In January 2001, I took the plunge and decided to focus full-time on a freelance career. At the time, I felt guilty knowing I could live comfortably on my husband’s income while I got my freelance business off the ground. Eventually, though, I realized my peace of mind depended on trying to freelance, even if my basic survival didn’t. My story appeared as a Writersweekly.com’s “Success Story” in August 2001.
Slowly but surely I built a small, loyal base of clients that offered regular work, and when my husband got a job in Oregon—2,500 miles from our home in Pennsylvania—I had the flexibility to take my work with me. In Oregon, I continued to freelance, and my success gave me the courage to apply to a graduate program in writing at a local university.
While I waited for a response from the university and continued to freelance, my husband made a terrible and unexpected announcement: after seven and a half years of marriage, he wanted a divorce. Uprooted from the only adult life I’d known (we had married when I was 20), I moved out and bounced around for the rest of the year—three months in Portland; three months in San Diego; a week with friends in Sunnyvale and San Francisco; a month with family and friends in Pennsylvania; a week in Montana; and eventually back to Portland again—as I adjusted to my new circumstances.
When I had started freelancing, my basic survival had not depended on my success. Now for the first time, it did. And I did. Survive, I mean. Four years have passed since I started freelancing and more than a year has passed since my divorce. It’s September 2004 and I’m entering my second year in the graduate program in literary nonfiction. I’m looking forward to starting my thesis research soon, which I hope will result in a published book. Meanwhile, I still pitch stories to publications and accept the occasional freelance project.
If you’re like me, writing isn’t just what you do. It’s who you are. But in the beginning, I felt guilty because I was striving for something I believed I didn’t deserve. I felt something was wrong with me because I got restless in every 9-to-5 job I’d ever worked. And I felt like I needed someone’s permission to go for it. So if you feel like you need someone’s permission, here it is: Go for it! Stop holding yourself back. Stop worrying about what people will think (and say). And stop feeling guilty.
Dawn Stanton lives in Portland, Oregon and is pursuing a master’s degree in literary nonfiction. Her articles have appeared in The Oregonian, Pittsburgh City Paper and Pittsburgh Business Times, among others. She can be reached at dastant6 (at) aol.com.