This question bothers nearly every writer with a regular job and serious ambition. The allure of a life devoted to filling your mind with the world of your characters and living them out on the page for day after endless day of imaginative bliss? It’s appealing. Sure. But is it right for you? Right now?
Let’s think about this.
I’ve written a couple posts for folks who are in the unique position of being the primary caregiver for their children while a spouse makes the money. In this situation it totally makes sense to take the plunge. You have financial stability, you can write, and you save money on childcare. Win/Win/Win.
Most writers, though, are not so lucky. Chained to a cubicle for eight hours a day, they are forced to perform Microsoft Office tricks like a traveling circus monkey. Dreaming of the day when they can be free to write. Because monkeys dream of writing too.
I get that. Believe me I do. But it’s entirely possible that in your ardent desire to get away from situations like this, you’re missing some opportunities too.
Here are some common sense thoughts on your situation:
Nights and Weekends
Some people hold to the heretical notion that they can’t be a full time employee and a writer at the same time. This is totally false. I know a guy who writes while he’s at work. Between turning dials on big expensive machinery. Others write on lunch breaks. Early in the morning. Late at night.
Like anything you are committed to and passionate about, initially, writing fills the margins of life, taking up time when you’re not busy trying to pay the bills. There is no reason you can’t be writing now. Right now. Instead of reading this blog.
Scrape out a few minutes here and there, and you’ll have a manuscript before long. The list of nauseatingly successful writers who cranked out their first few books while plugging away at a 9-5 is pretty impressive. Think about the thousands who’ll do NaNoWriMo this year, most of them aren’t professionals. Yet.
Is staying home to write really nice? Yes. Is it the end-all of your writing pursuits? No. Writing is. So, regardless of your employment situation you should be writing whenever you can.
Developing a schedule that makes space for writing and a job is good training. The whiny/lazy voice in your brain that doesn’t want to rewrite a clunky sentence for the millionth time won’t get lobotomized once you quit your day job. If you haven’t learned to tame it, the pernicious thing will metastasize and kill any creativity it finds wandering around your cranium.
Without a day job your opportunities for distraction will grow, not shrink.
Something You Don’t Realize
What may be difficult to see at the moment, is how much your job is helping your writing. Particularly if you hate your job. Writing is all about your experiences, particularly the emotionally-charged, frustrating, anger-inducing, weeping-while-pounding-the-steering-wheel ones.
Where will you find fodder for an angsty protagonist when you’re home all day with your dog and potted plants? The more stressful/boring/insulting/illegal or confusing your working environment, the more character parts and plot points get stored in your creative inventory for use later on.
Write Right Now
To Summarize Thus Far: Don’t use your job as an excuse to half-ass your writing. Write more. Get better. Regardless of your employment situation.
Do NOT to Quit Your Job if:
1. You’ve never published anything. It’s difficult to get published, and even more difficult to make a living from the things you publish. Don’t put the cart before the horse.
2. You’ve only published a few things. Gotten a few articles in? Good. Have a book deal actually in the works? Better. It’s still not enough to make a living. Authors everywhere will tell you, until you’ve got a solid backlist and an established following, you’re better off earning a paycheck somewhere else.
3. You’re operating off of fictional numbers. This is important. Writers dream up worlds in their minds, and sometimes they apply dream-world logic to reality. Never assume you know what your novel advance will net you, or make plans based on predictions of your own success. The rule of thumb for any working writer is: “Until the check is in the bank, the money doesn’t exist.”
Consider Quitting If:
1. You have a writing habit. As mentioned before, you’ll need that discipline to keep you on track.
2. You have a healthy backlist. A steady income stream and name recognition.
3. You have additional sources of income. A spouse, trust fund, or wealthy dead uncle.
4. You have completed work in the publishing pipeline. These things take time.
This leads to my final point. And it’s probably not what you want to hear.
I would argue that unless someone else is supporting your daily needs, you should not quit your job until your writing income has consistently earned as much as your working income for a year or more. This way, you will have a realistic idea of how much work the writing life requires, how much you can reasonably expect your writing to earn, and how to negotiate the publishing world.
So, until you’ve crossed that magic meridian, keep slogging away. With hours of work, patience, and attention to your craft, your writing will support you soon enough.
Have thoughts on this? Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments. Thanks!