Every day, on my way to work, I drive past Powell’s Books.
Powell’s is a Portland city landmark known primarily for the fact that it takes up an entire city block. And if you pass the side of the store on Burnside Street, you’ll see a marquee that announces authors who will be reading and holding events in the store in the next week.
Every day, on my way to work, I drive down Burnside, past the marquee on top of Powell’s Books, and I imagine the day that my name will be up there.
I imagine the day that I will be a published author.
Of course, I thought about this day long before I moved to Portland; long before I’d even heard of Powell’s. I have known since I was very, very young that I wanted to be a writer; a published writer, with a book of my own to hold in my hand and share with the world.
There’s a lot of reasons why I am not yet the writer that I hope to be. There are a lot of reasons why I have spent most of my adult career working in “shadow” writing careers like public relations and marketing. There are a lot of reasons that my name is not yet on that marquee.
If I may be bold enough to say, I don’t think it’s because I’m not a good enough writer. Instead, I think it’s because for a long, long time I’ve been too afraid to do the work it takes to be a writer.
I’ve been afraid of what people might say about my work.
I’ve been afraid that I won’t make enough money to live.
I’ve been afraid that I will fail — in the ways above, but also in the way I am failing already every single day: By just not writing.
There’s a lot to unpack in there; a lot that I’ve been trying to unpack for a few years now, as I find my way back to this first love, this great passion of mine. But today I want to talk about just one fear: the fear that, if I’m a writer, I won’t make enough money.
I read this interview with Jessica Knoll, bestselling author of Luckiest Girl Alive and The Favorite Sister, recently. I highly recommend the entire read, but her basic gist is this: I want to be a rich writer, and these are all of the ways I have become one.
I loved this interview. There are, no doubt, factors of privilege and opportunity that play into Jessica’s particular success — but there is also her hard work, there is her determination, and there is her unwillingness to play into the “starving artist” trope if she doesn’t have to.
“I want to be a rich writer,” she told herself. And I want to be a rich writer, too.
In my recent explorations of my relationship with money, I’ve realized how my fear of being a “starving artist” initially took me off the writer’s path. I was always very lucky to be encouraged in my writing, by my family and by my teachers. But I was just as vehemently warned that I couldn’t make a career of it — not a career where I would earn any money anyway.
Writing could be fun, sure, but it could never fund my life.
Of course, there are many, many writers (most of the ones we hear about, I’d argue) who have made their lives — if not a living — as writers. Their love of the craft has been what money can’t buy; their love of the craft is what sustains them.
If I haven’t said it implicitly all of these years of my adult life, I will say it explicitly now: I want more than that. I want so very many things that money can buy.
I want to pay off debt.
I want to buy gifts for the people I love.
I want to travel the world.
I want to take care of my family.
I want to have a family of my own.
I want to treat myself.
I want to be rich.
And I want to do it all as a writer. I want to believe that I can do it all as a writer.
That belief is the key: to being a rich writer, to being the first in your family to graduate from college, to doing anything you want to do that you haven’t yet seen evidence of in your lifetime.
Every day, when I pass that Powell’s marquee, I truly believe that I will see my name up there one day. “If them, why not me?” I think.
Now, after reading Jessica Knoll’s profile, I am developing a new belief about making money as a writer: If her, why not me?
And I am learning to apply this to anything I want that I never believed could be true. Start by finding evidence to support the opposite — Oh, look! Writers can become rich by sharing their words!
But then, perhaps most importantly, I have to always, always believe in my ability to make that come true: If them, why not me too?
A version of this essay was originally published in my newsletter on March 24, 2019. Sign up here to receive personal essays, reading recommendations, and more every Sunday.