we started writing a book together.

By the time I got to college, I’d heard all about finding a job that is respectable, like a lawyer or a doctor, and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Writing wasn’t even close to being on the radar. I honestly didn’t even know there were people called “copy writers” or “business writers” who got paid a living wage to work with words. I believed that words were just part of my childhood and that part of me needed to die in the service of finding a career.

My wife once said to me, “I can’t even imagine what kind of major you should have been in college.”

Truer words have never been spoken. I didn’t fit into any tidy career boxes. I have creative inclinations that drew me toward writing and reading, but I also had more interpersonal, pastoral inclinations that drew me toward ministry. The English and Bible majors weren’t good fits, and in the presence of both camps I felt like an imposter.

I replied to my wife, “Maybe if they had a major called ‘Professional F – – k ups’?”

Those were darker days.

I couldn’t even trace a clear path between that little kid who filled up piles of notebooks with stories and the young adult who set off for seminary for a career in ministry that never felt right. It was the least-worst least-right thing.

In the back of my mind, I kept hearing a little voice whispering: You could write on the side. I continued to hear it as I earned a degree for a career I wouldn’t pursue. When I turned to a job in the nonprofit sector, I still felt like an imposter, and that voice in the back of my mind grew louder: you could write on the side…

When I finally started listening to that voice to write, I had no idea how to make a living as a writer. I just knew that it was my last shot at some kind of a career.

I thought that I was finally becoming the kind of adult who made some sense out of that kid who would wander in the woods all day or who would fill up notebooks with stories. This was going to be the time when I finally linked a career with my actual identity. Right?

Not quite.

I started out with writing with the simple hope of earning a sustainable living. Yes, I wrote for the money. Writers should never be ashamed of creating high quality creative work or professional business pieces for a fair wage. That isn’t the same thing as being annoying about promotion or selling out for a paycheck. That also isn’t the same thing as writing in order to get famous. In fact, the latter distinction has been essential for me.

Unfortunately, many writers today are stuck in a kind of limbo between a perception that writing for a sustainable income means writing in order to get famous. This perception is grounded in an unnecessary reality that has unfortunately become all too normal.

When I started out as an author, I had the modest goal of writing for a respectable, sustainable audience. I never wanted to be the headliner at conferences, the go-to guy for hot takes on cable news, or a social media rock star. I just wanted to write and get paid for it.

I imagined my dad working long days as a plumber, often taking me on estimates in the evenings or going in for half or full days on Saturdays. That’s what I had in mind: hard work, a career that used my talents and abilities, and a paycheck at the end of the week.

Instead I found a carnival of conferences, social media personalities, Middle-school-style blog fights, and popularity contests.

I had no idea that the traditional publishing world has less and less room (and use?) for a working author. Rather, what I’ve discovered is a huge gap between the haves and have nots. There are the new authors who get picked up as a kind of Hail Mary pass and the big names who consistently earn their keep. The majority of the resources go the big names, and I honestly don’t blame publishers for choosing what works. However, the number of authors who can earn a living without engaging in the publicity circus are growing fewer and fewer.

I write for the money. I don’t write for fame or publicity. Today many authors are finding that you can’t write books for a living wage unless you also gun for the fame and publicity. A select few have carved their own way between the two, but I assure you they don’t have much by way of long term security. For the most part, I’ve chosen to release my latest books independently in order to earn a modest monthly wage on my own terms.

I don’t have easy answers here. I have found a middle ground that includes lots of freelancing, writing for blogs and websites combined with author coaching and editing things like books and proposals. I write my own books and release them independently while keeping communication channels with publishers open.

Perhaps I’m foolish, but I can’t let go of a few images in my mind.

I see that kid who filled up notebooks and then took long walks in the woods.

I see my dad removing his muddy boots in the garage and then scrubbing his hands in the kitchen sink.

I see my own notebook filled with ideas, dreams, and hopes. Sometimes the ideas in that notebook translate into a check, direct deposit from Amazon, or a PayPal payment. Sometimes those ideas turn into an appreciative note from a reader or a five-star review.

My kids don’t see muddy work boots or blackened hands in our home. They see torn-open envelopes, a computer, and a pile of fine point black pens next to my notebook.

I remember my dad sharing a plumber joke with me one day when he came home covered in mud.

