A few years ago I wrote a post about the formal writer residency process and posed the idea: Why not make your own residency? Today’s guest contributor has done just that. This year she took an approximately 3-month-long residency of her own creation. In the post below former financial planner Kaci Yoh shares her budgeting tips, plus places to locate an ideal space for your DIY writing retreat.
Create Your Own Writer’s Residency
By Kaci Yoh
In March, I watched a raven barrel roll through the endless sandstone of Moab, Utah. When the pink light of dawn acquiesced to the sun’s desire to be full and bright, I went back to my rental and wrote a poem about it. My income last year was $28,000, and this spring I created and funded a 12-week writer’s residency. During this residency, I doubled my writing income and broke into new markets.
Until 2009, I was a financial planner. Since then, I’ve traveled around the world on a daily budget of $30. Over the years, I’ve refined my wanderings to include elements I deem necessary to fund and secure a residency.
As a freelancer, budgeting can be tricky. Pay comes in at different times, making each month different. In order to fund any dream, you must first understand your cost of daily living. Help Save My Dollars has a spreadsheet to help you get started. In addition, keep pen and paper with you at all times for 30 days to write down your expenses. Review the expenses in your notebook once a week and update your spreadsheet with expense categories that were missed on the template. As you review, look for items you can cut. When you need a breather from the home office, do you go to a coffee shop? Try the library. There are less distractions and it’s free. While you’re there, check out books and magazines that you would normally purchase. If you save $5 per day, you’ll have $150 in 30 days. With careful planning, you can create a 3-day residency. Once you have your expenses down, add a 10% catch-all to cover unforeseen items. For example, if you need $2,000 per month to maintain your life, change that number to $2,200 to give yourself some wiggle room.
To allocate money, I use a modified version of T Harv Eker’s JARS system described in “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind.” I divide my income in a 30/30/10/10/10/10 ratio. As a freelancer, 30% of everything I make goes into a tax account. With my income level and expenses, I usually need around 10%, but I put in 30%. If my income is ever shy in a month, I take from this account. This is one strategy the keeps me feeling financially secure. It’s also like giving myself an annual bonus to pay for a car repair, fund a residency, or save for retirement. After reviewing my expenses for the last several years, I run a pretty tight ship. Thirty percent of my earnings is more than enough to cover my monthly bills and the occasional night out with a friend. The remaining 40% is divided in 10% increments between education, travel, retirement, and long-term savings. Long-term savings includes anything over $100 that doesn’t fit into the other categories like buying a car or LASIK eye surgery.
Email newsletters like “Funds for Writers” by C. Hope Clark list residency opportunities. Start reviewing and applying for these residencies, which typically offer free or discounted room and board, or go guerilla and create your own. Who has a timeshare, vacation rental, or housesitting opportunity you can take advantage of? What do you need to write? If it is just Internet and your laptop, start asking around to see if you can housesit for someone nearby. If you need more luxurious surroundings or just to get the hell out of Dodge, carefully check out Craigslist, Airbnb, Trusted House Sitters, House Sitters America, and Mind My House for opportunities outside of your network. Armed with your monthly expense sheet, you know exactly how much money you will need for the time you take off.
As writers, we live creative lives. As freelancers, our work is never handed to us. Creating and securing your own residency will be the same way. Construct a timeline. Make a goal and achieve it.
Kaci Yoh has written for Yes! Magazine, Whole Life Times, Yoga International, Hanuman Yoga Festival, Recovering Yogi, Poesy Magazine, and prAna. She has a B.S. in Psychology and is a registered 200-RYT. When away from her desk, she can be found practicing yoga, trail running, swimming, or somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.