A Fixed Salary Versus Absolute Freedom

Have you ever read something and thought, “Wow, that person has just seen right into my soul?”

This happened to me yesterday, when Maile read a portion of Roald Dahl’s “Boy: Tales of Childhood.” She just finished reading it to our kids.  This is the portion that caught my attention.

“I enjoyed [working for a company], I really did. I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours and a fixed salary and very little original thinking to do. The life of a writer is absolute hell compared with the life of a businessman. The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him. If he is a writer of fiction he lives in a world of fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not. Two hours of writing fiction leaves this particular writer absolutely drained. For those two hours he has been miles away, he has been somewhere else, in a different place with totally different people, and the effort of swimming back into normal surroundings is very great. It is almost a shock. The writer walks out of his workroom in a daze. He wants a drink. He needs it. It happens to be a fact that nearly every writer of fiction in the world drinks more whiskey than is good for him. He does it to give himself faith, hope and courage. A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.”

It’s been almost a year now that I’ve been writing for a living. Dahl expresses my sentiments exactly.

What is the risk/reward with your vocation? What about it do you love? What about it do you hate?

9 Replies to “A Fixed Salary Versus Absolute Freedom”

  1. That was on point. Echoes my feelings pretty much exactly, too. Love the freedom. I even love not having a boss. I hate how easy it is to get lazy, to put things on the backburner, to not pursue those writing dreams I have in the name of taking care of the writing work I know will pay the bills.

    It’s why I’m returning to grad school after I get done promoting my book. I want something stable. Not for myself. If it were just me I needed to take care of, I’d live in poverty and write and be happier than Donald Trump. But I have a wife, and we’ll have kids one day, and I want to give them the lives they deserve.

    Great post, Shawn. Thanks for this.

    1. I think there’s a balance to be found here somewhere, Brandon, though I can’t claim to have found it. Your family will appreciate your ability to supply their needs, but your children will also appreciate having a father willing to take some risks to follow his calling.

  2. This expresses it perfectly. Having always wanted to focus on wirting, I now am finally able to do so. It has been a shock to discover it is not the free flowing, enjoying process I had imagined. Rather, it is a lot of hard work and I am quickly discovering what an undisciplined person I really am. It doesn’t help that my main tool- my computer- is also my biggest distraction!

    1. Thanks for chiming in Kristie. These darn computers! I wonder what Roald Dahl’s main distractions were…

  3. Just read this in the “Elegance of the Hedgehog” today and thought about your post, vocations, and so forth.

    “But if, in our world, there is any chance of becoming the person you haven’t yet become…will I know how to seize that chance…”

    p 195

      1. It is a good book- I am in the middle of it this week. :)

        I agree with your comments about balance. Unless a person is independently wealthy, having a family will likely force some tough decisions about one’s vocation.

        It is worth all the effort, the trial and error, to get those amazing moments in our work and with our families.
        If my kids understand that relationships, responsibility and meaningful work all are big pieces of the equation, I will be quite happy with that. :)

        Here’s to trying to live and parent well.

  4. This is something I have been battling with myself-seeking the self discipline to work on the art of writing, and deciding what things I NEED to give up to seek this quest. It’s such a hard battle to give up that stability. I’m so scared.

  5. Due to personal circumstances, I was “forced” to go back to college and then get a full-time job to support myself and my kids. Being in my 50’s with no real savings or retirement, I had to think about job and financial security as well. I work as a procurement analyst for the Dept. of Defense, which sounds anything but creative. But it allows me to be how I am, i.e., anal, organized, and very detailed. It also allows me to do some technical writing. So I love the job/financial security and the fact that I am rewarded, in more ways than financial, for being myself. What I don’t like about it is that it takes away so much of my time that I would rather spend doing something else – like being with family and friends, reading, and even writing in my journal. Someday I hope to write a book and even know the title and some of the contents. For now I say, “God will make a way where there seems to be no way.” …maybe when I retire.

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