I Lost Almost Half My Vision in March and Still Made Money
Life is like the darkest corner in the closet of a six-year-old child, except with three piglets living there. Like real live pigs. Messy doesn’t even begin to cover what life can look like some weeks.
Two weeks ago I lost the central vision in my left eye. Thank all that is holy that my right eye is dominant, so other than my two eyeballs behaving like prizefighters trying to determine who tells my brain their view of the world is the accurate one, I can mostly see what I am doing. It’s uncomfortable but manageable.
I have an extensive road to a hopeful repair of my eye. You can follow that if you’re interested, starting with the details of the damage. My point is not to start a pity party. What I want you to know is that even with all the stress, fighting with insurance, managing doctor’s appointments, angst, and the shock of going half-blind, the money kept flowing.
To be a successful creative, you have to walk that road. You cannot let yourself get mired in the quicksand of only making money if your fingers are pounding the keyboard or your face is in front of the camera. You’ll die exhausted and broke if you live that way. And that’s probably not why you started this gig empire of yours.
What I want to share is how I made money doing very little creating during the height of my recent piglet-stained weeks and how I know I’ll be okay through what could be a year of multiple eye surgeries. There are rules you need to know and processes you can begin to put into place immediately, so let’s dive in.
The only 3 rules that matter
You already know these three things, but I’m going to drill them home one more time now that you know you might go blind next week.
Don’t push deadlines to their limits. I read a post in a writer’s group last week about someone waiting until the last 48 hours of the month to write 20+ stories to earn their base pay on News Break. Seriously? Space things out; make deadline work priority work. You never know when you might open the closet and discover it’s full of piglet shit. Or you could go blind.
I had a research-heavy 10,000-word freelance series due on the last day of the month. By the time my eyeball went wonky, I had the whole thing written and mostly polished. All I had to do with my reduced vision was some fact-checking (the topic was cruising, so facts change every day) and a final buff-up before I submitted. Oh, and the creation of my invoice for payment.
Never rely on only one source of income. Whether we’re talking about a single freelance client, creator’s platform, or sales outlet, you need multiples. I know it’s hard to juggle. When you have one good-paying gig it is so easy to coast along on that gravy train. Trust me, I know. Been there; watched that house of cards collapse.
Instead, once you have one income stream in place, look for another, less labor-intensive way to supplement it. And rule 2b should actually be to make sure some of your income sources are sustainable without you touching them for an extended period of time, even if they only produce only pennies at first.
My passive income includes royalties from traditionally published books, self-published books (see how I spread that around?), and old articles. It also includes long-term rental income (because short-term rentals are labor-intensive), product sales that are fulfilled by Amazon, and investment income.
Make money in other people’s play space while you build your own. This is the creator’s version of the age-old financial advice to make money using other people’s money. Tim Denning wrote a nice piece recently about choosing your lifestyle, then building the income you need to support that. I know you can be successful at that because hubs and I have been doing it for three decades. We love camping, so I wrote two camping guidebooks.
In 1998, when he was a refugee from a corporate layoff, we decided we wanted to live by a lake, so we bought a lake place with extra cabins we could rent out. We wanted a boat, so we bought one and rented it to other people when we weren’t using it. We wanted personal watercraft — same deal.
And it’s way easier now. Airbnb, VRBO, and even a site called GetMyBoat make it brainless to do the things we did. Make use of those or sell things on Amazon. Write on pay-for-pageview sites. Use YouTube, Anchor podcasting, or a subscription newsletter to generate money to create the lifestyle of your choosing.
But. And this is a huge but. Never forget to build your own stuff, even while playing in someone else’s space. If what you sell on Amazon is someone else’s product, you will eventually have competitors you can’t outwit. If you create something unique, your chances of losing it in a turf war are greatly reduced.
Own your products through copyrights, patents, trademarks, watermarks, and contracts. Own your audience by knowing how to contact them directly. And own your pipeline by always having an alternate plan for selling or renting what you own. For all of that, you need processes.
The processes that allow you to have a messy life
You’ve already been busy building this creative life, riding the waves, sometimes crashing onto shore in an exhausted heap. You probably already have some processes in place, but let’s review the important ones — the ones the piglets from the closet can’t rip to shreds and crap all over.
Organize your work. Whatever it is you create, it must be organized. You need folders — virtual or physical, probably both. You need color coding. And it must be scalable.
What the heck does that mean? It means whatever your system is, it should withstand the test of massive expansion. This system should be capable of containing decades of your work. Here are the basics of what you need:
- A place for ideas
- A place for completed work
- A place for work in progress
- A place for legal documents (like publishing contracts)
How you organize everything within those categories is up to you. I use physical filing for contracts, print clips, sketches, and physical notes. I use One Note as my primary virtual place for ideas and drafts. Any client work that is submitted in the form of a Word document is saved in DropBox. Contacts are saved in spreadsheets (also in DropBox) — whether they are editors, customers, or audience members. These spreadsheets are your most valuable asset other than your creative output.
The point is to build a system that doesn’t let you lose track of things. Organize, alphabetize, move things to folders with appropriate names. Last week when my eyesight sucked and my head ached, I pulled out a very old article I had written, did some minor editing, and submitted it to News Break for an instant increase in my monthly income.
Ideas are what you are selling. Hoard them. As you build an organizational system, you need to put emphasis on your ideas. They will be your products. You are Michelangelo turning a hunk of rock into a work of art. Your ideas are the untouched rock. Ideas must be captured, even the ones you allow to languish untouched for years.
As long as you have access to an ideas list, you will always have work you can produce to earn money. If you don’t have one, start it now. Like right now. Stop reading, bookmark this story, and start brainstorming. What have I said that might trigger a thought or memory for you? Lasso that thought and store it in an organized way.
Always have WIP. Work in progress is the flow that will keep you going on dry days and on interrupted or messy days. Last week as I tried to untangle my eyes and my brain, the one thing I knew I could count on was that I had unfinished drafts I could fall back on. There is no better feeling than to know you have work half-finished. On days when your attention span is scattered, pull out a WIP, give it a good polish, and put it out there to make some money.
I’ve squinted my way through this story in the hope that my eye problem is the catalyst that drives you toward a stronger future as a creative. Following a few simple rules and processes helps you build a stronger financial and creative business — the kind that will allow you to face whatever mess life throws at you.