On Writers, Marriages, and NYC/LA/SF

Much not to my surprise, of the 10 pieces of advice I gave in the Unasked-For Advice to New Writers About Money, I’m getting quite a deal of push back on two of them: “Marry (or otherwise shack up with) someone sensible with money, who has a real job,” and “Unless you have a truly compelling reason to be there, get the hell out of New York/LA/San Francisco.” So let me talk a little bit about them.

First, before I get to those, I would like to remind people that I did say “Some of this advice may not apply to you,” and not just because I was trying to cover my ass in some quasi-legalistic sort of way. I said it because all writers (and their careers) are different. Some of this might work well for you, some of it less so, and some of it not at all. You all have brains; you all presumably have some perspective on your life. You know which of the bits of advice apply to you and which don’t. All advice given here is done so on the presumption that you will critically evaluate it on your end. Don’t be like those guys who trust their GPS more than own eyes and drive themselves into a river; filter this stuff with your own experience.

Now, of the two major points of contention, the NYC/LA/SF one is the easiest to deal with, since most of the opposition to those is along the lines of “well, I need to be in NYC/LA/SF because…” followed by some explanation. To which my response is “so, you’re saying you have a truly compelling reason to be there? Well, I guess you better stay, then.” The object is not to spur a mass exodus of writerly sorts from NYC/LA/SF, the object is to make writers who are there ask themselves “do I really need to be here?” and to make the new writers who are under the impression you have to go to NYC/LA/SF ask themselves if they really have to make the pilgrimage. Because it’s expensive to live there, you see. I do see some folks in these cities saying “well, once you factor out housing, it’s not that expensive,” which is a little like saying that once you factor out gravity, it’s really easy for pigs to fly.

To be sure, there are excellent reasons to live in these cities: A community of writers, job opportunities, things to do when you should really be writing, thai food withing walking distance and so on. But in many cases those things also exist elsewhere, where the rents/mortgages are cheaper. As a working adult, I’ve not lived in NYC/LA/SF; I’ve done pretty well despite that. I even had quite a number of clients in NYC when I lived elsewhere (Yes, I have lived in major metro areas, notably DC and Chicago, but they’re not off limits in this construction, and when I lived there, they were still significantly cheaper than living in NYC/LA/SF). What writers need to ask themselves is whether the economic opportunities afforded by NYC/LA/SF outweigh the economic costs. I don’t think enough writers are asking themselves this, and I think a fair number of them are struggling economically because of it.

Incidentally, in comments Nick Mamatas brings up the idea of living on the edge — that is, living in an “edge” part of a major metro area that is notably cheaper but still has city access. This works for me. Yes, it may make you a bridge-and-tunnel dick, or whatever, but if you’re really worried about things like that, you’re beyond the help of any of this advice anyway.

So, done with that, and on to the marriage thing. There’s been a whole lot of pushback on this one, most cogently from Justine Larbalestier:

This is something that worked really well for John. I’ve met his wife, Krissy, and a more formidable, fun, amazing person I have yet to meet. And she knows from money. Seriously smart about it. I wish I had married Krissy.

But, really, this is Scalzi confusing his own excellent good luck with general advice for everyone. Not everyone’s going to meet a Krissy. I suspect there’s only one and she ain’t leaving Scalzi anytime soon. Not everyone has any interest in getting married or shacking up. And, call me a romantic, but taking into account someone’s money management skills is not something I was thinking about when I fell in love.

Not to mention the salient advice my mother gave me which was to never depend on some man to look after you. Make your own way in the world. Earn your own money.

First, let me be clear: indeed, this is based on my own experience, and indeed, Krissy rocks. I don’t think people with Krissy’s skill set are as rare as Justine implies, but neither do I pretend that I didn’t get lucky. But my luck can be your planning — I’m letting you know what qualities she has that you might look for in your own spouse/significant other, in addition to other more immediate qualities that attract one person to another.

Second, and to expand a bit on the above, I’m not suggesting one needs to get married to be a successful writer (that would be silly), nor am I suggesting that if you do wish to get married, that excellent financial skills and a solid, benefits-laden job should be the primary criteria you look for. You know. Find someone you like, heck, even love, and about whom you think you’ll feel similarly 25 years from now. Marry ’em if you want (or can, since some people can’t marry who they want even if they want, which sucks), or don’t. If they don’t have ace financial skills, oh well. If they do: Bonus.

That said, “love” is not the same thing as “long term committed relationship.” That being the case, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that when it comes to long-haul relationships, it’s not outside the realm of acceptability to consider other factors aside from the love issue, when it comes to deciding whether to bind your life to someone for years and years. I love my wife to bits, but other factors of compatibility (including the fact she was excellent with finances) constituted the tipping point for the actual decision to get married. Conversely, there are other folks in my life who I could very easily see myself in love with but whom I wouldn’t want to marry, because of some fundamental disconnects in personality, worldview and compatibility (note well that the problem child in those relationships should not necessarily be assumed to be the other person; I have my bad points). I love these people and am attracted to them, but the other factors weigh against a bonding relationship.

People do talk to the people they love about what they want to do with their lives; finding someone who can help (or is at least willing to help) you do those things can certainly be a significant contributing factor as to whether you actually bind your life to theirs, legally or otherwise. For writers (or would be writers), having a spouse with a good head for finances is useful; so is one with a job with benefits. I mention this to put it on your radar, when you are looking for people to spend your life with.

In comments, Carrie Vaughn asks:

I have a question for you about #3, which I haven’t managed just yet. This is a purely anecdotal observation with no basis in research, which is part of why I’m posting it here, so I can get some other purely anecdotal observations. So here it is:

It is my observation that male writers have a much easier time accomplishing #3 than female writers. That is, most of the men I know who are writing full time are married. Most of the women who are writing full time are not.

