Embracing Plan B

Fall television is a time of excitement in my house. My husband and I scour of copy of Entertainment Weekly, reading up on all the new shows and returning favorites.

One of our favorite shows is The Voice. In some ways I relate very much to all the contestants. Writers, like singers, are all artists pursuing a dream of making a living via the creation of art. One topic that often comes up on The Voice, and other reality shows dealing with art (tattoos, cooking, singing, make-up, acting, clothing, etc.) is the dreaded PLAN B.

To artists, the PLAN B (aka The Day Job) is the thing we get "stuck" doing when we are unable to make a decent living producing our art. As I watch interviews of The Voice contestants, I hear a lot of artists saying they have no PLAN B. They're either going to make a living doing their art, or die trying. (With artists, it's always something dramatic like this. I should know, since I consider myself an artist.)

I was a Creative Writing major in college and I heard a lot of the same sentiment among the students. "If I don't make a living as a screen writer, I'm going to bag groceries for the rest of my life." "I'm going to live out of my car until I make my big break." Stuff like that.

I even gave the anti-Plan-B a run when I first got out of college. I waited tables to 4 years so I could have more free time to write and pursue my dream. Over the years I've made some money at writing, but never enough to pay the bills. I eventually decided to turn to Plan B. And you know what? It was the best thing that ever happened.

I'm here today to tell you why it's turned out to be a great thing for me, and to argue the beauty of Plan B for all artists.

Argument #1: Life style

I love to go on vacations and get massages. I love eating good food and owning a home. I like being able to send my daughter to private school. In short, I've come to believe that my life style shouldn't suffer just because I can't make a mortgage payment with my books. My Plan B gives me a comfortable, secure life style.

Argument #2: Life informs art

As a writer, it was hard to garner a lot of life experience by locking myself in a room and clicking away at a keyboard all day. I've spent the last decade working for corporate America. I've learned a lot and gained many insights, much of which inform my YA dystopian/cyberpunk series, Sulan. This series would not have been possible without my Plan B. So I say to my fellow artists, don't be afraid of the Plan B. Embrace it. Open yourself up to new experiences and let it inform your art. You never know how your life experiences will manifest in your art.

Argument #3: Creative freedom

My Plan B gives me the financial freedom to write whatever, whenever, I want. For example, after I finished the first novel in the Sulan series, the practical thing to do was to write the next one in the series; it's widely known that writers make the best money off series. The more books in a series, the more potential income. If I'd been tied to a major publisher, I'd likely have been under contract to do just that.

But the story just wouldn't come to me. I wrote two horrible drafts and finally had to admit the sequel to Sulan just wasn't ready to be written. So I put it on the back burner and wrote my next book, The Warrior & The Flower.

All the time I had been working on Sulan 2, The Warrior & The Flower had been clamoring for attention in my head. Scenes and characters unfolded in my mind. The story was dying to be written. It flowed easily when I sat down in front of my computer. It was such a fun book to write. It was wonderful to be able to write what I wanted to write (and what wanted to be written) and not worry about the financial part.

In short, Plan B gives me complete creative freedom. I'm not forced to write anything under a deadline. I'm not forced to write a book that's not ready to show itself to me. I'm in the final stages of Sulan 2 now, and I'm convinced that if I'd been forced to write it sooner, it would not be the book it's shaping up to be. It was great not to be tied to any deadline and allow myself the time needed to perfect a manuscript.

There's something wonderful about creating art for the sake of simply creating art. It's fun and liberating to have no strings attached to my art. Yeah, it will be wonderful if someday I can make a living with my books. But I know that if/when that day comes, there will be tradeoffs. Writing for a living will mean writing what I think will sell, not necessarily what I'm feeling passionate about at the moment. It will also mean cutting myself off from the world and living in front of a computer, something I dread. I'm something of a people person; day-to-day interactions with people and life bring me joy and, of course, inform my writing.

I wrote this piece with the hope of giving other writers and artists a new perspective on Plan B. Being an artist doesn't have to be all-or-nothing. Art and creative time can be woven into the other facets of living. Plan B can be a great thing for both artist and the art itself, so don't be afraid to embrace it.