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money talks with Laurie Wagner

Laurie-Wagner-Money-TalksHappy November. This month’s first column features Laurie Wagner.

Laurie is another one of our no-nonsense artist/entrepreneurs. She’s all grit and go-go-go. What you’ll find in her responses are practical thoughts on earning a living  and being an artist. No magical thinking for this girl. And lots of effort-ful working!

I particularly love this line from Laurie: “Why suffer? You can make art AND make money.”

If you’re like me, you read along with these columns and continually look over your shoulder at your own life to see how your money history is similar or different than each of the featured responders.

We also get the chance to turn and look forward. I often read these and think, “How could I implement what has been working for this person?” Every person’s wisdom is such a gift.

I hope you’ll read what Laurie has shared and then post in the comments what impacted you the most about her responses.

See ya back here after Thanksgiving. I’m grateful for these conversations — and you!

Laurie-Wagner-2Laurie Wagner
Alameda, CA


Laurie Wagner has been publishing books and essays, and teaching writing for the last 25 years. Her Wild Writing classes are the corner stone of her live work. 27powers.org

1. Are you earning what you’re worth?   That’s a really interesting question. I remember working with someone who was helping me price my Wild Writing classes, and she suggested that I charge $1000 for a 12-week session. I currently charge $525. She said that Wild Writing was life changing for people, like a kind of therapy – and because they paid hundreds of dollars each month for their therapy, I should charge accordingly. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It felt like too much money to ask people to spend.

I’m always trying to find that sweet spot between what I want to make for my time and what I feel is reasonable for others. I try to make a certain amount of money an hour – no matter what I’m doing. I’m probably worth more than I charge, but I’m happy to take something close to $125 an hour or more for my work – no matter what I’m doing. So I don’t ask, “What I’m worth,” as much as I ask, “what I want.” If I’m getting what I want, I feel good.

2. What does the expression starving artist bring up for you?

I don’t like it. I don’t relate to it.

It’s such negative, limiting language. It’s true that the world doesn’t recognize the artist the way it recognizes the lawyer or the hedge fund guy, but I don’t think you have to starve either.

I’m a very practical person. When I was starting out as a writer, writing journalism or essays or even writing books, I always had a straight job on the side. I would never expect my art to cover all of my expenses, and I would certainly not complain about it. The people I admire the most figure out a way to pay the bills AND make art. I know that means work, but that just makes sense to me.

Up until recently I was doing things that I didn’t completely love because of the money. I’ve got two kids, I live in California — that just feels realistic to me. I don’t feel sorry for myself. Why suffer? You can make art AND make money. Doesn’t that sound nice? And one day, if you’re lucky, you can make money entirely from your art. But that you don’t get to do that for a while, isn’t a sad thing in my mind.

3. Do you have any childhood money stories that have to do with making a living from work you love? When I was in my 20’s I worked in bookstores and I also free-lanced journalism articles on the side. I finally got a job with Simon and Schuster, the big publisher, and my parents were thrilled. I was thrilled. This is what I felt was expected of me – not only from my parents, but from myself and the world I came from in Los Angeles. My job was to rise, to aim higher, to grow and to evolve personally as well as professionally. I worked for Simon for three and a half years and I loved it – I learned a lot about books and the publishing industry, and ultimately about myself as a writer.

I realized that I didn’t want to sell books, I wanted to write books. But when I told my dad that, he freaked. “Why leave Simon?” he said. Simon had prestige, not to mention the money and benefits. It was a fancy job in publishing and I was a fool to walk away.

I did quit, and a few months later my first piece was published in a little book. I was out to dinner with my parents and reading the piece aloud to them, and my dad – who was a very sweet guy — kept interrupting my reading to tell us what was on the menu. After the interruption I’d look at my mom and begin reading again, and then he’d interrupt again, “chicken wings!” he shouted. It was funny, and sad and weird.

The truth was, my dad was terrified. He wasn’t a risk taker. He stayed at his job in real estate for his entire life and I know he didn’t love it. Leaving Simon because I wanted to become a writer agitated the hell out of him. Of course, when my first book came out, he couldn’t contain his pride. The second book I wrote sent him to the moon.

I was doing what I loved – but it wasn’t something he taught me – if anything, maybe I showed him what was possible.

4. What’s your biggest money story currently? My money story is that I have to work and work and work and work and… well, you get the idea. No rest for the wicked. I am doing well, but I hustle.

I have taken some breaks, but my money story is that I have to always be on top of it, I have to keep hustling or else the work, the money, it’s all going to go bye-bye.

I think it’s a true story. I take that back. I think when you work for yourself you do have to hustle. But there’s a way in which I approach my work that could probably benefit from being a little more light hearted.

You’d think I was working in the coalmines the way I screw my head on and march into each day. I’m sure I could relax a little more.

5. Do you think the expression, “Do what you love and the money will follow” is accurate? (Would you add anything to it?) On my 40th birthday, this palm reader told me that I would make a really great actress or coach. “But I’m 40,” I said, “it’s too late.”

“Cream rises to the top,” he replied. And what he meant was that if you were good at something, and you did that something a lot — because you loved doing it – you might get somewhere with it.

So here’s what I’d say, and I think it’s true: Do what you love, do it as much as you can, learn as much as you can from it, become a little baby expert at this thing you love, and there’s a fair chance it’ll take you on a good ride.

Money Talks appears here on the Mabel blog every 2nd and 4th Friday of the the month, meet us here!

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Dorit Sasson November 17, 2015, 6:30 pm

    Such a great post. Love Laurie as a person and as an instructor and the idea of doing what you love and maybe something good will come up one day, really really rings true. Thank you Laurie for sharing your insights which many can certainly, relate to.
    Dorit Sasson
    author of Accidental Soldier

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