Talking about money is the wooooooooooorst. Even as freelance writer who must measure absolutely everything I do by how much it pays if I want to eat every day and sleep inside, it kills me to broach the subject of pay. I’m not alone on this. For whatever reason, most Americans not only don’t talk about their finances, they’d prefer to discuss politics, religion or death over money. Multiply that Americanism by being Midwestern, and talking about payment with publishers is practically paralyzing for me.
My professional money talk anxiety began decade ago (a decade ago!), when I wrote a weekly bar review column for a local paper in Lansing. Every week, I went to a bar, wrote my little thingy, and I’d get a $60 check in the mail. One week, it didn’t come. I decided to wait and see if it was late. When my next check came on schedule, followed by the next — with no mention of the missing funds — I panicked. I was 22, living paycheck to paycheck. I really needed that $60. How could I ask for it? What if they just thought that bar review was super bad and decided not to pay me for it? What if the error was on my end and now it was too late to fix? What if my editor thought I was stingy for making a thing over $60 and then hated me and stopped giving me work and my dream of writing for a living was dashed? Over $60?!
After allowing anxiety to nearly dissolve all of my internal organs, my need to pay some bills prompted me to swallow whatever the hell my deal was and email my editor. She, of course, being not only a human but a delightful and kind one, checked into it, found an error had been made and sent the check along. She also, probably in response to the number of “I’m sorries” and “not a big deal, buts” in my email, wrote something that I still have to repeat to myself today: “Natalie, this is a job and you do good work that you deserve to be paid for. Never hesitate to ask about money. It’s just part of the job.”
Why is it so haaaaaaaard though? I suspect it’s most difficult to talk about money for those of us who do jobs that we love, or are supposed to be doing for the greater good: writers, musicians, teachers, social workers, non-profit people, government employees, etc. We’re supposed to feel the work is its own reward, or at least that people’s appreciation for it is. Or, in the case of many freelancers, that getting paid anything at all to work in yoga pants at one’s own leisure, especially when so many people (for some reason) are willing to write/design for free, should make us feel lucky enough.
Even just a few weeks ago, I struggled with this. I wrote a story for a major publisher at an agreed rate. At the suggestion of an editor, I added an additional interview, which should have increased the rate. But no one said anything about it. So there I was, writing for a nationally-recognized publisher at 32, struggling with the same anxiety I had back in my bar review days. I almost let it go. But then I remembered the wise words of my original editor, swallowed my anxiety/pride/whatever and asked about the discrepancy. They happily paid me the difference.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no magic wand for money talk anxiety. I guess I’ll always have it. But recognizing that and then talking about it anyway (politely, of course. Let’s not get too un-Midwestern), is the simple solution. Because, as I should have learned a decade ago, it’s just part of the job.