The 1959 writing lesson you can learn

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Today’s column discusses how to make great decisions about spending money on your writing.

A friend of mine turned 50 this week and threw a big party to celebrate. The good news? The party was tons of fun. The bad news? It was a costume event.

We were ordered to dress in “1959ish” style, which made me feel stressed and anxious. I hate shopping; I don’t sew; and, dislike what I perceive to be “forced frivolity.” But I like parties. And I like my friend. So I was determined to wear something appropriately festive.

I wracked my feeble brains for about two weeks but came up with nada. I’d just about resigned myself to a long trip out to Value Village where I knew I’d be pawing through tables of old, rather than vintage, clothes (yuck!) and then forced to utilize my non-existent sewing skills to alter the outfit (double yuck!)

But last Thursday night an idea suddenly flew into my head. Hey, I could be a nun! The outfit would be attention-getting and easy to wear (for sure, no pinchy waist!) The birthday girl taught at a Catholic school, so she’d appreciate the getup. And I had a friend from university who was a priest so maybe he could find an outfit for me.

I phoned the priest right away and while he gave the idea his blessing (ha ha) he couldn’t produce an outfit. “But it’ll be available at any costume store,” he said. I made a few quick phone calls, found one in a jiffy and picked it up in 10 minutes on Saturday morning.

The cost, $50, gave me pause, but in the end, I considered the money well spent. Costume prep took me almost no time, the outfit caused a stir at the party and my birthday friend was thrilled.

I think we often forget that all of our time is worth money. And what’s true for costume parties is doubly true for writing. Let me tell you the writing lesson this party taught me, by giving you three ways in which I spend money on my writing without giving it a second’s thought:

(1) Spending money on good equipment for my job. Two years ago, I bought a Mac. Before, I’d had a PC, and had always required a technician ($75/hour!) at least twice a year to help with various computer problems. And once I’d made the ill-advised move to Vista, I needed his care more like six times per year.

The biggest trouble for me? It was the loss of my time. I had many computer crashes and, of course, whenever the tech arrived, I couldn’t work. Infuriating! So, after six months, I gave my brand spanking new computer to my daughter and went and bought an expensive Mac. Best decision I’ve ever made. In two years, it’s required zero tech assistance. I’ve not only saved myself plenty of time, I’ve actually saved money by spending some!

(2) Hiring other people to do the work I’m no good at. I’ve always given my taxes to an accountant, but last year, for the first time, I hired a bookkeeper. This has taken a big load off me and freed up my time to write and edit — stuff that I’m good at and that pays me well. The same theory applied when I produced my writing instruction guide. I spent a considerable sum on a professional copy editor and an experienced book designer to do the layout. The book has been so popular that the extra expense paid for itself in the first three months.

(3) Automating. I love automation. For example, when you signed up for this newsletter you entered your name and email into a form that goes directly to a database set up by my email distributor. I don’t ever touch this list unless I need to look up something to solve a problem. You also received a thank you email from me, including a link to my ebooklet on mindmapping. I wrote that letter four years ago and haven’t looked at it since. The email went to you via an automatic send-out system. I sometimes have 45 new subscribers sign up in a single day, so you can imagine how grateful I am that this doesn’t take a second of my time!

So, here we have the final writing lesson: Sometimes, you have to spend money to make money. The key is not to waste it on fancy stuff (like expensive letterhead) but to determine the areas in which it will really pay off for you.

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