So, am I on crack or is there something going on here?

I’m not sure if something is going on there or not. I know a fair number of single women writers, but then I know a fair number of married women writers as well. I know single and married male writers too, although I know more married male writers than single ones. If anyone wants to pitch in and help Carrie out with information based on their own experience, by all means, put a comment in the thread.

As for the idea of not having someone else look after you: Well, yes. You shouldn’t have someone else looking after you. But in my book, there’s very little wrong with a couple looking out for each other, which to my mind is a different state of things entirely. It’s entirely possible for me to handle all my business affairs; I’m not incompetent. On the other hand my wife is by training and temperament better at it than I am; it makes sense for her to handle it, so I can focus on my competencies. There are other things in our life that my wife could handle but which I do handle, because I’m better suited toward them.

A marriage (or any other long-term relationship) is many things, and one of the things it is (or can be) is a jointly-owned business. No, this aspect of marriage is not romantic. Deal. As with any business it pays to identify who is best at what job and then have them do it. One reason I make what I do is because we have my wife doing certain things; if I insisted on handling them, I’m pretty sure I’d make less (or at least, I’d make the same but collect less). Yes, there’s a risk in combining one’s finances etc with another person, because relationships end, people break up and so on. That’s life. And in the meantime, you might do each other some good.

Does a writer need to get married to be successful? No. Can it help? If you have a spouse with good financial skills and a good job, yes. Should a writer seek a mate with financial skills/good job as a top criteria? I don’t suspect the relationship will last long if they do. Should a writer factor in a potential mate’s financial skills along with everything else when deciding whether to get into a serious relationship? It couldn’t hurt. Should a writer sponge off a competent, employed spouse? Hell, no. Should a couple work together to achieve as much long-term personal and financial success as they can, even if it means, short-term, that one of them carries more of a load? Well, I think that’s one of the things long-term relationships are for.

The floor is open.

71 Comments on “On Writers, Marriages, and NYC/LA/SF”

  1. I take a very Marxist view of marriage – From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

    And before I met my husband, I would have been on the “never be dependent on a man” bandwagon. But when we decided to marry and reproduce, we became interdependent. I’m not sure how marriages are successful without that.

    As it turns out, although neither of us is a writer, we’ve taken turns supporting each other through stay-at-home parenthood and self-employment. Equal partners in a mystery (bonus points for identifying that quote).

  2. I’m fortunate enough to have an understanding wife. We both are educators, so the pay is what you’d expect, but the benefits are tremendous. That said, I’m also the, er, financial manager. And the writer. Ouch. But I will say that we only get paid once a month. And have two kids. That tends to foster a defaulted sense of fiscal discipline. She’s supportive of the writing endeavors and quite understanding when it comes to the writing benders I go on about every other week. For the past two years, though, I’ve noticed how her attitude has changed when I gloat about getting a story or poem published. It’s gone from “Well, that’s good” to “So, how much are they paying you?” because, you know, gas ain’t exactly cheap and I’ve at least been able to put gas in vehicles, buy groceries, or take her and the kids out to eat. Those latter I can do on mine and my wife’s salary. It just means a helluva lot more when the prose and verse contribute. So, I never married or shacked up rich or well-benefitted necessarily, but I’d be a fool to give up the teaching gig, which pays what it should, has the medical/dental/vision perks along with, gosh, retirement. And, as John had mentioned in another part of the post yesterday, the writing/work is enough in and of itself.


  3. I don’t need to be in NYC, I just want to be, and I am a writer type. So when I want to settle down, I’ll look for somewhere reasonable like Ohio, or NM, or Miami (okay, not that last one), but in the mean time, I have some living to do.

    And, I’d love to meet the perfect boy with a real job and settle down with him. I think that’s very good advice, and I can’t wait to get to the NYC dating scene and start working on that.

  4. Obviously, Mr. Scalzi’s experience differs, but I’d think living in NYC/LA/SF would be especially important for SciFi writers. How are you gonna write about aliens without daily observation?

  5. I used to pay more money to live in a cool, inspiring, creative neighborhood (Bucktown, in Chicago). Eventually I turned 30 and moved to the suburbs, into a completely boring neighborhood. My creative output quadrupled, because 1. I can afford a much bigger place, so I have privacy and quiet despite having a spouse in the house 2. There’s nothing to DO around here besides create stuff. So I’m a fan of getting away from the inspiring location and into the practical location, although it took me a while to come around to that.

  6. Somewhere in the past, I think it might have been from Spider Robinson, I took to heart the idea that staying married meant understanding that it is rarely a 50-50 proposition. Usually it’s 70-30/30-70, often it’s a 90-10 deal. So yeah, I’ve been married for 25 years. Each partner contributes their own strength. The hard part was getting my ego out of the way when DB (darling bride) was better at whatever it was.

    Thanks again Senior Scalzi!

  7. I knew what you meant the first time, John. Though the thought did traipse through my mind that folk are startlingly good at seizing up precisely the wrong end of the stick on that kind of thing. I blame the huge number of people who in fact are mooching wastes of time for the readiness of assuming you meant “sponge off your spouse”.

    I get my money in gobbets. Absolutely zilch can happen for three months, then a five-figure check hits the doormat – my wife’s regular job provides an element of cashflow smoothing, helping to buffer the times when I’m a state of earning, rather than having-been-paid.

    The fact that doing 3D graphics requires kit that’s a bit more expensive that a word processor compounds matters in my case, but it’s the same dealie. It’s a team effort based on mutual respect.

    I actually think it’s one of the finest things in life when man and wife are a team about things like money, as well as merely “which movie shall we see?” or deciding what to eat.

