What it means to be a writer: Pay Yourself First

scissors cutting paper that says imbalance

While you couldn’t say my father was on the quiet side, he wasn’t the type to make small talk about the weather. Instead, he spoke when he had something to say. Although, he did have a few “somethings” that he like to repeat, over and over through the years, his Dad Maxims:

Measure twice, cut once. Dad said this just as he was about to use a scissors to cut a piece of paper or put a 2 x 4 through the electric saw. He liked to follow this one up by pointing out that when you cut directly on the line, the line disappears.

Molding covers mistakes. I heard this one over and over again when we were putting in temporary kitchen cabinets in my 100-year-old house. While Dad was somewhat of a perfectionist when it came to carpentry, he did accept that sometimes the floor just bowed or the window frame wasn’t true. Not a problem; just attach the right size molding and voila! imperfections are gone and the wall has a finished look.

Pay yourself first. This is the one that I find myself repeating in my head because it is the instruction that I so often forget to follow. For Dad, this meant that no matter how small the paycheck or how big the bills, be sure to put at least a little bit of money aside for savings or even just to buy something for yourself.

Molding as Metaphor?

Over the years I’ve needed plenty of “molding” to hide imperfections. This might be shoving junk into the closet before guests arrive, or wearing a slightly-too-large blouse that will hang loosely over my slightly-too-large body.

However, I don’t share my father’s trust in measuring. I’m the type to cut first and then see what I have to work with. I am not measured in my life or my work. Perhaps this is a character flaw, but I have always thought that too much measurement, too much restriction would hamper my creativity. Why cut across in straight line when taking a detour might yield something fascinating?

I’m a fast reader but not a fast writer.

I need to mull things over. Because I don’t cut in a straight line, I need time to consider the options, to go in the wrong direction and discover what I really think about the subject before I can turn in the right direction. I love a good tangent and am not quick to give up on them.

Of course, I’ve come to believe in that other maxim: All things in moderation.

While I often like to just dive in and let the scissor cut as it may, I do now understand the value of limitations and how certain limits can increase creativity and productivity. (As I am writing this I have a timer next to me. This piece has to be finished in the next 23 minutes.)

When do I get to be in the Front of the Line?

This brings us to Pay Yourself First. Even if I haven’t followed that advice as an employer, I did follow it as a young writer who could disappear into the coffee shop for hours without anyone noticing. And then life happened, businesses were started, and the hours in my day that were not spoken for diminished.

Women are routinely taught that being selfish is one of the last things we are allowed to be. There are so many people to take care and what kind of person doesn’t put others before themselves?

Here I must digress as I in my head I hear the famous words of Rabbi Hillel. His three maxims are:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

It does make me feel a little better knowing that an ancient rabbi struggled with the same questions.

Of course, the idea of putting yourself last isn’t true for every woman, but I took this message to heart and am guilty of feeling guilty if I put my own needs above someone else’s. Especially if that person is a student, a client, a family member, a teenager standing behind me in the coffee line…

While I am good at prioritizing others, putting myself last doesn’t usually work out very well, at least not for me. I get frustrated and resentful. What’s worse is that I know I could have made a different choice but went with the muscle memory of “others first.”

Can I blame my lack of creative output or storytelling sluggishness on this? Of course I can! Why not feel a little better and absolve myself of responsibility for not writing or reading enough.

But when my pity party is finished, it’s time to get to work.

The first thing I do to get back in the groove and focus on my writer self is to seek out other writers and creators. Just talking and gliding on their energy can be enough to get me feeling positive and open to experimentation with words and ideas.

And if I can be in a roomful of creative people, then I can really soar.

Doing It For Myself

I’m pleased to share that I found the secret to doing for others, while also doing for myself. The Story Mode Circle is my dreamhouse filled with interesting people, challenging (in a good way) conversations, new ideas, and creative stimulation.

The Circle is fast becoming my go-to, the place to remind myself just how many ways verbal and visual expression can inspire. It’s where I can kvetch until I feel light enough to write. It’s where I see the future of creative connection in a world destined to deal with vanilla content written by robots. It’s also where I can teach and learn at the same time.

What could be better than that?

Share your creator maxims.
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Jill Pollack is a maxim maker (and often a maxim killer) who is trying to do it for herself.

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