R-O-I for Writers

It’s impossible to spend one’s career in the corporate world and not absorb some of its key lessons. In business, all major decisions and activities are based on ROI (Return on Investment): essentially this means that whatever you put into something, you need to get as much, or more, out of. The goal is to get the biggest return over time with the least investment. All competing priorities are measured and ranked accordingly.

ROIIt’s a principle that guides most of our lives even if we don’t realize it—for us worker bees, our salary is generally the return for the investment of our time. If our return is not enough (or we don’t have satisfaction with the job or elsewhere), we start to get angry, dissatisfied and resentful. The same holds true for other aspects of our lives.

A “return” doesn’t have to be monetary. It’s any benefit. It can be emotional (gratification, happiness, relaxation) or some other benefit like security or stability or even learning a new skill.

It may sound awfully cold-hearted and selfish, but ROI is something I consider in almost everything I do, be it writing, my IT career, or even my relationships. I feel that life is too short to waste time on something that is not going to make me happy, especially when there are so many other things out there that could bring greater enjoyment. Isn’t your time important? It should be.

Sometimes we make an investment (in a person, a career) in the hopes of achieving a good return, only to realize later we may have overestimated it. Things don’t work out the way we planned. This is especially true for writers who tend to dream big. But it takes time to grow your investment, you may say. Of course it does. And your ROI will fluctuate over time too. But a good investor keeps an eye on it and is constantly evaluating, or else you run the risk of it all blowing up in your face. Let’s face it, for most of us indie writers, royalties are not a sufficient return for the amount of time we invest in writing—if you were to only look at the monetary reward, most of us would be operating at a loss. There has to be something else you get out of it. There is no harm in reassessing your ROI when things aren’t working out. Businesses do this all the time and either pull the plug or scale back on projects that aren’t achieving. It doesn’t mean failure. It doesn’t mean you quit. It only means that you didn’t achieve the expected return and respond accordingly. It’s all about balance.

When I first started writing seriously, it was a creative outlet more than anything. It gave me the sense of self-satisfaction and escapism (my return) that I wasn’t getting in my day job, so I didn’t mind sacrificing my evenings and weekends (my investment) to sit at the keyboard for little to no money.

Lately I’ve had a hard time creatively, and it took me a while to figure out it was because my personal ROI had gotten out of balance. I’m investing far more (time, stress, energy, pressure) than I should be in writing right now and my return (enjoyment) is diminishing. It’s time to adjust. Maybe that means taking more breaks to recharge, or taking a couple of nights a week off from writing just to veg or try a new hobby. The important thing is to find the right balance to maximize my return again.

If you’re suffering from burnout, here are some things to consider when evaluating your own personal ROI:

  • What types of things do you feel like you are putting in to your career right now?
  • What types of things do you feel like you are getting out of your career right now?
  • When you write all of those things down side by side, how does it look? Do the inputs outweigh the outputs? If so, what needs to change to balance them out?
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