  8. For me, point #3 wasn’t so much about the financial acumen of a spouse, but rather having a spouse/significant other who provided a consistent source of income and insurance. As Scalzi says, it’s not about being dependent on someone, it’s about mutual support.

    I know that if my wife worked full time and had good insurance I would be on the fast track to a part-time library gig and more effort into publishing. But as it is, I’m the one earning the monthly checks for mortgage payments and also the one providing the insurance. So for now, I do what I can on the publishing front while maintaining a full-time career.

  9. I gotta agree with John on both these points. As someone who is about to get married. money management is a big factor. It’s not why I’m marrying my girl or she is marrying me but having at least one person in the relationship that can be responsible with money will make for a huge difference. Money is the leading cause of divorce so figuring out your strengths and weaknesses is really key. As well as discussing it. Both partners have a stake in the issue and making sure you both have your eyes open will lead to a more successful relationship (at least I hope) :)

    As for the NY/LA/SF thing, as an Ohio boy who is marrying a New Yorker I know how strong the pull can be. We seriously discussed moving to New York. But when it came down to it, we could afford a nice house in a great neighborhood in Ohio for less then an apartment would have cost in NYC. And that was important to us.

    Just my $.02

  10. In addition to financial support, it is also nice that my wife can give my ego a boost when I show her the latest story I wrote. But that only works so well because she also has no problem telling me when my writing sucks or pointing out what doesn’t work.

  11. Thanks for the further comments, John.

    Been thinking a lot about my own question and how to talk about it in a way that doesn’t devolve into whining and doesn’t make vast generalizations about gender. I’ve come up with this:

    –Full time freelance writing is a really tough gig.
    –Having a supportive spouse — not just financially, but emotionally, logistically, etc. — can make the gig easier.
    –Having an unsupportive spouse makes the gig nearly impossible.

  12. Nathan @4:
    Obviously, you’ve never been to a North Florida Walmart in the wee hours of Friday night. It’s like the Star Wars cantina scene. Only fatter. I mean, there’s the rest stop at the NY/Conn. border, the El Paso bus station, and Walmart for alien spotting.

  13. From my own experience, I had one heck of a time with personal finances until my then-betrothed and now wife moved in with me. This is despite having low expenses (except for student loans), and a good job.

    Two things happened. She brought a second income that outstripped the added expense of having a second person in the household. And, more importantly, she brought some routine and discipline to planning for and paying the bills.

    The rest of it we had to work out, but we did that largely during the 14 months we were engaged. I can’t see how a couple can live together without household finances being a touchstone for the relationship. That’s how you fund your dreams, not just how you buy groceries!

  14. To be fair to the city slickers I do appreciate their argument about saving money by living without a car. That makes sense.

    One question I didn’t see the city slickers answer was “What about kids?” Is city living for the single or childless, or is it possible for those with children?

    Which reminds me of the topic of childless and a group of them John taunted years ago.

    John, I’ve only recently come back to the Whatever so I may be missing something but do you still “Taunt the Tauntable?” Those were some of my favorite reads. Yeah, I’m a bad bad person. Go ahead, taunt me for it.

  15. “You all have brains; you all presumably have some perspective on your life. You know which of the bits of advice apply to you and which don’t. ”

    Despite some evidence to the contrary, but John’s bein’ nice.

    Anyway, Carrie V had some good points up above. Go check ’em out if you haven’t already.

    So, coupla points. One, I put a link in my last comment to my blog about my series on Freelance Writing For A Living and my hit counts has tripled. Where were you guys when I was trying to market my last two novels? Anyway, John, you rock.

    Two, this spouse and health insurance thing. Break it down.

    Let’s say you’re single, no kids and you want to be a freelance writer. Good onya (fool). Let’s say, you’re like most newbie freelance writers and your income has, shall we say, not taken off like a rocket. Let’s give that income a number. $40,000. Hey, that’s not really bad money.

    So, we take that $40,000 and we take the government’s cut out of it, which, just from my experiences as a freelance writer in Michigan, is about 24% for Fed and 4% for State, so over the course of the year (in 4 3-month periods), you pay $11,200 in taxes. Which leaves you, Mr. or Ms. Single-Writer-No-Kids with $28,800 to pay your rent and your groceries and occasional trips to Blockbuster to buy used videogames for for PlayStation.

    Let’s assume, just for a moment, that you have some thoughts of maybe retiring someday, but it’s clear you’re not making any damned money, but nonetheless, you take $100 out each month and drop into a TIAA-CREF account. $28,800-$1200 = $27,600. And at that rate, you can probably retire when you’re 125, but don’t worry, sure, Social Security will still be around in 45 years (uh-huh).

    Now, let’s say you’re paralyzed at the thought of say, having appendicitis or a gall bladder attack or pregnancy or car accident or HIV or the clap or whatever, so you really, really want to have some kind of health insurance.

    Which for a single person is probably going to cost somewhere around $7000 a year (if you’re lucky to be able to get it), so your in-pocket income just became $21,800, which divided by 12 months is $1816 a month, so I hope you don’t eat much and your rent is cheap.

    Anyway, it seems to me that this whole marriage-talk that John is referring to is that if you’ve got a spouse with health insurance (and take that $7000 and go up to about $14,000 to $20,000 per year for a family of four, give or take), then you’ve definitely got some breathing room in your finances.

    Which brings me to a fundamental question I never hear politicians talk about: wouldn’t universal health coverage in the U.S. encourage entrepreneurship and thus help the economy?

    Anyway, I digress.

  16. hughwilson in 6:

    Somewhere in the past, I think it might have been from Spider Robinson, I took to heart the idea that staying married meant understanding that it is rarely a 50-50 proposition. Usually it’s 70-30/30-70, often it’s a 90-10 deal.

