Good Advice

A few weeks ago, over drinks in a dark, downstairs bar, I asked Jamal, my newly minted husband, how he would feel about having a Write at Home Wife. It’s sort of like a Stay at Home Wife, only I’d be devoting myself to writing. I haven’t written anything substantial since Paris, a fact that is simultaneously depressing and incomprehensible. I felt the happiest, most alive, most fulfilled those eight weeks in Paris, because I was writing every single day. That was my job. Surely Paris was only part of the magic, and if I chose to make writing my full-time focus here, I’d find myself as productive and contented as I had been there. Or at least more satisfied than my current 9-5 situation, without question.

But I asked his opinion because I’m told that’s what you do in a marriage, and because, truthfully, a part of me is concerned about how it would look to other people. Girl marries older, successful career man, immediately quits job to stay home (and write). Jamal’s friends’ wives are doctors, lawyers, PhD holders. My own friends are no less impressive; two of my best friends are nurses, one keeps people alive after furious gunshot wounds, the other delivers babies into the world. Another jets off to Prague and Buenos Aires, assisting on commercial shoots for a major ad agency. My own mother earned her Masters Degree while shuttling me back and forth to school and ballet class. Isn’t it lazy to stay home? Wouldn’t it appear opportunistic to let my husband provide for me while I sit at my desk and nurture my inner Hemingway? Isn’t this so typically millennial of me, needing to feel wholly indulged in what makes me happy? I have nearly a year’s salary in my savings account (the idea of spending Jamal’s money makes me too uncomfortable), but isn’t the feeling of needing to justify my choice with some financial fact wrong in some way, too?

I asked Jamal, as we stirred our speakeasy cocktails with unpronounceable ingredients, “And what happens when I finish this novel? What then?”

“Then you write another one,” he said, thus affirming every decision I’d made to this point in my life with regards to his place in it.

But really, what happens then? What happens if I finish this novel, if I take a year and make writing my full-time job, and nothing comes of it? Do I write another one? And another? And if none of these manuscripts see the light of day, what do I have to show for my time? For my life? Am I still a writer if the only thing it achieves is making me feel fulfilled?

So when I came across this Ask Polly feature in New York Magazine’s The Cut, it hit so close to home I almost could have written the question myself. A woman, an artist, in her early thirties, is struggling with devoting herself to her art without feeling guilty. She writes, “My husband makes the living, but I would like to carry some weight. Am I just a shameful lazy bum who wants the world to carry me so I can be an Artiste? I want to create art, but I want to be socially accepted as well, as more than a dreamer.”

Ding ding ding.

The advice “Polly” gives is so poignant, so encouraging, that I’ve been coming back to the article near daily, just to feel reaffirmed. I haven’t made a decision yet, and I’m still plugging away at my desk job, with the slow burn of my novel somewhere in the background. At some point, this balance will change. But damn am I grateful for these words:


36 thoughts on “Good Advice

  1. first i have to say holy shit! you have a years salary in savings?! i think i have a months rent in savings. add me to your list of friends and i can help balance out those over achievers for ya.

    second, i hear you so clearly. this has been weighing on my mind a lot lately. just that whole tug of war of what is valued in this world, and not always feeling like i, or what i love to do, is by those in my real life. or it is, but in a condescending way most of the time. until something good or profitable happens then it’s bragged about which irritates me to no end. ugh. i could go on about that one topic forever. but, yes, i understand.

    third, um, i don’t understand. oh my gosh. your husband is supportive, you don’t even have to worry about crossing that line of being financially supported yet (shouldn’t be weird, but i know it totally is). fitz would be over the moon. who the hell cares what other people think (that’s what i end up yelling at myself in my head), your worst critics (if there are any) will probably just be jealous that you are following your passions. really don’t listen to those capitalistic voices that society has trained our ears to perk up to.
    just jump in with both feet. i think it’s brave (and i want my copy of that book!). xoxo

    1. Haha, it’s not all that impressive, I promise! I live in a relatively low-cost city, in a neighborhood Jamal was wise enough to move into pre-gentrification. Despite all the many (many) material things I post on here, my spending is actually super controlled, down to the dollar, and planned months in advance. It’s a little neurotic, actually! But I guess it has its upsides, too?

