Lisa asked this week if I would blog about my financial (read: survival) strategy of building multiple income streams. Well, okay, but I think it’s going to have to be a series!
The principle we’re talking about is like the financial strategy of a balanced portfolio. A lot of people derive income from just their job, and so it’s devastating if anything happens to that job – as we’ve seen all over the country and for so many people we know since the financial crash four years ago. But there are other financial philosophies that would caution strongly against having income from just one source (and to cultivate as many sources of passive income, like investments and royalties, as possible.) And the very interesting thing about consciously cultivating multiple income streams is that these don’t have to be massive rivers of cash to support you. Every stream is meaningful, and every stream will probably wax and wane. If you’re invested in the stock market, you know sometimes a stock is up, and sometimes it’s down. But if you spread your investments over a wide range of KINDS of stocks, or sectors, and also have some of your savings in cash, and some in bonds, then it doesn’t matter so much if one sector is down, because your other sectors will cover the loss until that troublesome sector picks up again.
This works with this concept of income streams, too.
This week I’m going to talk a little about one of my income streams – the teaching, since I’m coming up on what may be my favorite teaching gig, the West Texas Writers Academy, at Texas A&M University.
This was not something I ever expected to be doing. But when sold my first novel and got involved in the conference circuit, I saw an opportunity to create an income stream that would be a no-brainer and actual fun for me.
The occasional teaching gigs I have, which are a very welcome income stream, I get because of my blog and because I go to conferences.
I’ve said here before that I started blogging on craft because I was out of things to say about myself. Well, it’s true. But I also was being asked to teach screenwriting workshops at novel writing conferences, and I would always start those workshops like this:
“Who here lives in LA?” (Almost never any hands up).
“Who plans to move to L.A.?” (No hands here, either).
“Then you’re not going to be a screenwriter. So here’s how you can use screenwriting tricks to write better novels, which is way more satisfying and more likely to earn you money anyway.”
It may sound harsh, but I think it’s despicable how many struggling screenwriters take money for teaching workshops on screenwriting and somehow fail to mention what the actual requirements of the job are. Selling false hope is a crime. (Of course, if there are people in the workshop under 30 or so, who say they want to be screenwriters, I tell them to move to L.A. if they’re serious. Under 30 you still have a chance to catch that train.)
Well, people were responding so enthusiastically to the techniques I was teaching that I started blogging about what I was teaching, and teaching about what I was blogging, and pretty soon so many groups were asking me to teach workshops that I could never possibly do it and do all of my fiction writing, too, so I started asking for a lot more money for the workshops and choosing only places I really wanted to go.
And that craft blogging and occasional workshop turned into a really nice double income stream when I wrote my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbook and put it out as an e book, and then wrote another and put that one up…. that’s now a very solid passive income stream (the very best kind, because it means the money flows in without me doing a thing) that I can count on every month, and I know I can always do another and create another income stream…
And more than that, it all turned into a kind of calling.
The thing is, I love teaching because it’s – well, performance. These days I spend most of every day chained to a desk, and I do it because that’s how writing gets done, but it’s very hard for me to sit still and to be alone for such a large chunk of every day. I spent OH so many years on the boards, or the street, elevators, balconies, wherever, all the world’s a stage… and I still do the performance thing a couple times a year thanks to my friend, bestselling author/singer/goddess Heather Graham, and her gypsy theater troupe, the Slush Pile Players. Yes, and there’s the occasional drunken karaoke. I like to dress up, and sing and dance and have no boundaries with my fellow players. Steve asked last week about our reincarnational hangovers – well, the traveling theater troupe is surely one of mine. When I die you can bury me in unconsecrated ground with the other prostitutes-slash-actors, thank you very much; at least I’ll know I’ll be spending eternity having wild fun with wildly interesting people.
And I think I bring something a little different to the workshop experience for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve taught dance, which is a very visceral and immediate thing to do. And more than that, it’s so INTIMATE. You need to figure out exactly what a dancer’s issue is and correct it on the spot (usually with a lot of touching) so they can do better on the next run-through, or maybe even break through to excellence. Well, that applies to writers, too – alas, without the touching. But one thing I’m really good at from dance is knowing how intimate the process is, and not being afraid to be intimate about it, so the dancer (or writer) isn’t afraid to be intimate, too. Otherwise – how are we ever going to engage our readers’ emotions, desires, and soul?
And then of course there were all those years of spitballing in film development meetings. When my first script sold, my partner and I had about a million meetings in the first two months, but one of the first was with a couple of young hotshot producers who are now film industry moguls, and in that breakfast (I think) meeting, one of them was prodding me to rewrite the script in front of him and I said, naively, that I would have to go home and think about it, and he said, “What kind of bullshit is that? Tell me NOW. I want to SEE you think.”
Total, immediate awakening to what my actual job as a screenwriter was, which was to be creative RIGHT NOW, in front of whoever was asking me. And be entertaining about it, too, by the way.
Well, so, from dance and from screenwriting, and from theatrical directing too, for sure, I’m very good at identifying the immediate creative problem and solving it right there. I can do it pretty much on command. Which makes me a good teacher. I LOVE to solve story problems. Please don’t ask me to play charades or Scrabble or chess, but if there’s a story problem? I’m your girl. Even if I’m asleep, the challenge will inevitably wake me up. I’m not unusual in that at all, that’s how creative people are wired.
But I never expected to be doing the teaching along with writing. In fact I resisted anything that resembled teaching for a very long time because my mother, the teacher, was always doing that really annoying thing that parents do with their creative offspring: “You know, you could always fall back on…”
(Personally I think I’m a professional writer because I refused to consider a fallback position.)
But it turns out that teaching a workshop maybe once every other month, and writing the Screenwriting Tricks workbooks one blog at a time, has been not just a practical supplement to my fiction writing income, but sort of lifesaving, psychologically speaking, because I’ve realized I NEED that interaction with creative people over creative ideas. I need to be able to move around a big space and gesticulate wildly and joke with a room full of people once in a while to break the monotony of hunching over a computer.
Teaching opportunities abound for professional writers, and I’ve discovered they don’t have to take up a lot of time. They’re also a great way to have someone else subsidize my rather alarming and terribly expensive travel habit. One huge upside of the author life is that you get to meet and befriend people from all over the country. One huge downside is that your friends are all over the country and you never get to see them except at conferences. Except now I can take a teaching gig nearby and see people I want to see. Or even go someplace fabulous, like, well, the Gold Coast of Australia, where I’m doing a Screenwriting Tricks workshop in August.
It’s a perfect income stream for me because of all of the above and because of its infinite flexibility; I can do it just as much as is fun for me and that works into my regular writing schedule. And it’s also automatic promotion for me as an author; there’s always a big book signing attached to these workshops, so I’m selling books and building my readership, too. But now people pay ME to travel and promote myself instead of me shelling out for it, a very good deal.
I don’t need my teaching to pay the mortgage, but it pays for a lot more than I ever expected it to.
So the financial lesson here is – be alert for opportunities to turn what you are doing anyway and love to do into an income stream. It doesn’t have to be teaching! There are so many writing-related services that could turn into an income stream for you: designing book covers, formatting e books, social media assistance to the overbooked… the list is really endless.
The question is, what are you good at and how can you make it pay?
So, do you practice multiple income streams, in investing, saving, writing, or whatever? Or is this a new concept that might work for you financially? How ARE people making ends meet in this most definitely improving, but still precarious economy?
And most importantly – do you EXPECT to be paid for doing the things you love, if you are doing them well? Or have you bought into the idea that artists must starve and struggle?