    Hey, congratulations to you, I’ve been married 26 years myself.

    In my experience it frequently happens that both partners agree the marriage has a 70-30 contribution but each of them think they are the 70!

  17. So now I’m curious. I suspect that in most households it is actually the woman who keeps the budget. It seems that most people here say that is the way it is and I know that is the case in my marriage.

    Am I correct? Does anyone know why this is?

  18. When I wonder about gender-related things like that, I ask myself “what would cave people have done?” Is there something about this part of our relationship/childrearing that helps ensure the survival of offspring? If you can figure that out as it relates to money management, you might have your answer.

  19. Oh holy dear god. Am I the only one who thought, “Heh, Scalzi’s just preening about his wife again, MAN the guy is lucky” and went on with my life? Am I the only one who decided not to get offended by it? Sheesh.

    And I would personally live in SF (again, I did once) if the job opportunities were right. In a heartbeat. Because I love the place. I do not, however, harbour any delusions that it’s where I need to be. Especially not for “community” in my profession (not writing)–hell, we have the Internet now. But then again, I didn’t bust your balls over it, because I don’t *look* to be offended or take everything completely personally.

  20. On the single/married women writers – at least for women who try to become professional writers later in life, having a spouse can be a significant obstacle to achieving that goal, even when your spouse is theoretically supportive. Using myself for an example – as an SAHM, my spouse, my kids’ teachers, and virtually everyone else in my life views writing as a hobby, with varying opinions on my odds of making any money at it. Which combined with being an SAHM, means that a lot of other people try to make free with my time. Ironically enough, I got a lot more writing work done when I was working, because people understood the concept of “on break”, and tended to let me do my thing.

  21. I’d also like to point out that there are infinite variations on this theme, and many of them are workable.

    My boyfriend and I have lived together for the past 7 years, and every couple of years — at first by providence and now by design — we switch the shouldering of financial burden.

    Many of us aren’t working the jobs we really want to be working (if at all). The trading back and forth of financial burden is a system that would work for artists of any kind, inventors, travelers, etc. It’s a luxury, but don’t get me wrong: we’re quite poor. But since writing is desire we had in common, we found a little cooperation and reciprocation goes a long way.

  22. Brett L @ 14: YES. 100% VERY YES AND WIN, FELLOW NORTH FLORIDA DWELLER. There’s a reason that I tend to hit WalMart in the wee hours, and it isn’t just for the reduced line…

  23. Actually, in my household, my husband keeps the family budget. This isn’t because he doesn’t trust me with money, but merely because he simply is better with it. Having an actual budget with our real expenses listed is something I would never have done myself, but he made one for us, and it was a lot easier to see where the money was going.

    So now, when I drop $100 on yarn, or buy $30 worth of books, I know that I’m staying in our monthly budget. If I spend more on those things per month, then we start to get into the fun topic of credit card debt. (For the record, I really don’t think I spend $100/month on yarn, since I tend to go on buying binges when good stuff is on sale, but if you treat it as an amalgamated figure, it’s not a terrible estimate. Plus, any extra yarn money left over goes into savings or credit card bills, so it’s never a bad thing to have as a budget category.)

  24. Also, I’m the financial officer of our relationship, but only because my boyfriend has… soft… theories of when bills should be paid. He’s not irresponsible, but he doesn’t mind when the scary red IMPORTANT stamps accompany the envelopes. I mind. So, I pay the bills. If there’s any gender association involved it’s that I have a greater sense of worry, which I suppose could be considered a more feminine sense. Or is it?

  25. Nathan@4
    SF is kind of devoid of aliens. They are all in Berkeley!!

    But man I must be I kind of loser…I have lived in SF and NYC…AND HELL I don’t even write!

    We must remember that in places where the cost of living is high so are the salaries and it seems to kind of balance out. Working in the SF Bay Area as a Network Engineer is paying me over 100k yearly. I think the same job in Ohio would pay me???? 60k??

  26. I haven’t read any of the other comments, but you’ve got some good input on relationships even for non-writers.

  27. Brett @ 14 / Julia @ 23,

    See, that’s where you’re wrong. I grew up in Jacksonville, so I know me some North Florida. Those aren’t aliens, they’re mutants. A Whoooole different genre.

  28. John–Solid advice, both the first and second times around. I would add to this second post that a couple with one freelance writer should sit down before the wedding and discuss just what kind of lifestyle that is. Money arriving in chunks rather than steadily. Fallow periods or late checks. The idea that just having a finished manuscript, even an agent, means it’s time to buy a house because, “The book will sell.”

    I know it sounds unromantic, but these days the people in a lot of engaged couples have been around the block a bit–either in cohabitation situations or previous marriages–and I have to think they’ve at least discussed finances with signigifcant others in the past. Believe me, it pays to work out some of these things, or at least explain the freelance life to your future spouse in clear (even grim) terms, before trading vows. Hell, before putting a deposit on the reception hall.

    Granted, it’s not easy. You have to be honest with yourself as the freelancer, to know how much you’ll hustle, and to get past that power of self-delusion many writers need. The would-be spouse has to see beyond “being supportive” and realize this writing thing may require certain lifestyle changes, i.e., leaving NYC, delaying the first house, eating a few meals on crackers. It also may not work out.

    Unromantic, like I said. But it’s all going to come out eventually. Money problems sink a lot of marriages. Best to head off as much of that craziness as possible early on.

  29. Ray:

    As a former Ohioan, I’d like to point this out. Yes, you might make only 60% of your former salary in Ohio, although I knew people in tech-areas who made more than that. We’ll call $60k an okay ballpark figure for someone who made ~$100k in SF. On the other hand, there are in the town where I grew up (within commuting distance to Cleveland) actual livable houses still selling for around $100k. A brief glance at Realtor.com has only one thing for sale in the entire city of San Francisco under $100k, and I suspect it’s missing a zero. The cheapest three-bedroom single family home on Realtor.com in all of SF is $350k.