      I admire you so, so much, have I told you that enough? I love that you took your passion and jumped in with both feet to make it your full-time career. People that are brave enough to do it don’t always have the talent to back it up, but you do. I’m worried I don’t have either. But really, you’re so inspiring, twinsy. You are a big inspiration for me when it comes to this topic!

      Fitz WOULD be over the moon, haha. He’d never to have to go in his crate again! And I have to keep telling myself that if after a period of time of being a stay at home writer I somehow don’t end up liking it, I can always do something else. I just need to try something. And OF COURSE you will get a copy of that book! Signed, sealed, and delivered. Promise. xoxo

  2. I think that you should do what feels like the right thing for you right now. If you’re not attached to your job and are on the hunt for the next career option, you could try making writing the career rather than doing it as a part-time thing. Especially if you feel like your current job is not allowing you enough time to do what you actually want to do. Definitely don’t worry about how you’ll be perceived by others. You don’t have to justify your decision to anyone else. You’re the only person that has to be happy with your decision and you’ll have lots of support from the people that actually know you. And I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with trying to find a career that will make you feel fulfilled. That’s more important to me than having a lucrative career as well.

    That being said, if you do take the plunge, know that it likely won’t be easy. Devoting your life to being a Write at Home Wife or doing only creative things is really, really difficult. I’ve been a Write at Home Wife for over a year now and I don’t know where that year has gone or how I’ve managed to produce so little. When you have unstructured time, surprisingly little gets done. So be prepared to have to tackle issues which you may not realize will be issues yet, like structuring your time, guilt in times of unproductivity, feelings of inadequacy, etc. Try to find other people who are doing what you want to do so you can have someone who can relate to how you’re feeling to motivate you in times of creative drought. Maybe try to set regular blocks of time aside for writing every day or every week and try to stick to them already, even before you decide to take the plunge. I think that doing that can bring to light some of the issues that might come up for you if you do it full time and/or it can make you realize that you really do want to spend more of your time writing.

    You are lucky that you have a supportive husband and enough finances to not feel like you’d be financially supported by someone else. Not that there’s anything wrong with spouses sharing one income, but not having financial independence outside of my family unit is something that I’m not entirely comfortable with for myself.

    1. Thank you so much for this, Sabina. I hadn’t known you were trying the Write at Home Wife life these days! And while I’m sorry there have been negative aspects to it for you, I’m actually relieved to hear you say it isn’t as perfect as I had built it up to be in my head. I hadn’t even thought about the temptation to delay writing, but it makes sense, because there’s always tomorrow, right? What’s that old saying, “When you want something done, give it to a busy person?” You’re so right about the downsides to unstructured time. I am most productive (with work stuff) when I am absolutely swamped. But that hasn’t yet translated into being able to write efficiently, because they are such separate entities for me. And I just feel so burnt out at the end of a work week (either from having too much to do, or too little; either way, my brain is mush) that my once beloved Sundays Are For Writing have fallen by the wayside. I really like the idea of setting strict blocks of time, though. That’s how I approached it in Paris. Even I was impressed with myself that I could be as dedicated to it as I was, with Paris right outside my door.

      And that’s such a good suggestion about finding other people in a similar position. I’m sure there are writing groups or writers meetups I could join, if it starts to feel too lonely. Hey, you and I could even Skype! I’d love to hear what you’re working on and how the next year shapes up for you in comparison to this one (that is, if you’re planning on doing this for another year). xo

      1. Yeah! I’ll totally be your writing buddy!

        I’m writing my dissertation. I have a good idea of what I want to say, so I don’t know why it’s taking me forever and forever and forever. Oh yeah, it’s because I’m a huge perfectionism.

        I probably will be at it for at least another six months.

  3. Firstly, I really really really love Polly’s advice (and writing voice) in NYMag. I send her columns back and forth to my friends all the time.

