Painting With Words
Sometimes one needs to walk away from stability to follow a dream. Usually it’s not easy.
I was a house painting contractor in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada. Painting houses was something I stumbled into after college while looking for work and helping my “ski buddies” with their jobs. Afterwards the phone kept ringing with more work, so much that I eventually got a contractor’s license. For twenty years painting was my main source of income, and while it wasn’t glamorous it did have a lot of perks. I set my own hours, hired friends to help and worked in beautiful Tahoe settings often on multi-million dollar properties. My body stayed fit with the physicality, and my mind enjoyed the low stress focus of simple painting tasks. The money was surprisingly lucrative, as most of the clients were wealthy second home owners from the San Francisco area who happily paid top dollar for quality work. The clientele was steady; not once did I advertise. I even took days off to ski when the snow was good or when I just didn’t feel like working. In many ways, it was an ideal career.
But it wasn’t my dream. As a kid my imagination had always been active; I believed telling the stories inside my head was my destiny. I thought if I could just figure how to get those ideas out there—everything would fall into place. Over the years as I worked at the top of ladders, my mind wandered to characters and scenes that were aching to be expressed. Time passed with me enjoying the Tahoe lifestyle and my mind asking nagging questions. What if I never pursued my dream? What if nobody ever sees these stories like I see them? What can I do about it?
In 2005 I decided to take a winter off from painting and work at my computer in an effort to write a novel. It immediately felt like a lofty goal since I didn’t consider myself a writer. In fact, I wasn’t even an active reader, not having read many books beyond the required lists for school and college.
Winter turned to spring and spring to summer. My novel made progress but the story was complex, revealing itself like an onion shedding layers. The phone often rang with painting jobs. Some of the smaller ones I took for extra money, but more and more I began turning them down and living on savings.
One year of writing become two, then three and four. I drove myself crazy editing and re-editing, feeling like I had read and perfected the same book one hundred times while I queried agents and publishers, all who passed on my story. I also exhausted the money in savings, but I believed in my dream enough to take a second mortgage out on my house and live on credit. Not easy to do with a wife who wasn’t earning much and two teenage daughters to support. Soon the mortgages, monthly bills and living expenses drove me deeply in debt.
In 2009 I had a finished novel, one that made me proud. Self-publishing had made recent strides, and in desperation to avoid more rejection letters I published on Kindle and everywhere possible. A few sales came in followed by glowing reviews. I was convinced my dream would pan out and began writing what I believed was a great sequel novel.
I spent the next year working on the sequel and marketing my novel with bad ideas that drove me further in debt. My painting clients had mostly dried up, but a few jobs trickled in to provide needed cash. A decision had to be made. My options were clear: return to painting for a few years or put all my energy into writing and marketing books. Despite the needs of a family and a large debt already in place, I chose the latter.
I did everything I could find to promote my books, especially things that were online and free. It was difficult since there were so many things to learn, and I hadn’t been active on the internet. Little did I know how important blogging and social media would become. That first year felt like a non-stop effort of catching-up with online wisdom.
In 2010 I decided to spend one last small fortune on a writing conference. It was in San Francisco, held shortly after publishing my second novel. At the conference I had conversations with other writers about what we were doing for our books. Predominantly, the other writers were stuck sending query letters and getting rejected. When people asked me, I’d say, “I’m selling on Amazon and other retailers plus my own websites. I’m blogging and active with social media. I’m submitting articles, press releases, doing radio shows and interviews.” Then I mentioned everything was free and the authors would start taking notes, saying that my information was more valuable than the classes at the conference. The proverbial light-bulb went off over my head. I knew the next book would be a how-to guide for self-publishing using free online methods.
I went home invigorated. The how-to book seemed to write itself, transforming from concept to paid sales in just one month. To date, that book has sold well over ten thousand copies and ingrained me in self-publishing circles as an indie author expert.
Where am I now? Still trying to sell my novels and write more. And they better sell because I can’t go back to old ways. I sold our Tahoe house to escape debt. We’ve moved to a new area. My painting clientele is gone. My friends who can paint with me are gone. It would take years to begin anew as a contractor down here, like starting over.
This tale hasn’t ended, but the bridges I’ve crossed have been burned. My dream of a writing career is going to work, or I will die trying.
Jason Matthews Bio: Jason Matthews lives in Pismo Beach, California with his wife and daughters. He’s worked as a snow-maker, a house painting contractor and a full-time writer. He loves skiing, dogs and playing/coaching soccer. His novels include: The Little Universe,
His guides include: How to Make, Market And Sell Ebooks All for Free,
Jason’s Website: http://www.thelittleuniverse.c
You can follow Jason on Twitter: @Jason_Matthews
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Jason
Sonia Marsh Says: Jason you took a major risk and followed your passion to write. I admire your courage, especially as you have a family to take care of, and decided to “walk away” from your lucrative paint contractor business. Your hard work and perseverance is paying off, and you give so many hope that they too can find their “niche,” as long as they are determined.
“I did everything I could find to promote my books, especially things that were online and free. It was difficult since there were so many things to learn, and I hadn’t been active on the internet.”
During MAY, I shall be in Copenhagen, Paris, Orleans, and a brief stop in London. My father turns 88, and Kathy Pooler, and other memoir writers have made me realize that I want to ask him questions about my life as a child in Nigeria, as well as his life in a camp outside Paris, as a 15-year-old boy during WWII.
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