    That’s a big difference. And the defining thing here is that for most freelance writers, the income’s not going to change if you move, and that $250k worth of house is very possibly the difference between allowing you to quit your day job and staying a wage slave when what you really want is to be a writer. As the article was about how to handle money as a writer, not as a network engineer, I think it’s good advice. :)

  30. Tripp @ 18 I suspect that in most households it is actually the woman who keeps the budget. It seems that most people here say that is the way it is and I know that is the case in my marriage.

    Am I correct? Does anyone know why this is?

    Because your wife is siphoning money off into a secret account and when she gets enough, she’s going to move on to the next guy?

  31. on the subject of marrying a financially responsible partner i could not agree more; and the advice is good whether you are a writer or a ditch digger. from my own experience: i earned at times excellent money throughout the 80’s & 90’s and at the age of 30 was about 40K in debt on credit cards, had no house, and no savings.-mind you i’d had a damn good time along the way i think, although the details are a bit blurry. when i hooked up with my now partner of 12 years everything changed and i now work on a purely cash economy even though i am relatively wealthy, and like john, although i can buy almost anything i want, anytime i want, i find that i don’t. it’s almost as if “things” lose their appeal when you can actually afford them. -however i didn’t tink twice about spending 30K on a 16 day trip to Africa and Egypt; i guess it’s a priority thing.
    in short getting off the credit card roundabout changed my life and i’ve never been happier, and if can do it then anyone can.

  32. I’ve started and deleted a response to this topic a couple of times now. Not sure why I can’t articulate what I want to say.

    I’m married and pursuing a writing career.

    I married my husband in part because he believes in me. We had a serious discussion (several, actually) about our careers before we got married–we eloped during grad school. I can write anywhere, which means he has the freedom to pursue his career aspirations wherever they might lead. That meant a horrible stint in Silicon Valley and our current time in the palatable (but too hot for me) San Diego.

    We’ve both been married before, so as noted by posters above, we had several serious conversations about careers, family, finances and other things prior to getting married. We knew we had to figure out what our assumptions were so we didn’t get surprised by them later. And we continually reassess our goals to make sure we’re both feeling the freedom to strive toward them.

    I’m lucky that I found someone whose chosen career also allows me the freedom to pursue writing in an immersing way, but even luckier that I found someone who believes in me and understands why I need to be an all-or-nothing writer. Not every writer needs to be all-or-nothing, of course. But I do, or I’d never get anything finished.

    Incidentally, I pay all the bills and monitor our stock and retirement accounts. My husband dislikes that sort of detail work and I prefer to know that everything is paid on time, where we stand, and where the money goes.

  33. Before I even thought of freelancing for any kind of living, the question of interdependence with my wife revolved around her financial sense and my relative lack of it. Not that I’d made nothing but bad decisions, but I had made a few and tended toward poor impulse control. She definitely helped that once we combined finances, and now that I am doing some freelance work, her abilities there are keeping us going where I might have managed it very poorly on my own.

    But that was always part of an overall picture for us; we were alike in certain ways that meshed well, and we were different in certain other ways, that also meshed well.

    On the flip side of the coin, to look from the other perspective, dating someone who wasn’t good with money, or reinforced my impulse spending and poor saving habits, was an immediate turn-off. A relationship with someone who was an enabler like that would have worked about as well as an alcoholic or drug abuser with a live-in enabler. So there was definitely consideration there that was both practical and romantic; romance only gets you so far. Eventually you have to have a practical base to the relationship or you’re sunk, and whatever romance you have left is going to be spoiled and unsatisfying.

  34. Tapetum: I really, really hate the fact that people tend to think that SAHM = free time. And I’m not the SAHM yet.

    Thankfully, Evil Rob is an introvert who values his unwind time far higher than most people in our age group, and therefore assigns a similar value to other people’s free time. He’s also just belligerent enough to ardently defend free time and tell off the person putting too many demands upon it, which is nice as we are living in close proximity to several members of my family, many of whom still look on me as the helpful junior. Which I still am, but I’m also working six days a week right now.

    And it doesn’t hurt that Evil Rob says nice things such as “Of course you’re tired, you’re pregnant.” This does help the mood of a vibrantly extraverted type who downright resents the fact that she can’t do sixty things at once…

  35. I wanted to know more about tip #2, “don’t quit your day job”. Obviously it makes financial sense, but the logistics of it are difficult. I work full time, come home, eat, interact with the wife and kids, and maybe around 10pm there is an hour or two to write, if I’m not completely beat. Sure is taking a long time to get anything done at about a page or so a day. It’s also really hard to generate the intense focus needed actually to write for that hour or two and get that page done – if I’m not careful, I start daydreaming or blogsurfing (d’oh!), and before I know it, it’s time to go to bed and no writing got done.

  36. That’s weird. I’ve always found the prospect of a partner who can compensate for my weaknesses, and whose weaknesses I can in turn compensate for, incredibly romantic. Even if those weaknesses are financial. I guess, judging from the comments, this is not a common opinion.

  37. Ray @ 26
    “SF is kind of devoid of aliens. They are all in Berkeley!!”

    Now, removing the second sentence, “SF is kind of devoid of aliens” sort of takes on a different meaning in the present company…


    I’m not sure we need to have that argument.

  38. @James 41 – I swing a hard-hitting day job that uses much brainpower. Sometimes it becomes a day and night job. I figure if I can’t deal with a day job and writing on the side, how am I going to deal with writing as a full-time job? ’cause writing as a full-time job is waaaay more than 40 hours per week, and it’s a brainpower-intensive process too.