“That’s not dirt,” he said. “That’s money.”

And so as I scribble again and again in my notebook…

“That’s not ink… that’s money.”

This is my career. This is my calling—who I’ve always been deep down to my core from the earliest days that I could write in a notebook or tap away on a keyboard. I write for the money that leads to a sustainable creative career, and I hope that more writers can do the same.

Confess Your Dreams to Each Other


There’s a Christian tradition of confessing your sins to someone else as a step toward freedom. We may quote James saying, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” James 5:16, NIV.

By keeping our struggles, flaws, and imperfections secret, we leave ourselves vulnerable to their attacks, the shame they generate, and the feeling that we’re inevitable failures in spirituality. I know all of this from repeated experience.

It’s hard to confess to someone else. The times I’ve stepped forward to receive prayer from someone have been agonizing. Perhaps we fear judgment or being exposed as frauds. Perhaps we fear that the prayers of the person we approach won’t help. If there’s a chance that the prayers offered won’t help, then why risk exposing ourselves?

Vulnerability feels like we’re going to trap ourselves, but more often than not, it’s quite liberating. I find that hard to believe most weeks.

I’m a begrudging believer in confessing sins to a trusted friend or mentor, but I also believe in confessing our dreams.

Aside from our flaws, I believe our hopes, callings, and dreams may be the most fragile parts of ourselves. We don’t want to appear foolish, stupid, or ridiculous. We don’t want to set out for a valiant goal only to fall on our faces. Who wants to set out in pursuit of something that carries significant personal meaning and then fail publicly and dramatically?

Mind you, a dream or goal or hope isn’t necessarily virtuous in and of itself. However, before we can even discern this, many of us will suppress these notions before they get out of hand and people find out about them.

I have gone back and forth on this stuff plenty of times. I remember sharing an idea for a book one time in a group of friends and a stone cold silence followed. Someone may have said, “Hmmmm.”

Needless to say, I never touched that idea again.

I’m learning how to manage “confessing” these ideas and dreams and callings a bit. For instance, I’ve learned that the place to start with confessing my dreams is a few trusted people. I’ll tell my wife and then follow up with an email to a few trusted friends and experts to sound things out.

Last year I bought domain name and built an entire website. I felt like I just needed to do it in order to have the experience of building a more static website from the ground up regardless of whether or not I used it. I ran the idea past some trusted people. Many gave it a thumbs up, but a few shared some reservations. Perhaps there were already websites that covered this topic. Perhaps it wouldn’t catch on as I hoped. I asked for prayer. I prayed a lot.

I followed up the feedback and discernment process with some tests on social media. I shared posts and updated related to my new website’s topic.

Silence. Zip. Nada.

I decided to scrap the idea. I’m not sure if it wasn’t my thing to do or if my approach wasn’t the most effective way forward, but I’m pretty sure it was a combination of both.

I’ve been sitting and waiting on what’s next. I wrapped up my book Write without Crushing Your Soul this past fall and have been mentally divided between three book ideas that I can’t quite choose between.

Just as the domain name for last year’s website experiment expired, a new idea popped into my mind. Once again I tested it with my wife and then, before I could talk myself out of it, I zipped off some texts and emails to friends.

I confessed that I needed them to be in the loop right from the start. I told them that I needed them to know about this idea before I bailed. Sure enough, they were encouraging, while I spent the following day picking apart all of the reasons why this website is a terrible idea.

However, once I got over the fear of launching a new website and received some helpful feedback, I started to take tentative steps forward.

This project feels big and intimidating enough that I have to trust in God’s help to make it happen. It’s true to my experiences and, dare I say, “journey” in spirituality. It’s about something that I keep asking God, “Are you sure I should do this?” And I keep getting affirmations in return.

Today I’m plugging along with this new project, and I can’t believe that I ever doubted it or needed to tell someone before I preemptively gave up on it. But the truth is that I needed my friends’ accountability. I needed them to know that at one point in time I had thought this was a good idea, and I needed their honest feedback right then and there before I blew the whole thing up.

Accountability is good for uncovering our faults and struggles, but it’s also good for keeping us pointed to our true north. Accountability helps us put both hands on a crazy idea that just may come from God and to hold onto it through the storms of doubt, exhaustion, and fear.

Confess your hopes and dreams to one another so that you may discern God’s direction. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective