Even Writers Need a Will

Last week, we lost another giant in the world. This year has been a rough one for creative types. We’re coming to an age where we will start to lose our living idols, and though that’s a tough pill to swallow, we need to learn from it as well.

The news broke this week that Prince, while an incredibly smart and savvy businessman, died without a will. I am actually quite shocked by this. Prince was known as a man, despite his super-stardom, who handled most of his business transactions himself. Even scheduling tours and shows and the rare interview. He did so much for himself instead of having an entourage of people doing it for him. But he didn’t have a will to protect his work in death.

This was a man who refused to allow his work to be included online, except for some streaming. He took on YouTube himself. He did it himself. So how could he not have a will to protect his interests in death?

It’s not a question anyone can answer because it seems so out of character. I’m really hoping it turns out that they haven’t gotten into the secret vault at Paisley Park yet and when they finally do, they’ll find a glittering golden scroll, sealed under glass near the master recordings. I hope when they unroll it, there will be a detailed account of what he wanted, all signed in glittering purple ink.

I hope.

But that brings me to today’s topic. Wills for creative people, especially writers.

It seems strange to have a will when you’re relatively young, I know. Or if you don’t have children. I actually don’t have a will yet, but I’m going to rectify that. I’ve thought about this before, but like so many mundane things, it slipped my mind.

I am not a New York Times Best Seller. I am not a famous writer with millions of dollars in royalties piling up in the corners of my home. I don’t have a movie deal in the works. But I do have titles I want to protect.

I have had moderate success as an author, more than some, less than others. But I do have a catalog of titles, 16 published so far, more working on my computer, and a handful of short stories. I want the control of those to go to my husband, should I pass before him (*knock on wood*). If there is more success from my titles, I want my husband to profit from them. It seems obvious, but you never want to leave it up to fate. So I’m going to make sure to take care of it.

The renowned author, Neil Gaiman, is an incredibly helpful person and he’s taken steps to help writers with this very problem. If you don’t have a lawyer, or can’t afford to go to one, Mr. Gaiman has reached out to a lawyer-author-friend of his for help for the rest of us. He wrote up the post here. His lawyer-author-friend, Les Klinger, drafted up a simple form that works as a will for authors in the US.

Here is Mr. Klinger’s advice:

1) Recopy the document ENTIRELY by hand, date it, and sign it at the end. No witnesses required.

2) Type the document, date it, sign it IN FRONT OF at least two witnesses, who are not family or named in the Will, and have each witness sign IN FRONT OF YOU and the other witnesses. Better yet, go to a lawyer with this form and discuss your choices!

Having said that, the first option, a “holographic will” isn’t valid everywhere — according to Wikipedia, In the United States, unwitnessed holographic wills are valid in around 30 out of the 50 states. Jurisdictions that do not themselves recognize such holographic wills may nonetheless accept them under a “foreign wills act” if it was drafted in another jurisdiction in which it would be valid. In the United Kingdom, unwitnessed holographic wills are valid in Scotland, but not in England and Wales.

So the second option is by far the wisest.”

Here is a link to the PDF, I hope you, like me, check it out and take this seriously. Writing takes up so much of our lives, it means everything to us, take care of it in death. After all, which temps death more: preparing for it, or ignoring it?


The Creative Mom: Not a Mythical Creature


This is quite possibly one of my most favorite comics by The Oatmeal. He’s hilarious and I love pretty much all his work, but that particular series is something to which I can completely relate (click the link and read the whole thing–so worth it!).

Recently, my little corner of the interwebz has been all a-twitter with writers talking about creativity and the challenges that come with it. For instance, Sue Kay Quinn did a blog series about the trials that come with a creative career and our very own Kristin McFarland recently posted about how it’s okay for writers to take a break.

I wanted to put in my $.02 about the whole thing—from the point-of-view of not just a writer, but also from that of a mom. Moms have some pretty big challenges, even in the twenty-first century, when they try to balance a career with the needs of their kids. A creative career is an especially challenging thing because there is no start or stop time. There is no definitive beginning and end. There’s no line in the sand. There is only an internal voice that speaks to you, and it’s entirely up to you whether that internal voice is a gentle soul or a beast with venom-dripping fangs.

For the longest time, I didn’t get this concept. I thought I had to race toward that distant horizon, the ultimate prize. The horizon changed all the time, of course. At first the horizon was just “published author.” Then it changed to “published novelist.” Then it changed again to “published novelist with more than one novel under her belt.” And so on and so forth. I kept racing, kept working harder and harder, until I realized that I wasn’t being productive at all. I still enjoyed writing but when I wasn’t writing—when I spent time with family or painting or decorating the house—I felt this immense sense of guilt that I wasn’t doing enough to further my career.

And I realized that was bullshit.

There’s no reason creative people—who frequently work for themselves—should ever feel guilty for taking the time to recharge their batteries. Speaking for myself, having a variety of life experiences to pull from only makes me a more productive, focused writer.

Taking a break is easier said than done, though, I know. I recently lost my babysitter. She used to come every weekday for three hours in the mid-morning, which is my prime writing time. I tried a variety of things to get that precious three hours a day in after she was gone: getting my kids to amuse themselves, writing with them around, writing in brief spurts while they played. What invariably happened was that I got interrupted. And when I get interrupted while I’m writing, I morph into a demon, the likes of which aren’t talked about in polite society.

So after a couple of weeks of this, I decided that, no matter what, I wouldn’t feel guilty about not working during the weekday. My new goal—a much more doable one, in my opinion—was to get ten thousand words written on the weekend when I was actively working on a novel. Anything else would be a bonus.

This new goal has helped me immensely.  I think mothers are a uniquely guilty creature anyway: we feel guilt when we don’t spend time with our kids (we’re awful moms; they’ll forget what we look like in the hour we took to chat online), and we feel guilt when we spend too much time with them (are we making them little narcissists? Oh no, we’re neglecting our careers!). I had to tell myself to stop it.

With my new, saner schedule, I take the weekdays to do all the things my kids and I love to do together—get a milkshake, run errands, go shopping—and the weekends to work. It’s a set schedule, and my husband, being the incredibly supportive guy he is, takes the kids to go do stuff with them when I’m working on Saturdays and Sundays.

I had to repress the guilt I felt about this because society says moms should be the primary caretakers, right? But I have a career, too. I’m a mom, but I’m not just a mom. And my husband’s a businessman, but he’s not just a businessman—he’s also a father, a role in which he takes great pride and joy. So, everyone was happy once I let it go. See?

If I’m making it sound easy, that’s not my intention at all. It is a hard choice, and one each and every person should make for themselves. Even having made this choice, I still feel guilt about my husband doing childcare on the weekends, about not seeing my kids that much on Saturdays and Sundays, and about closeting myself in the office to write. But then I tell that annoying, beastly internal voice to STFU and carry on. Because at the end of the day, how I feel about my creativity is my choice. And I choose to feel empowered.

What about you? Do you balance writing or another creative pursuit with family? How do you do it?