The emotional place of money in a writing journey
What’s this episode about?
Welcome to the fifth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways.
Today I will discuss the emotional place of money in a writing journey. I will touch on investing money in your writing, spending, profits and how they all affect writers’ mental health.
Part I: True value
I will come out in the beginning of this episode and admit that I don’t have the healthiest relationship with money. When growing up, I believed money should be saved and given away only after a long thorough thought process has occurred. Only after I had estimated the true value that something will bring to my life could I spend the money on it. That attitude led me to develop a chronic health condition. I was only buying the cheapest food ever in a supermarket. I couldn’t justify to myself to pay twice more for seemingly the same product. So my health failed and I took a long, hard look at my relationship with money. I decided I could spend more on more nutritious food. But beyond that, I didn’t really change. I was still weighing up every night out, every birthday present, every holiday. And I’m sure you won’t be surprised that this attitude transferred to the way I spend money on my writing journey.
Now, if you have been listening you would have heard me say I estimate the true value of an item or service. And this is where my thinking fails me. Establishing the true value of intangible things is nigh impossible. There are too many moving parts, too many variables. I read extensively before setting out to publish my first book and decided that three things had true value for the beginning of my writing journey – an editor, a proofreader and a hefty marketing budget. I knew I could do the cover myself as I have design knowledge and I was fairly confident in doing the formatting too. So in my brain, I was being prudent as I was only spending on the items that for me had ‘true value’.
Part II: The theory of ‘value for money’
But let me move away from my experience for a bit so I can talk about the theory behind estimating value for money. Yes, this is still a podcast about mental health, bear with me, it will all come together in the end. Researchers argued that the phrase ‘value for money’ or what I call ‘true value’ of buying something, “is a poorly understood concept in practice. There is a lack of clarity in its application, especially in the distinction between “value” and “money” when assessing VFM in investment evaluation and decision making.” So they set out to deconstruct value and came up with three components: “useful purpose, beneficial outcomes, and important features”. So something that brings value won’t necessarily also bring money.
When I was making the investment decisions around my first book, I did them with the wrong idea that value always equals profit. I won’t dive too deep into this, but the fact is, profitable enterprises don’t only have valuable contributions, they’re also good at picking the right time to put them forward, and the right way to market them to achieve results. So when I invested a lot of money into an editor and proofreader, I believed that a good book can’t go unnoticed. Well, let me tell you – it can and it did. I know my book is good because readers have told me so. But there aren’t very many of them. So while I honed my craft and made the story and writing great, I added value to my product but for now, I didn’t bring money with this value. On the marketing component, I tried to invest in whatever authors have said works for them, thus copying steps of their journey and not really embracing mine. Lots of money thrown at Facebook Ads, Newsletter promotions and Review sites later, I realize now I was throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something will stick. For now, they have all slid down to the floor, leaving a bright red line of shame on the wall. In a way, I’m back where I started all those years ago – with an unhealthy relationship with money, believing I made stupid investments that will somehow undoubtedly tank my whole dream of being an author.
Part III: Investment vs. Emotional spending
Here you can already tell the emotions are creeping up. It’s not about the value anymore, it’s about me and my worth. I came across an article about emotional spending and something clicked. At some point, I had stopped investing and had started buying things to make myself feel better. To believe I’m a true writer, I made it, because I’m buying the same things other authors are buying. Successful authors. Somehow my unhealthy relationship with money changed from me needing to evaluate everything to make sure I was financially stable, to me putting my writing business in a separate brain box and thinking that it’s all justifiable spending, an upfront investment into my future. A business expense, not an impulse buy.
But looking at it from where I stand now, I see those were just labels. The purchases I was making weren’t passing my usual rigorous vetting process. In fact, they were bypassing it altogether. My logical brain was off and my emotions were running the show. Soon I had spent more on marketing than I had ever set out in my bare-bones marketing plan. And yet, book sales were few and far in between. The latter thing in itself is not an issue. Debut authors are unknown and need to work hard until they start having consistent sales. The issue for me is that the more I spend, the more the gap between my expenses and profits will grow. And it’s pretty big now. So when I look at other debut authors who opted to spend nothing on their first book and are now happily taking every sale as a win, I’m a little envious. Not of their sales but of their insight.
Part IV: Curbing those spending impulses
Envy will get me nowhere however, so I set out to try and fix my emotional connection to money and maybe somehow get to a better place. As any proud millennial would do, I went online and found out that it wasn’t just me having trouble curbing my impulses when it comes to buying stuff online. For me, it was book marketing courses and services, for others it was whatever their passion was. Dr. Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and certified financial planner, was interviewed on money.com on the subject of impulse buying and he was clear that nowadays, marketing is expertly done to trigger buyers emotionally. So whether it’s boredom, insecurity, or chasing that nice feeling one gets when they get a present, the current online commerce reality is waiting to catch us out. For me, I now know it was the unreasonable desire to be like the big authors instead of embracing my writer’s journey and realizing I can only be me. Now, and in the future. I can’t be anyone else so there is no use buying tons of stuff to try and fake it. The ‘true value’ simply isn’t there.
So what does money.com recommend? They have three ideas: “Be conscious of your decision-making process”; “Train your brain to prioritize long-term gains” and “earn your present-day rewards”. Briefly, it’s all about analyzing why you’re turning to impulse buying and trying to work on the root cause, taking more time to make spending decisions, thus neutralizing a bit of that emotional marketing magic, and meeting your saving goals no matter what, then spending the rest as you see fit by connecting purchases to goals in your life. If you want to read the article for yourself, I highly recommend it, it was really eye opening for me.
Managing money is hard. It’s especially hard if you’re trying to break out in a new field. To start from zero while you’re surrounded by success stories and so much marketing. While writing this episode, I was returning time and time again to the quote ‘Cream rises to the top’. This was my mantra when I invested in making my book better. In many ways, I do believe thanks to that editor feedback I do have a cream of a book. What I realized just now is that quote is missing a time component. It doesn’t say how long it will take for said cream to rise.
So when it comes to money, I will return to doing my best to rationally examine each potential spend, thinking about the value it can bring to my journey and not just think of the monetary return of investment or if someone else has vouched for it. It sounds basic but it’s a actually a very difficult mind state to maintain. I’m sure I will get swayed along the way, but when I do, I will return to this episode and listen to my own advice.
And that’s all I wanted to say today. What is your relationship with money? Does it affect your writing life? Let me know. I’m on Facebook and Twitter or simply send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next Tuesday, I will talk about how reading, an activity I remember loving since being a tiny bean, has changed since I became an author and all the benefits and pitfalls that came from that.
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If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening/reading everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.
- The Value for Money Concept in Investment Evaluation: Deconstructing its Meaning for Better Decision Making (journal article)
- Brad Klontz (financial psychologist and certified financial planner)
- How to Train Your Brain to Stop Making Impulse Purchases, According to a Financial Psychologist (website article)
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