I know two novelists who quit their day jobs to pursue a career in writing. One of them was forced to return to their day job because they weren’t making enough off their books to pay their bills. The other is so stressed out they vowed that after completion of their current contractual agreements, they will never again write under deadline.
Many writers dream about quitting their day job and becoming a career novelist, a freelancer whose sole income is derived from their writing. In our new self-publishing age the rules have changed, allowing for more publishing options, multiple revenue streams, a bigger platform, etc. Success stories abound about self-published authors who do very well for themselves.
However, the stories above remind me that the question When do you quit your day job? is still not to be taken lightly.
Ever since I made a serious commitment to being a writer, the stress in my life has quadrupled. When I was finishing up The Telling (the second book of a two book contract), I was running on fumes. My insomnia had returned. I was experiencing strange new physical problems and eventually ended up on stress medication. But I met my deadline. Which is one reason I am so proud of that book.
Despite the stress of that time, I was never tempted to quit my day job.
Since then, my writing pace has not decreased. In fact, when you combine blogging, networking, and new writing projects, I am probably busier now than I’ve ever been.
But I’m still not tempted to quit my day job.
I’m not sure if this is unique to the Christian writing community, but shortly after my inclusion into it I learned of some unique demographic realities. (How can I say this without sounding weird?) There were a lot of stay-at-home moms and retirees writing Christian fiction. In fact, I was asked to leave one critique group because I wasn’t compensating with enough critiques. I confessed it was feasibly impossible, while working a 40 hour a week job outside the home and trying to write, to match their output. Coincidentally, I was the only guy in the group and the majority were stay-at-home moms and retirees.
Point is, I learned to be skeptical of career advice based on a writer’s background or living situation. I mean, getting advice from some dude who gushes about how much he makes self-publishing… while living in his mother’s basement collecting disability insurance… doesn’t strike me as very smart.
I’ve found that some who are gung-ho about becoming career novelists or freelancers are often those who don’t really have a day job. At least, they’re in a situation that allows for flexibility. Perhaps their spouse has a great job, their kids go to school, they’ve inherited some money, invested wisely, work out of the house, whatever. They’re in a situation where “career writer” means something different than it would for me.
I have a good day job. This isn’t true for every writer, which probably makes the leap more enticing for some. Not me. Forty hours a week, great bennies, close to home. But on the enjoyability meter, writing trumps my day job. Which compounds the stress.
So my mornings are usually a blur, waking early to get a blog post up (like this one), start or finish a project, before throwing a lunch together and blasting out of the house. At work, I doodle when I can. Write during breaks on my tablet. Maybe answer blog comments or emails via my cell phone. Before returning home weary, knowing I haven’t written nearly enough. It’s a maddening affair.
Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to have a career writing. If there was a way to scale back my day job as my writing career takes root, I’d do that. But I can’t. Not with this day job. So at some point I may have to take that leap of faith and leave my day job.
But here’s the thing: It is so much less stress NOT having my livelihood tied to my writing. I know this from talking to writers who do. They are constantly working toward their next deadline. And because their last book didn’t do well, they’re forced to write something they don’t necessarily enjoy just to make ends meet. Keeping my day job AND writing is rough. But it lets me write what I want, not fret (too much) about poor sales or bad reviews, and still have financial stability. Which affords my artistic freedom. When your livelihood is tied to your writing it seems inevitable that you must
- Write to market, and
- Crank out novels.
Neither of which excites me.
Maybe all I’m saying is that, if you’re serious about being a career writer, it seems you have only two real options: Quit your day job and stress, or Keep your day job and stress. Unless, of course, you’re in that other category of writer whose situation does not demand financial certainty, regular hours, juggling multiple obligations, or worrying about health benefits and life insurance. In which case I’d prefer that you refrain from giving me career advice.
So go ahead, call me a non risk-taker. But do you really want to quit your day job?