    My conclusion is: it’s not gonna get easier. So keep the day job. Which is what I’m doing for now, though I keep up with the writing as best I can.

    As for the marriage hubbub… gah. Some people I expected better of. Oh well. We all have our off days. I mean, hell, I don’t want to get married; but at the same time, being married offers advantages as well as disadvantages. Some of the advantages are huge. It’s stupid not to acknowledge that, and silly to get offended.

    It’s not that being single is miserable, but being single is more challenging in some areas, and that can either make you miserable or not. Same thing for marriage. I’m single, and I have complete control, and that’s cool with me and also why I’m not married (among other things). But I’d be really a ditz not to acknowledge that this means I will likely not lose the day job for a very, very long time.

    Wisdom of Scalzi forevah.

  39. James @ 41–

    I work a full-time day job as well, with a commute, a spouse, and other activities (must ski, must ride horse, y’know).

    I get up a half-hour early to write. That means 4:30 am, since I have to leave the house by 6 to get to work at 7ish (and I teach, so not a lot of down time at work).

    I don’t have a lot of time or energy some days, especially after some particularly intense days in teaching world (I work in special ed). But I try–and these days, I’m up to around 800-1000 words in the morning.

    Funny thing is, I have a lot more energy now. Except maybe on the days after the Friday night school ski…

  40. I find responsibility and efficacy – whether fiscal or the handy-manly sort – very attractive … why it makes me downright swoony! At present I’m the one who manages the finances, though for much of our almost 30 year marriage, my husband was in charge of that department.
    I’m a self employed visual artist in a rather remote and small Canadian town and I’ve been able to piece together a fairly busy schedule even if only about half that is paid. (the advice on valuing ones work really hit home!!) My husband and I had an agreement from very early on that I stay home, take care of our 3 children while they were young and then transition to being a full time artist. This has worked well for all of us and I’m grateful that we even had the option. Having similar values and respect for one another can hold everything together even through looong periods of time when the happy feelings are on hiatus.
    So now – the most meaningful way I can acknowledge the Mr.’s support over the years is to set a few more goals, keep working on that self discipline and maybe develop a marketing plan…being in a remote location might be a bit more of a hurdle for a visual artist…??

  41. Gillian,

    That’s weird. I’ve always found the prospect of a partner who can compensate for my weaknesses, and whose weaknesses I can in turn compensate for, incredibly romantic. Even if those weaknesses are financial. I guess, judging from the comments, this is not a common opinion.

    Well. Um. I agree that idea is very romantic. In the wedding ceremony when you each have a candle and light the bigger one and blow yours out and the minister (or whoever) says “Now two have become one” that is VERY romantic.

    My understanding, though, from a few years of marriage counseling is that the idea that the two people become one is very destructive over time. It stifles any change or movement. It becomes a trap for both.

    Sorry for getting heavy here.

  42. Lots of comments.
    I was lucky enough to find a guy who has a way better head for finances than myself. And we wanted me to stay home and raise the kids. So I get to write, too.
    As for SAHM’s = free that’s bogus.
    We have a two letter word in our language. NO.
    Practice it in the mirror. Learn to use.
    Or “I’m working right now.”
    Or get caller ID so you’ll know when it’s the kids’ school calling.
    You set your own boundaries.

  43. Well, I’m a novelist with book #8 coming out in August. I’m also a single parent not in a relationship and I still have my day job. I also just finished grad school, while working full time, while writing and while getting my child to soccer etc. No, it’s not easy. There are trade offs involved in making it happen. No TV for example. Half of all my writing income goes straight into an account to be used for taxes. Sad, that. It seems like so much money when you see the figures in the contracts, but it doesn’t come to you all at once.

    The writing is going faster now that I’m done with grad school. A while back I moved out of SFO several miles north to be near family from whom I get critical help with my son. But I still sit in the car and write while my son is at soccer practice. I write on my lunch hour. I write during boring meetings. Everyone’s different with output, but I know what word count per day I need to meet my deadlines and I make sure I meet them. Spouse, no spouse. Kids or no kids. That’s really not the issue. Women with very young children have managed to write during nap times and other short downtime periods. Make your choice about what to do with your time. If you manage a page a day, then in a year, you’ll have a decent-sized novel of say, 300 or more pages. If you don’t do that, you’ll never have to worry about following John’s money advice. And thank you, John, for the advice!

  44. I have a simple answer to the women/men/marriage mystery. Kids. Women writers who get married and have kids tend to fall by the wayside. Male writers who get married and have kids seem to do okay. Make of it what you will. I went to Clarion with many talented women. In fact, there were only four men in the whole class. Four LUCKY men. I am the only full time writer to come out of that class that I know of. Some of the girls are working here and there, but everybody had kids after Clarion, and for many of the ladies, the writing is what didn’t get done forever after. :-(

  45. First, on NYC: I was born and raised here. I’m trying to get out, but that’s really hard when one is single. I must have a job before I relocate, else I would break the very best piece of advice: have a day job with benefits.

    On the spouse arrangement: I think the reason people got het up about it is because you didn’t offer any alternatives. Where are the three paragraphs of wisdom on the theme of, “If you don’t have a wonderful partner, then you might try the following: fonf fonf fonf”?

    I’m single, and I live in NYC by accident of birth. Two strikes against, through no fault of my own.

    The wisdom I have developed (or at least the strategy I’m trying) is this:

    1. Advance in your career. People higher up in the corporate organization have more options for jobs outside of NY/LA/SF. Companies in the rest of America are willing to pay for proven brains to relocate to their town. It’s not easy, but it can happen.