    Secondly, this topic resonates with me immensely. I was confronted with this “choice” a few years back, and it came down to my priorities. Did I feel the need for financial independence and security (and independence in general) more than the need to create / write? Absolutely. It’s a factor of my upbringing, family situation, and my own risk profile. Those are going to be different for everyone and you are the only one who can determine where writing lies in your list of priorities. That list of priorities can shift and change so my only word of caution is to think through what would happen if those priorities did change and how your decision could impact that in the short and long run. We could get into this discussion a lot more offline if you’d like. I have never given up on the dream of writing and won’t ever, it’s a matter of reaching the right balance for me.

    Thirdly, It’s easy for others to say “do it” when you’re questioning whether or not you should pursue your dreams, particularly if they don’t have to “pick you up” so to speak if things don’t work out as planned. Listen to those people in your life who you’ve depended on for honest guidance throughout the years. Everyone else is just chatter (as I type this comment… I know).

    1. I don’t know how I missed out on her column all this time, honestly. Even the problems that don’t resonate with as closely as this one are wonderful reads, because her advice is just so good.

      Thank you for this, Rooth. It goes against my upbringing in a lot of ways to up and say, “I want to quit my job and write full-time, unpaid!” And it’s terrifying. Even if the day-job isn’t fulfilling, it’s still a steady paycheck which I’ve gotten really, really accustomed to having. Even my father, whose true passion was art, worked as an architect to fund that creativity. Would he have loved to be able to feel secure (financially, etc) enough to quit and paint full-time? Of course. But he had me, and he had responsibilities that wouldn’t allow it. It was his balance, like you mentioned. For me, right now, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find a balance unless I tip the scales fully in favor of writing at least once. Because I’ve learned that having a full-time job (this full-time job) doesn’t allow me the kind of balance with my writing that I want/need. I’m in search of balance.

      And I’d love to have this conversation more in depth off-line, if you’d like. I know you have more wisdom to dispense! That whole bit about “honest guidance” was just so, so spot on. xoxo

      1. It’s funny how that idea of balance shifts (daily sometimes) and it’s wonderful to have the flexibility to be able to adjust your life accordingly. Definitely worth figuring out how to do that and if it’s something attainable for the short-term vs. long-term as well. All great questions to ponder and discuss with your life mentors and keep me posted on how all the discussions go

  4. The last sentence of Polly’s advice is marvellous. The problem is, it’s difficult to shrug off the opinions of others, of even just your own perception of them. But I guess the point of her response is – don’t let other people mess with what you want and need to do. Good luck with it all! I wish you the best and hope to read the product of it all :) xxx

    1. It’s so hard, Lucy! Specifically in the states, where there is this persistent and pervasive idea of the “American Dream,” voluntarily opting to not have a paycheck and health insurance to do something silly like write a book, is regarding with overwhelming judgment and skepticism. Even the people who say it’s brave tend to think, “Sure, that’s brave. But that’s also crazy.” Thank you for the encouragement! xoxo

    1. That article, though. “Risk in life is blowing your savings on an apartment in Paris so you can write The Great American Novel.” Um, so apparently I am a giant cliché. ;) But seriously, thank you for sharing that. He was in a very lucky position to already have a publisher. I don’t even have an agent to even get a publisher, and I might never have that. Which is casting serious doubt on this whole idea, haha. Wouldn’t it make sense to have that security first and then worry about being a full time writer? Gah. Thank you for your sweet words, fellow dreamer! xoxo

      1. oh no! i read right over that part, you are not a cliche! i was more focused on the calculated risks part, which given your situation (with your savings, Jamal’s support, and the jump start you already have on the novel) is the sort of risk you’d be taking. you’ve got a safety net big enough to cover a year, so why not set yourself that time goal? if you were able to accomplish so much during those months in Paris, just think how much you’ll achieve in a year. austin was in a very lucky position, everything lined up like a dream, that’s not the only way to success. Finish your story first, from the bits I’ve read so far, I’m sure the publisher will follow. ;)

        1. Haha, I fully recognize that tons of writers feel the need to move to Paris to ~be inspired~. But you’re right, I got so much written while I was there –on top of walking miles around the city every day and eating and taking photos. Here in Philly, where there are significantly less distractions outside (no Eiffel Tower, waaah), I imagine I could knock it out in under a year.

