Paying Dues

If there's anyone I can literally cry to, it's my sister. She's heard every trouble and walked me through every emotional nightmare I've been through from teenage drama to life and death moments. There's no doubt she's the strongest rock on the dark, craggy cliffs of my life.
While I work as a freelance writer, and have since 2009, the fluctuating wages of the last year have been less than stellar in this economy. The idea that I might need a 9-to-5 kind of job has turned into a glaring truckstop sign on the road ahead. Yes, I have come to the crossroads between the desire to work from home versus making money by clocking in.

If you're like me then there have been jobs on your resume which you loved, some that you absolutely excelled at, and those that you just knew had all the wrong edges to be the missing puzzle piece in your life. I've always called the latter type of job "selling your soul at an hourly rate." Sure you need the money, but man does that job strip away any ounce of will-to-live you might have.

So in light of my dwindling financial situation, I did what adults do when faced with tough choices and life decisions who really just need to get a good night's rest and write up an action plan: I called and cried to my sister.

Needlesstosay, she talked me in off the ledge (again). 

Through our conversation, I realized somewhere along the way I had snatched the idea that being a freelance writer now meant never going back, never filling out a time card again, and never haggling for a lunch break at a reasonable hour.

In my mind, the idea that I might need to return to the "working world" somehow meant defeat.

That is until my sister said it's about paying dues.

You can't start at the top. You have to work your way up.

You can't get where you want to go without the experience and humbleness of starting at the beginning. You can't be president of the company without sorting mail first. You have to pay your dues in the world, in life, and that's how you'll come to appreciate when you've finally made it across the finish line.

Paying dues means sucking it up. It means you swallow that big gulp of pride and do what needs to be done to get the end result you want.

Almost immediately I remembered reading Ann Patchett's book The Getaway Car and how she said she worked at T.G.I.Fridays after a meltdown before writing The Patron Saint of Liars. She paid her dues, so did J.K. Rowling, and a string of other famous authors. And it occured to me that we love to hear the stories of paying dues after the person has triumphed, so why was I so resistant to pay mine?

Jobs shouldn't be looked at like the white flag rising at the end of a horrible battle. Jobs should be considered paying dues. (For the record, I think editing and revision are the "paying dues" version of fiction writing; you can't get better unless you've done them.)

By "paying dues" and clocking in again, I'm also gaining something in return aside from a paycheck--I'm gaining freetime again. For anyone who is self-employed, you know work goes beyond 40 hours a week and the line between business and personal time blurs terribly. Paying dues for me means that when I get home from my job I can choose to write only what I'm passionate about, rather than being a slave to the deadline of a project which lost its luster months ago.

So, with all of that said, I'm proud to say I start paying dues tomorrow morning. I'll be working for a local small business I love, and when I get home, the only writing I'll do will be the freelance projects I want to keep, my fiction writing, and, of course, I'll still be writing to you here on the blog.

How have you paid dues? And how did it change you? Leave comments below.


  1. Wow! I really needed to read that today. I've been working on my own novel and I have to say that the yearning to make it in something I'm passionate about is so wonderful, straining, stressful, and painful. I know I need to get back to a steady paycheck but it felt like defeat. Like I was wearing the a scarlet F for failure. Cross your fingers for me that I find a steady part-time that I can enjoy somewhat and not fantasize about throwing myself off a cliff. Good luck and thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Glad it helped. Love the "scarlet F." I think that pretty well says how I was feeling about it, too.

  2. Nice photo. Nice post, too. Sometimes the dues are pretty steep, but you have to know you're never some place you're not supposed to be. It's where you are for this part of the trip and nothing lasts forever. Even better if you can relax, be present to the present and be shaped by the lessons of the experience. Learn from my example that kicking and screaming get you nowhere. *smile*