    2. Have a lot of friends and a “they have some of those everywhere” career. If you’re a bartender in NY and have a friend in St. Louis, ask your friend if you can sleep in his spare room for a couple of months. You’ll find a bartending job in St. Louis easily enough, I expect. (Friends are a lot like spouses in certain ways. But don’t be a mooch; c.f. Scalzi’s admonition not to be a heavy metal bassist.)

    3. If you’re single, it’s even MORE important that you save money. Become an utter miser and Scrooge it away like it was Cipro and there’s an anthrax outbreak due. This is hard–as I’ve advanced in my career, my spending habits have kept pace with my salary, and I know I’m not alone in this very human habit. Discipline yourself. Trick yourself if you have to. I do it with direct deposit, magically dropping money into my savings account where I don’t notice it accumulating.

    4. Rent. Everyone says, “Buy a place! It’s equity!” Sure. But until I sell it, it’s a debt, and a much larger debt than renting. I’m single and childless. I don’t need a house (much as I would like one!). Even in a cheap part of the world, a mortgage + maintenance + property taxes would add up to more than my current rent. (No, I don’t live in Manhattan. I’m not an idiot.)

  46. The fact that my husband has a solid, well-paying job* was one of the major factors in our decision for me to quit my day job (*laughs* Ack violation of #2 in the list!) and strike out with writing as my full-time job.

    Notice two things: I said “our” decision, as in we discussed it and came to the agreement together. And “factors” as in one of many.

    I’m still bringing in some money through temp work, but he is by-and-large carrying the burden. I consider myself enormously lucky to have found a spouse who is willing to support me in this endeavour, as I honestly couldn’t do it without him.

    (*he’s in the Air Force, so not only are layoffs not an issue, but I don’t have to worry about health-care either, I am extremely lucky.)

    We live in Colorado and while I have no plans to move to NY/SF/LA – we’ll go where the government tells us to. :D

  47. A marriage (or any other long-term relationship) is many things, and one of the things it is (or can be) is a jointly-owned business.

    My husband and I use this metaphor all the time for our marriage. If it weren’t for the combined strength of resources (e.g. paychecks, health bennies, all that money from the wedding guests…), we wouldn’t have bothered. So, in our case it was a good business move.

    We’ve also lived in San Francisco. And I’ll tell you guys what: if you really like living in confined spaces, sharing walls with other people, paying $1200 for a tiny 1-br flat (like I did, way out in the foggy avenues), then go right ahead. I had to work my day job a LOT to pay for it though, leaving little time/energy for writing. But, as I prefer the countryside, not sharing walls, and being able to pay the mortgage without working 60 hours/week, I’ll take some other town and have an email/phone relationship with my agent, thanks.

  48. I think everyone should do the squirreling money away regardless of job or marital status. That said, I’m single, and one of the reasons I waited longer than I should have to leave the job i just left is because there was only that one income supporting me and it came with great health benefits. However, I ended up seeing a therapist through the employee assistance program and on anti-depressants and eating antacids like they were penny candy because I was so stressed out and miserable.

    If I were married, I suspect quitting would have taken place at least a year ago for two reasons: (1) my husband probably would have commented on the changes in personality that were happening and (2) a husband with a salary and hopefully health benefits would have made quitting much less fear inducing.

    However, thanks to good financial planning (largely due to my aunt the investment banker) and the fact that I’m not an impulse buyer and don’t have a car, I had enough money saved that I can afford to be unemployed for two years and I can afford to carry the health insurance via COBRA. So now I’m in the process of reassessing what I want from my career and I’m on a much more even keel.

  49. I live in NYC, and I completely agree with you. Would move to VT in a heartbeat were it not for the fact that I’d never see my kids again if I did.

    As you said, writing is not a reason to live here.

  50. Quoth Alan Kellogg @46:

    2. Every Krissy you meet starts out life as an Athena.

    Best. Observation. Evar.
    This makes me want to rush out and get my first tattoo. With these words. On my eyelids. On the insides.

  51. re the gender thing – as Tapetum notes, the cultural and social expectations put on men and women aren’t exactly the same. Even well-meaning people can fall into the mindlessness of gender roles (“wait–you mean the Xmas cards don’t mail themselves?!”). Of course YMMV. But you’ll note that there aren’t a lot of articles in men’s magazines with tips on how to get your wife to notice how much work you do around the house and get her to do a fair share of the childminding.

    re NYC/SF/LA – I read John as saying, don’t live in these places to further your writing career. There are some careers that are geographically limited — you’ll have a much easier time getting a job in the movie industry if you live in Los Angeles instead of Dubuque — but writing isn’t necessarily one of them.

    There are plenty of good reasons to live in expensive metro areas, of course. For example, if you’re heterosexual, you likely don’t have to factor homophobia into your decision about where to live; if you’re nominally Christian or agnostic, you aren’t going to be concerned about how close the nearest Wiccan coven is. But that’s separate from the issue of “how will living here affect me as a writer?”, which was John’s point.

  52. I confused, does that mean when my wife bags me about my mediocre writing and over use of (to my mind hilarious) puns I can say it’s her fault for being a bad wife?

    (I think she’s just lazy, I’m sure other French teachers are raking in the big bucks).

  53. I haven’t read all the comments, but as a working writer making a decent living married to a spouse with a good baseline salary and benefits (including health insurance) let me just point out that it is possible, in some instances, to grow your own at home. My spouse and I married at twenty, before either of us had a clue what we wanted to do when we grew up, and the way it worked out was: he decided to be a history professor and I decided to be a writer. What made sense was to see him through to the history degree, and then let him see me through to the writing career, which is more-or-less in fits and starts what we did. He has the health insurance, I have the head for money (if there’s anybody worse about money than a writer, I swear it’s a professional academic historian, honestly). Together, we fight crime! Oh, no, wait, wrong meme there . . .