          You are so sweet! If you know of any publishers… ;) xoxo

  5. Polly’s advice is really amazing stuff to read.

    A while back another blogger – Elizabeth Ivie (love that woman!) – who is also an immensely talented writer posted something similar and what I remember most about her post is this advice her father gave her: “Listen to your gut on this. When you survive by your creativity, it can be dangerous to ignore your feelings…”

    I’d totally recommend that whole blog post:

    Good luck, Erin!

    1. Thank you for sharing that post, Tanja. I’m not familiar with that particular blogger, but that post really resonated with me. It seems like, regardless of your creative medium, we all struggle with the same issues. I love the quote she included about marathon runners taking a break between marathons. That’s really poignant, and I’m going to need more time to think that over. xo

  6. I love seeing those comments from Jamal! It makes me so happy you have such a loving, supportive life partner :) It also makes me so happy to see you pursuing your passions (don’t take that for granted–not everyone knows where they want to go with their lives). Also, let me second Christine’s sentiment about your savings–holy shit! Go you. I would love to know your secrets and get myself in similar shape.

    I won’t pretend to know which way you should go from here, but I do agree with Polly that no matter what you decide, don’t worry about what other people think of your setup with Jamal. It doesn’t really help you find the right balance, and most likely, if you did decide to write full-time, they’d be impressed by you all the same for being a fantastic, insightful, and successful writer. You’re not a silly stay-at-home trophy wife, and anyone whose opinion matters knows you well enough to know that anyway.

    1. What, trophy wives don’t often lay around in sweatpants eating Christmas oreos on the sofa for breakfast?? ;) I kid, I kid. It’s like anything else, those who matter will know better than to think I’m being a lazy bum, and the ones who do think that aren’t the ones who matter. (I sound like Dr. Seuss).

      I can’t thank you enough for your kind words, Samantha. I hope to one day be the “fantastic, insightful, and successful writer” you mentioned in your comment, haha. Maybe that day is next year or the year after, and maybe it never happens, but at least I’ll know I tried. Right? Right. xoxo

  7. I really admire your devotion! I have also written a book and continue to write daily, but as much as I love writing I’m also dedicated to my job as a nurse and have just applied for more postgrad study. I think I might be crazy… I can’t give up one for the other, because I feel the need to nurture both. If you’re only being pulled in one direction and your desk job isn’t fulfilling, then go forth and feed your passion!

    1. I’m so impressed that you’ve written a book, Lauren. The end result seems so unachievable to me at times, and I’m sure you know how frustrating the process can be! But to have pushed through it and finished a whole book? So incredible. You should be really proud! And it’s also impressive that you recognize the need to nurture both of your passions, without sacrificing one or the other. Thank you for the encouragement! xo

  8. You either torture your soul or you follow your path. I saw it with your father and I am so happy that you have a choice. Choose wisely. Not everyone has been given your gift…nor has everyone been sent a gift like Jamal.
    I’d also like to thank you for thinking I was still 25 years old. That’s when I finished my masters. I was taking Doctoral electives and getting my principal certification when you were a tween. It took a village and it couldn’t be done without your Dad, Aunt Marj, and Uncle Pete. If you ever decide to go back to school…..I’m babysitting!!!

    1. Masters shmasters, the sentiment was the same! Getting additional degrees when you have a full-time job and a teenage daughter is no small feat. So you can understand my hesitation about voluntarily dropping out of the workforce when my parental examples were to keep working, keep advancing your education, etc. etc. We’re Jewish, the guilt should not come as a surprise ;)

      I have been toying with getting my Masters, recently! But the only thing you can babysit is Fitz. xo

