Before Monday, I'll pull out my checkbook and write a couple of hefty checks for quarterly taxes. Those of you who work for others most likely have money taken out of your paycheck for taxes, but the self-employed have to shell out a percentage of our income four times a year. I'm not complaining: I know that my taxes pay for schools, arts organizations and libraries, where I do lots of work, and taxes pay for roads so I can get to those venues. I remind myself that if I'm paying taxes, it means that I made money. Still, in lean times, writing the checks can make me pause.
Often when I tell people what I do, they ask if I get paid for it. Yes, I do. I've been making my living as a storyteller since 1993, with a few temp jobs here and there in the early years. In those early years, I had trouble stating my fees. I'd stammer and stutter, and offer to work for less than what I needed.
In about 1995, I found a very helpful book, Earn what you deserve: how to stop underearning and start thriving, by Jerrold Mundis.
At that point, I still thought artists had to be starving and possibly living in a garret (I was in a one-bedroom apartment in a building that looked like a motel). I came to realize that this isn't true. The book helped me be a thriving artist, not a starving artist (I now own a house that suits me perfectly).
In reading Earn what you deserve, I came to understand why I had a poverty mindset and how to change it. One great benefit was that I learned to state my fees more confidently. I remembered, though I didn't say it out loud, that I pay my own health insurance, taxes, and overhead, that I've been a storyteller for many years and have a wealth of experience, and that my fees are reasonable. Okay, sometimes I said those things out loud, but I learned not to whine as I did so.
Does this mean I always charge for storytelling? No. I do pro bono or reduced-fee work if I have the time, believe in the cause and haven't hit my quarterly quota of this kind of gig. Sometimes I volunteer my services without being asked. I find that if I do this with a willing heart, the gig tends to go well. If I do it with any resentment, it often happens that I feel underappreciated and drained at the end. One of the biggest lessons I learned from the book is "resentment blocks flow." That's a useful lesson in any arena.