  54. Or, you can be a single person who gets a part time job that pays really freaking well. I knew writing wouldn’t pay enough for awhile. If you have any medical ability/schooling at all, i recommend becoming an RN in California. (Or becoming one in your state and traveling to CA, and then living like a king, say, in Florida.)

  55. Reading all these different perspectives on marriage and relationships is fascinating…AND will inform my writing! I can almost forgive how much of my writing time reading them has eaten up!

  56. I am an illustration student about to go out into the big, bad, world. I stumbled across these articles and found them immensely useful simply by replacing the word ‘writer’ with ‘illustrator’.
    Anywho, that being said- i want to touch on the subject of marriage. Out of the four (male) teachers i have had, 3 have been in the same exact roles of wife-doing-the-business. the most successful of them stressed this point the most. So, it seems, that this is a completely common thing for those in the freelance world to do.
    Unfortunately, i am a lady- and it seems that, from what I’ve seen, men in the creative field tend to marry non-freelancers/artists, and girls marry other credit risks.
    Oh well. maybe we can share out paints?

  57. From Ursula K. LeGuin: “When I got married, my husband never questioned my right to write. This is fairly rare, especially in husbands. My advice to young writers is, if you can’t marry money, at least don’t marry envy.”

  58. In addition: be prepared for accidents, emergencies and all those little things you never could have counted on. Having kids was one thing, but having one who is Autistic changed my routines forever. Studio time was exchanged for therapy appointments and tutoring. Money for canvases and supplies went to paying for the tutor.

    I changed from painting large canvases and doing gallery shows to smaller works, drawing in portable sketchbooks, sneaking art on lunch breaks, working more online. By becoming a teacher, I was able to work on my art career on vacations and summer breaks.. I write on my laptop during appointments now. I changed around my family, my family didn’t change around me.

    We all plan for a “normal” life, but things such as disabled children, taking care of our elderly parents, fires, disasters, getting fired from work or laid off, having your car totaled… those are things that can set you back a year.. sometimes more. You gotta prepare for those things too.

  59. To Carrie Vaughn,

    Does this explain anything about why there are more male writers doing it 100% of the time?

    I’ve read that men take more risks (and die sooner!)


  60. Just read both of your columns and they’re really wonderful.

    I’ve been a freelance writer off and on since the mid 1980s, sometimes in San Francisco. I was lucky and managed to buy a place, and I wrote for the high tech industry in the 1980s, when they were happy to pay rates to people who understood the technology.

    Incidentally, those rates haven’t gone up in twenty years. Sometimes they’ve gone down.

    Anyway, in ten years, my house appreciated 2 1/2 times, I sold it, and moved to Idaho, where my mortgage is about what my San Francisco friends pay in property taxes.

    I married — a bassist, as it happens — and he promptly *did not obey* your instructions, and took advantage of me, so now I’m single and he’s living with his mom.

    Anyway, great stuff, especially your realistic look at marriage as a business relationship, which extends far beyond just people who are writers.

  61. Interestingly enough, I stumbled into writing because of my husband. We agreed eleven years ago that he could work one Saturday a month and make more than I could (minus gas, day care, ect.) I admit, I was bored for several years until we stepped out of the stone age and bought a shiny new computer (that lasted all of one year) and had a second child. With that first computer, I discovered something greater (for me) than any game or anything the internet had to offer.

    The latest of our agreements, I go back to work when our third child starts school, unless I have a book set to publish, which just happens to be this August. Talk about pressure.

    Anyway, I have never lived in NYC\SF\LA. I live twenty-two miles from any sort of civilization and when I go on vacation you can triple that number. I could not be happier. I can’t imagine having a neighbor who can see in my windows. Ick.

    Right this minute, I have three finished novels. One is submitted to a publisher, one is in a competition, and one is with an agent.

    Regarding the husband/wife bill payer thread, that is a hard one. My husband forced the fact years ago that we should pay cash for everything. In fact, we don’t even have a checking account. But, I generally pay the bills. Why? Because I buy the groceries. I know how much I need to get through the week and which bills I can pay to balance the situation. The thing is you have to throw that we pay cash for everything into account. We have two monthly bills, electric and phone. Our house and all of our cars are paid for. Granted, they are nothing special, but they accomplish the job they were built to perform. Heh, I’d be willing to bet my paid for 94 Lumina could take most of your cars in a race. :D If not, I’ve got something for it. ;)

  62. Late to the party and no one may ever read this but I felt it needed to be said. While picking the right significant other to supplement your life can have many rewards, picking the wrong person can be financial disaster. And statistically speaking that is the more likely outcome. If half of all marriages end in divorce and if any of the ones that don’t end in divorce are not happy or cause financial hardships then the math says that you are more likely to cause yourself financial problems by marrying someone than to help yourself financially.

    Yes, some people get divorced and get rich. I would say the majority of the time that only happens on TV though.

  63. Very interesting stuff! Im making a documentary on marriage (specifically from women’s perspectives). Im looking for a woman with some marital experience under her belt who would be willing to be in the documentary. If anyone who is reading this is interested or knows someone, please let me know!

  64. My husband isn’t fantastic with money–only marginally better than I am. He’s not wealthy, nor does he have a wildly successful career.

    However, he really wants me to be able to write, and to help facilitate that, he’s been totally willing to learn these things, and take my writing into account when making the decision to go back to school.

    I believe a lot of people are, like most romantics, balking at the idea of money factoring into the marriage decision–but surely most people agree a supportive and encouraging attitude, and a willingness to sacrifice for a loved one’s life goals, is legitimate criteria when choosing your spouse.