  9. Ah, the big struggle between art and reason… it’s a shame that our society has made it appear as though artists “don’t do anything” with their time, just because they’re not making money by any standard means. There’s no shame in taking the pay-cut and jumping head first into following your dream! Especially if you have a partner who can still pay the bills.
    Shawn and I talk about this often; about that fact that the majority of our friends have college degrees and high-paying jobs and that all the other married couples we know own their first (some second!) homes. And yet here we are, the two of us, neither of us college graduates, living day-by-day on our combined-yet-still-meager salaries in a two-bedroom apartment… working jobs that by societal standards are on the lower end of the spectrum but that generally make us smile and still challenge us regularly nonetheless. And still we wonder if those other couples we know, who are living lives of luxury in contrast, share the same happiness that we share together on a daily basis.
    A happy life is not based on finances and comfort, because comfort comes from happiness and happiness comes from within. Listen to what you want, work hard to attain it, and hold on to it. There you will find your happiness, and your answer. (The answer is 42 though, by the way.)

    1. I totally know where you’re coming from, Marine. I question this constantly. What’s the point of killing yourself at a job you might not love or even like, just to make more money to afford a bigger house or an extra car? Does a bigger house you never get to spend any time in because you’re always working to afford the house really make people happy? I think (and correct me if I’m wrong since you are French) the idea that you are defined by your career or your paycheck is wholly American. I never get any of those vibes in France. No one judges people for having smaller apartments or service industry jobs in France (well also, service industry jobs in France are true métiers, unlike the menial jobs they are here).

      Your last point is so true. Happiness comes from within, not from anywhere else (not even Paris!). Oh, and I had a boss once who, when asked any question, always answered, “Seven.” ;) xo

  10. Je pense Erin, que c’est un sacré décision! mais qu’elle appartienne seulement à vous deux! Quand je suis arrivée en France, je ne pas pu trouver un travail équivalent à celle que j’en avais en Espagne. J’étais secrétaire de direction d’un firme américaine (PwC). Ici, il disait que mon accent était trop important pour me donner une opportunité. Au début, j’ai déprimé et je voulais retourné en Espagne ou mon travail m’attendait. A la fin j’ai resté et tan pis pour le boulot. J’ai eu mes enfants J’ai eu la chance de me occuper d’eaux et petit à petit je m’invite un vie nouvelle. Je commencé à dessiné, a faire la cuisine, à faire des photos…bref, tout ce que je ne pouvait pas faire quand j’ai travaillé à Madrid. Au début les paroles de certains me rende triste : ah, me vous ne travaillez pas??? Comment si l’unique travail qu’on devait réaliser dans la vie il devait être rémunéré! Fonce Erin, si ton mari es d’accord pour que tu reste à la maison et tu as envie, ça vous regarde que à tous les deux. Tu as de talent, et un mari qui t’aime…alors reste, écrire ton livre et si il ne marche pas, essai à nouveau!!
    Bon weekend et bon réflexion !xoxo

    1. Tu as fait un bon point, Eva. Si je essaie, et il ne marche pas, je peux essayer autre chose! Mais au premier, je dois essayer etre un ecrivain, ou je regrettera. Je sais que le question, “Vous ne travaillez??” est difficile et préjudice! Tu as travaillé, mais parce que tu n’as pas travaillé dans un bureau, personnes n’ont pas compris. J’ai la meme peur. J’ai entendu un devis une fois, “Si vos rêves ne vous effrayent pas, ils ne sont pas assez grand.” (C’etait en Anglais, vraiment, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”) C’est très vrai, oui? Merci pour ton confiance! xoxo

      Oh! Jamal a travaillé pour PWC aussi, il ya 12 ans! Petit monde :)

  11. I love this, as this is somethin I’ve lived by/struggled with all my life ever since I got out of school. For many years, I’ve lived my (then) dream of acting/being on stage/directing a theater company. It didn’t pay well. People judged (“not a real job”, etc). But man, I did what I loved! Fast foward to now: I am a translator, working from home, at (almost) my own pace. It pays better than acting, sure, and people judge less, but it still belongs to the magical realm of “unusual jobs” that many don’t understand. And let’s not even talk about my partner, who left his “normal” job three years ago to start making and selling jewellery! But we manage to make it work, and we both do what we love and what makes us happy.

