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.