Courtney M. McSwain, Writer

Leah Lakins On…Money & Creativity

Leah Lakins Head Shot

I’m excited to debut a new Q&A series, “Artists & Changemakers On…,” where artists, creative entrepreneurs and social change agents share their thoughts on each month’s blog theme. Today I’m thrilled to have independent editor and writer Leah Lakins share her thoughts on money and creativity.

In January of this year, Leah Lakins fulfilled her 14-year dream of living in New York as an editor when she launched her own business, Fresh Eyes Editorial. Just nine months into business, she’s accruing some pretty major credits, including editing the expanded edition of “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” (Amistad, 2014) and “Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success” (Amistad, 2014). The Baltimore native turned Brooklyn dweller admits her early success sometimes has her doing a double take. But, she rightly reminds herself of the years spent in the editorial business that prepared her for this moment to shine on her own.

Knowing Leah personally, I was thrilled to see her take the leap into creative entrepreneurship, and I wondered how her relationship with money was impacting her first year as a freelancer. In an email Q&A, I asked Leah to share her thoughts on money and creativity. Here’s what she had to say.

As a creative person, do you find it easy or difficult to think about money?

One of the most powerful recent lessons I have learned in relation to thinking about money is during a recent episode of “Iyanla, Fix My Life” featuring former NFL player Terrell Owens. At the beginning of the episode, Owens is explaining to Iyanla that his finances are off track because his NFL career is over. Iyanla says to him, “If we are just talking about money then we don’t have any issues. M.O.N.E.Y. stands for My Own Natural Energy Yields.”

Iyanla was emphasizing to him that his finances weren’t off track because he was unemployed. He was out of order because he hadn’t taken the time to do the spiritual and mental work necessary to ensure his financial success. That revelation hit me like a bolt of lightening. Ultimately, the influx of money in my life is not just the checks that land in my mailbox or the funds in my PayPal account, but it’s the spiritual energy that I put forth into the world. Do I believe I am worthy of the fees that I am charging my clients? Am I willing to learn about how to appropriately mange my business processes so that there is ease and balance in my finances? Am I honoring my financial bounty with gratitude, charity and responsibility?

When I am willing to do the necessary spiritual work to honor my finances, the actual dollars and cents are easy. Acknowledging my creator, whom I call God, for my creative gift, believing in the worth and value of my creative gift, and recognizing and confidently requesting the monetary value for my creative gift is the hard, ongoing work of this new season of my life.

What has been the most challenging part of balancing your creative dreams with monetary needs?

I hung out my virtual shingle for my business on January 6th, I moved to Brooklyn on January 8th, and I had four new clients, the most significant one being HarperCollins Publishers, by January 31st. I was excited yet terrified. I began to ask God, “Why was all of this good fortune coming to me?” I thought New York was about scraping and hustling to survive, and here I was with not only the ability to survive, but thrive, save, and fund my new Broadway habit.

There were quite a few mornings where I woke up surprised that I was still in New York and saying, “C’mon God, really, whose life is this? Am I secretly on an extended episode of ‘Punk’d’?” My way out of fear was to stop asking “Why me?” and boldly declare “Why NOT me?” Hadn’t I done all the hard work — from being an editorial assistant to now owner and editor-in-chief — to learn all the lessons of becoming a great editor and writer and to earn a decent wage doing so? Indeed I had! So instead of wallowing in fear, why not stand in my worthiness as a creative being, celebrate the value of my creative gift and accept the financial abundance that my Creator was sending into my life?

One of the sweetest financial moments I had this year was sitting in the lobby of my bank with my advance check for my work on the expanded edition of Steve Harvey’s “Act Like a Woman, Think Like a Man.”

This was the largest check I had ever received in my life thus far, and I took quite a few moments to look at the check and to soak it all in. I was pausing for such a long time that finally one of the tellers asked me, “Baby, are you OK?” I told her that I was just fine. I just needed more time to really appreciate this blessing.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned about dealing with money in your creative business?

Always, always, always (and did I mention always?) ensure that you have a contract that specifically details the agreed upon fee, the terms for payment and the timetable for receiving payment. Working under unknown and unclear terms about your financial compensation actually takes away from your ability to work at your highest capacity. I know that I don’t work as efficiently when I’m worried about my rent, gas and light bills instead of the creative work at hand.

Do you have conversations with other creative people about money? What are some of the best lessons you’ve taken away from those conversations?

I must have conversations with other creative people about money — otherwise, I’ll go insane. One of my closest friends stages houses (i.e., she’s one of the cool people who makes your house look gorgeous before you put it on the market), and she and I just had a great conversation recently about business matters. The biggest lesson that I’ve taken away from those conversations is to simply ask about everything. Most creative people I know aren’t naturals when it comes to handling business affairs and managing finances. So don’t fake the funk and act like you know something when you don’t. Ask until you get the answers you need so you can be creative and earn a living.

What’s the dream for Leah Lakins?

My biggest dream is to train the next generation of content creators. Specifically I would love to train more content creators of color. I remember sitting in the lobby of a very prestigious publishing house recently and literally counting on one hand how many editors of color that I saw. There were very few. Why don’t young people of color know that the publishing industry can be a viable career path for them? I think one of the issues is that my generation isn’t going back and telling them what is possible. Therefore, it’s my goal to start mentoring these young people and sharing my career path with them. Ultimately, I would love to teach at my alma matter, Morgan State University, and show students the fine art of creating great content that can be published anywhere from a traditional book to a blog to a website.

My second biggest dream is to produce volumes of inspirational essays. One of my short-term goals is to take the best essays from my inspirational blog, SoulFlakes, and turn them into my first book of essays. I would love to follow in the footsteps of great essayists such as the late, great Maya Angelou, the hilarious former columnist for O Magazine, Lisa Kogan, and my newest favorite Brooklyn-based blogger, Demetria Lucas, who writes the blog “A Belle in Brooklyn.”

Thanks Leah for sharing your story! Connect with Leah and Fresh Eyes Editorial on Facebook and LinkedIn. Also, be sure and follow Leah’s adventures on her blog SoulFlakes.


  1. Peace. It’s good to hear from Leah on money and some of her successes. She’s has a great spirit!

    Leah, what’s your suggestion to those who are still vying to get the contracts? Also, are you managing your business’ finances or have you hired a specialist/professional? I’m glad you mentioned the spiritual and mental component of money/wealth and I see too many relying on that solely and managing their own money, when their efforts could be better used being ‘creative’ or otherwise. Plus, many just aren’t capable. Thoughts?

  2. T. Calhoun Jr. says:

    This is dope concept Courtney! I saw your FB post confessing your struggle. It made me think about my own story and lifelong pursuit of myself and my God-sanctioned wealth. Self-esteem, self-confidence and self-love are the most valuable assets on the path to wealth creation. Also, an understanding of what money is and its purpose. Any time the purpose of a thing is unknown, abuse is inevitable. Ultimately, the abundant life God promised is connected to our understanding of our own purpose and the purpose of the money we receive for operating in the excellence thereof.

    • Courtney M. McSwain says:

      Thanks for reading and reminding us of the importance of understanding our purpose for money–and that it’s different for all of us. Cheers!

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