Tag Archives: money

Post #100 | Greener Grass

11 Jan

This is Post #100, and my goodness: how that little number has kept me from writing all week.  I keep thinking, “It’s number one hundred!  It’s special!  Therefore, I need to make something special of it!”

What, though?

Well.  A quote has been simmering in my head ever since I read it weeks ago; now seems as good a time as any to share it with you guys.  This little excerpt is part of a much longer interview with Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time-Traveler’s Wife.  The question is in regards to her sizable advance for her second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry.

Q: How does that amount of money change your writing life?

A: …Back in the ’90s, I started going to artist colonies.  The one I go to most is Ragdale.  I remember the first time I ever went to Ragdale, and I was just like, Oh my…I’m going to get up today and I’m going to do what I want.  I’m going to make stuff.  And it was such a fantastic feeling to own your own day.  You know, nobody was going to tell me what to do that day.  And I thought, that’s what I aspire to, just to be in control of your time.  So there was a point a couple of years ago where I suddenly realized I had achieved control over my day.  And that was really exciting.  So from that point on it’s all pretty much the same: the freedom to make what you want when you want.  And I think that’s just what we’re all looking for is that kind of liberty.

– from the November/December 2009 issue of Writer’s Digest | click here to read the full interview

Her answer caught me off guard when I read it.  From someone who has achieved what so many writers aspire to — publication, loads of people who have read and enjoyed her work (though ‘overnight success’ came only after many years of hard work and twentyish agent rejections), a huge advance for her second novel — this quote carried a lot of weight for me.  

After all of this, it sounds like she’s most satisfied with freedom, liberty, control of the way she spends her time.  

I think this is an amazing reminder to those of us who are still on the opposite end of the “success” spectrum (whatever that means; I guess I mean the way success is commonly perceived, i.e. sales and popularity and money).  The money is satisfying to her because it buys her more time to do what she already loves to do: create.

Niffenegger’s wisdom inspires me to appreciate what I have, right now.  To enjoy each moment spent creating — whether those moments add up to eight hours a day or eight hours a month.  To not say “I’ll be happy when ____” but to drink in the experience as it happens.  To not wish for a day when I’ll be rich, or popular, or Queen of the Bestseller List, under the deluded idea that these things in and of themselves are a source of lasting, deep, inner happiness.  Because they’re not.  You can have all these things but still be utterly discontent, hungry for more, anxious and unsatisfied.  All of this reminds me of a verse in Ecclesiastes¹ that says, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.  This, too, I see is from the hand of God.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against popularity and money and sales and all the things that could come from the love of creation, and diligent work applied to that creation.  I’ve just been thinking about motivation behind my time spent creating, and a realistic perspective of the grass that looks so green on the “successful” side of the fence.  That no matter what happens today or in the future, I can take joy in this day, and the freedom I have to create.

Just thought I’d share that with you, since it inspired me to love what I do, even more, as I do it.

¹Taken from the NIV translation of the Bible, it’s from Chapter 2 verse 24.


26 Oct


I’m feeling this weird mix of emotionally-drained-meets-invigorated-and-ready-to-conquer-the-world this morning.  Weird, I know.  I feel colored by a tinge of melancholy, but it’s counteracted by this sort-of simmering inspiration, so that’s a little weird, too.

I guess it’s only natural, in a month where I’m learning so much about how to make the most of what I have – time, money, opportunities, conversations, you name it! – life, as it sometimes does, has coughed up the chance for me to worry over what I don’t have.  Tempting though it may be to wallow in dramatic misery¹, I’m trying instead to focus on being content, being grateful, and thinking what a joy it is to be alive this very moment, with who-knows-what adventures waiting up ahead!  Seriously.  Amazing possibilities out there, you know?  Why worry about what I lack, when what I already have is so incredible?

Yet, sometimes I still worry.  Hence the weird combo of emotional strangeness I described earlier.

Oh, well.  I will just channel this energy into my fingers, onto my keyboard, and infuse some emotionally conflicted magic into my characters’ world.  Yes, yes…that sounds like the perfect plan!

One final Oktoberzest update:  I added about 375 words to the manuscript on Saturday², which brings my six-day total to 6,558 words.  Here’s hoping this week goes as well, or better!

Thanks for indulging my inner drama queen for a moment.  She likes to make herself heard every once in a while, though I prefer to keep her locked up in a dungeon.  She’s headed back down there now, ready to sit in the dark again for a while.

What are you guys working on this week?  Anyone out there gearing up for NaNoWriMo?  Or, maybe you’re in the thicket of some other project?  

¹Dramatically miserable hyperbolical sentence alert!  Fear not, we are not wallowing, nor are we anywhere close to miserable.  I’m just being a drama queen for a minute.