    I’ve always lived according to my passions, no matter what people thought of it. I’ve also always found a way to make a living through these passions, even if it meant having a job on the side to make ends meet. If you want to do it, DO IT. Life is short. :) I agree with Marine: “A happy life is not based on finances and comfort, because comfort comes from happiness and happiness comes from within.”

    I’m sure you will make the right decision either way, and you seem to have a loving and supportive husband to share this with, which is great! You are talented and deserve all the hapiness in the world, no matter what path you take. :)

    1. I had no idea you’d been in the theater world! That’s so cool! I have some faraway dreams of my own about that, too. I give you so much credit for following your passions, not just once, but multiple times! And your partner, too. That takes such courage and dedication, and it’s so inspiring. LIfe really is short, and nothing is permanent. Not this job, not any job, not even writing. There will be a time in my life when I can’t write –when I’m old and blind or senile or if god forbid I fall ill early in life– and I don’t want to regret not taking a chance when I could, just because I was hesitant. Afraid, more like. I love your line, “Live according to your passions.” So wise!

      Thank you for your encouragement and sweet words, Charlotte. It means so much to me. xo

  12. I came across that Ask Polly article too and had similar thoughts to yours. i’d love to be a full-time writer but made the decision, at least for now, to keep doing it part-time. still an improvement to someone with a 9-5 job, I guess. works for me. I could’t/wouldn’t want to do nothing else. I need the diversity and above all the contact with other people. writing can be a lonely job, and being a writer can make you as miserable as it can make you happy. and I’m not saying this as advice to you. I’m just sharing my thinking. the only advice I do have is DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME WORRYING ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK. life is too short. it’s a cliche and also something you know already, but maybe you need to hear it again. and again. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME WORRYING ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK. give this a go. and if it doesn’t work for you, do something else. write another novel. and then another novel. and then something altogether different if that’s what you feel like. it’s your life. and you are a millenial. you might as well embrace it. at least [and as long as] you are aware of it. xoxo

    1. You were how I found this column! I knew it was somewhere on Twitter, and it had to have been you. Donc, merci! :)

      Writing is a very lonely job, but that is something I crave, and always have. The solitude that can feel miserable to you doesn’t (at least yet) feel that way to me. It could, you’re right about that, and thank you for being so honest about it. And maybe I’ll want to move to only writing part-time, and juggle a part-time job in addition to it. But I won’t know I want to rule out writing full-time unless I try it full-time, you know? I’ll be repeating your mantra (Don’t waste your time worrying about what other people think!) for many, many weeks/months/years to come. I struggle more with that I think than my own confidence about the decision. xoxo

  13. I’ve said this time and again; you’ve probably never believed me and you probably won’t still, but. Don’t be so hard on yourself about this time. Novels aren’t created in one continuous thread of constant writing. Even in this time of what feels like nothing, there is good and hard work being done. You’ll come back with new insights and fresh eyes and your work will be better for it.

    Plus, you’ve had a lot going on. You should revel in that and live in those moments.

    1. I do believe you! But it took maybe ten times of you telling me, haha. I know things are happening, things are brewing, even when I’m not actually, physically writing, but I’ll forever be frustrated by how little motivation I have sometimes to sit down and write. I need to keep repeating what you’ve told me, though. And you’re right! I have had a lot of exciting things happening the last few months. I guess I can use those as an excuse ;) xo

  14. I worked in finance for 6 years before I quit to go after my art career.. and 2 bits of advice have always stuck with me. If you don’t ever try it at least once your in life, then you will always be stuck not knowing.. and if you can afford to why not? the other bit of advice, since your married… it’s about having a whole life combined with the two of you and each part helps out the other. so it’s not about having equal parts, its about being a whole- does that make sense.

    Do it quit ! What’s the worst that can happen? you go back to the cubicle?

    1. I am so impressed that a) you stuck with finance for six years, and b) had the courage to say, “Enough!” and pursue your true passions. I agree with you, Erika, if I don’t at least try it, I’ll never know what it’s like being a full-time writer and I’ll always regret it. (Paris counted, though, on a smaller scale).

      I love that advice, too. The specific breakdown doesn’t have to be 50/50. You’re so right. So wise, you! xo

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