²Not bad, considering I ended up spending only 30 minutes writing that day.

You Really Want to Know? Really?

2 Aug

Do you ever get questions that are impossible to answer?  Questions that make you wonder, um, can you think for yourself?  Questions like these, for example:

“Where’s the bathroom?”  Do I look like I know my way around the Shanghai airport?  Being here once before does not make me an expert of this airport’s layout.  I know ‘bathroom’ is difficult to say in Chinese, but come on – that’s, like, the first thing we learned here.  And you’ve been here once before, too, just like me.  Seriously.  There is a sign two feet away from you that shows you where to go.  

Can I switch to an aisle seat?  I feel sick and don’t want to sit in the middle.”  Do I look like the flight attendant you just spoke with five minutes ago?  She printed your ticket five minutes ago, I’m sure you could go back up there and ask her.  Do I look like I have the necessary authority to switch your seat? 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a little about other such questions and the people who ask them.  I’m a few years beyond the dreaded, “What are you doing after college graduation?” question* but others have risen in its wake, especially since I started writing my novel.

Now, don’t get me wrong – these questions are not ignorant ones, like the ones above.  It’s just that they are the ones everybody asks.

What is your book about?

When will you be finished?

Have you sent it to a publisher yet?

Legitimate questions – difficult to answer.  I’m finding the responses I give depend entirely on who’s asking.  

Some people want to hear nice, quick answers – how you wrote your fantastic breakout novel in one month and scored a publishing deal (and got paid some major big bucks, oh, and they want to make it into a movie) with the first person you showed it to.  Things like that.

 These are the questions that are the hardest to answer, because most people who ask them don’t expect to hear a five- or ten-minute long explanation**.

They’re even less thrilled when you explain, “Well, actually, writing a book takes a good deal of time…Yes, I was still working on this same book months ago…Yes, I’ll probably be working on it for several more months…”

It kinda reminds me of the whole “How are you?” thing where people have time and energy to handle your “I’m great!” but not your “Well, my week was pretty lame, actually, and here’s [thirty minutes explaining] why…”

Sometimes, though, the rare gem of a human being makes your day and wants to hear the truth.

Like the whole “How are you?” thing, these questions feel wonderful to discuss with people who care to hear the real, not-always-neatly-packaged answers.  Some people expect a five-second answer, but are pleased when you tell them more than that.

Thank goodness for people who understand that writing a novel is not a project where you snap your fingers and a finished book appears.  Thank goodness for people who understand the desire to produce my very best possible work, and not just fly through it for the sake of seeing lots and lots of ink-covered pages.  Thank goodness there are people who know, and care, that writing is not just about the finished product but how you got there.  Kinda like life.  


*Fortunately.  Being an International Studies major who does not want to work in politics or move overseas does not lend itself to a wealth of job opportunities.

**To clarify: I’m not talking about instances where you are supposed to be succinct, like when pitching your novel.  That’s totally fine with me.  It’s more the I’m asking because I’m being polite and don’t reeeeally care thing that bothers me.

When Hard Work Goes Unnoticed

22 Jul

I want to be remembered as someone who did the very best with the talent she was given.

– J.K. Rowling, J.K. Rowling: A Year In The Life

Motivation: we all need it.  Some of us have it.  It’s sometimes easy to lose, in the face of difficulty or after hard work that seems to go unnoticed.  It’s definitely easy to lose in the face of hard work that will never get noticed.

I’ve been thinking about my novel’s characters a lot lately, and why they do the things they do.  It occurred to me to ask myself, the author, the same question: why is it that I do what I do?  Why do I love this work so very much, why does it feel so satisfying when I complete something that may never get appreciated by someone else?  I hope it gets noticed by someone else one day, but there’s no guarantee of that.

So why do I do it?

The quote above resonated in me when I heard it.  It’s no foreign concept to me – for a while now, this has also been one of my main reasons for writing.  What struck me about it is that it was THE answer she chose – not to be remembered for her uncanny knack at telling a great story, not for her rags-to-riches story, but for doing the best with what she had.

About a year ago, I was on my knees, scrubbing coffee from the undersides of the tables in Starbucks.  I spent countless days, not making the lattes, but taking orders and handing drinks out the window.

The years before that, I cashed checks and made deposits all day, most every day.  My cash drawer always balanced, and it was perfectly organized.  I got yelled at (um, cursed at, rather) for asking for ID.  I got yelled at for things I didn’t do and couldn’t change.  

I did those jobs as well as I could, though.  I learned how to craft great drinks.  I scrubbed the tables vigorously (more from annoyance than from love of scrubbing, I have to add).  I smiled at the people who yelled at me.  

I did the best I could, but I felt a gaping chasm where I should feel at least a little satisfaction in the work I got up every day to do.  I tried to push my pride aside when the (evil) man in the Starbucks drive through said, “Oh, your parents paid for college? I bet they’re really proud of you working here.”  I tried, but I was truly, deeply unfulfilled.

Why, though?  People do these jobs every day.  We need people to scrub tables, we need people to deal with the money.  Goodness knows I need my lattes!  I rationalized myself into staying with them, because they are good jobs and I am not above them.

One day, though, it occurred to me:  these are not bad jobs, but they don’t use all of me.  They use my people skills and my ability to be responsible with money, but what about my brain?  What about my passion to create?  What about thoughts about life, love, morality, spiritual things, and people?  What about my heart?  Where does being project-driven fit in jobs that have no end and make no progress?  

It’s not just about doing the best you can – it’s about doing the best you can with the talent you are given.  

For me, writing is where I feel myself blossoming.  Hours and days fly by before I know it.  Writing a novel seems to be the perfect combination of using my brain, my creativity, my discipline, my organization, and working in all sorts of things I care about.  I get to explore so many avenues of myself just by sitting down to write.  Therein, I find motivation.  

Doing the best with what I’ve been given might lead to some great side-effects – publication, success (whatever that is), and seeing my printed ideas in the hands of other people.  But it might not.  Whatever happens, I love what I do every day, and it is satisfying to exercise all, not half, of me.

How about you?  What was it that motivated you to write in the first place?  What drives you to keep going, especially through times when you feel like nothing you’re doing is making a difference?  


PS: J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life is a documentary put together by James Runcie, a novelist/filmmaker.  There’s an article about the documentary here.

PPS:  I notice, often, that people find this blog by searching for “When my hard work doesn’t get noticed,” and other similar things.  If this is you, I hope your situation gets better soon.  Under-appreciation is never fun, and boy do I understand.  Please feel free to drop a line in the comment section, I love hearing from new readers.

Satirical Instruction Manual, Entry No. 1

16 Jun

How to Use the Drive Through at the Bank

1. Do not use the buzzer as a weapon. Hearing the buzzer (especially in rapid succession from customers who have been in line for less than two seconds) is equivalent to being the object at whom daggers are thrown.
2. A deposit slip is used when you make a deposit — NOT when you only want to cash the check.

3. No, I cannot do ten transactions at once. You might have to wait a couple of minutes.

4. Yes, you do need I.D. if you want cash back. I don’t doubt that you’ve been our customer for forty years. However, I’ve only been alive for twenty-four of those years, and what’s more, I’ve only worked here for one of those years. And, I’ve never seen you before, so what makes you think I know who you are? Yes, I will need that I.D. Thanks.

5. What on earth makes you think that I’m going to give you cash for a $4000 check made out to your roommate’s sister’s boyfriend’s mom? 

6. We cannot hear you when the tube is coming through to us. Please don’t push the buzzer and then send the tube immediately after you’ve buzzed. For that matter, please don’t buzz at all. See Rule #1.

7. Please send in all transactions at once. We feel silly if we tell you “Thank you, have a great day!” more than three times in one visit. We also feel annoyed. 

8. On that note, if you have ten transactions, please come in, instead…

9. Rolled Coin + Drive Through Tube = Broken Drive Through Tube. Common sense could be Warning #1 on that lesson, Warning #2 would be the label on the tube that tells you not to send coin through. 

10. Rolled coin is better than loose coin, though. We don’t have a counter, and we don’t have time to count your 5,000 quarters. 

11. Don’t be this person: Tube comes in, with a check. “Would you like to cash or deposit today?” I ask. “Cash, please.” Okay. So I proceed to cash. “Anything else today?” “No,” they say. I send the tube back with the cash. BUZZZZ. “Yes?” They tell me, “I want to deposit now.” Did I not just ask you a) if you want to cash or deposit, and b) if you needed anything else? Grrr.

12. Plucking your nose hairs in the commercial lane is unacceptable. We understand that you are busy and may not have time to do this before or after work, but if you want your teller to be able to focus and get your transaction right, do not distract us with this (or any) sort of bodily grooming. 

13. Please have your stuff ready before you pull up — no one wants to sit behind you for fifteen minutes while you fill out the deposit slip that we don’t really need in the first place.

14. “For Deposit Only” is not an acceptable endorsement. Is it that hard to sign your name? 

15. And, finally, please don’t yell at us. We are the bottom of the bank food-chain as it is, why would you think we have any authority over the rules and regulations? We don’t make them. We get paid to keep them.


Fortunately, I am no longer a bank teller.  Just thought I’d share some of my most lovely memories and hopefully – hopefully – make the life of some other poor teller a little more bearable.