I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot lately. Have you read the stories about the authors who had Eureka moments, ditched the day job, wrote a book and became a bestseller in the space of a year, without ever seeming to break a sweat about being able to buy a loaf of bread? I have. E. Lynn Harris. Tyler Perry. Zane. Emily Griffin. They all threw in the towel on the 9-to-5 at some point, and went on to become bestsellers in short order. Well, that’s what the book blurb seems to be saying, right?
Well, not really. If you look a little more closely, you’ll discover that most of them went through their own personal periods of financial wilderness pre-bestseller. It tended to happen shortly after the point that they surrendered the emotionally draining day-job they didn’t enjoy, and went after the writing dream – full-time. A few euphoric months later, when six months of savings has proven more fleeting than an ice-cube in hell, some of us have wondered whether telling the good job to go f*** itself, was well and truly worth it.
It’s a fact of life that writers tend to have to sustain themselves while they write. I have tried the unplanned ‘ditch-it-all-and-try-to-live-by-your-pen’ approach after the Eureka moment. Alas, several mind-numbing part-time jobs in retail later, all I wanted was a decent salary, never mind a decent manuscript! I could hardly concentrate on my writing, because I was so busy trying to figure out how to sustain myself and my family.
So I backed up, and went back to the high-flying career. Got money. Had no time to write. Was miserable.
And then I ditched the day job again.
Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
I’m still in the pre-bestseller period of my writing life (just barely!) but I thought I’d share with you guys my few tips for finding a soft place to land when you’ve had it up to here with the day-job:
1. PLAN! PLAN! PLAN SOME MORE! I had to put that part in caps, guys. Give planning your transition to a full-time writing career at least as much time as you gave planning the one you’re in now. Accept that the process might take years. If you’re a college grad., I’ll wager that you looked at a number of colleges, did your research about costs and funding, completed your programme, applied for jobs and figured out how you’d live until you got one. Why do you think that transitioning to a writing career can happen on a wing and a prayer?
2. Face Your Finances: If you want to leave a steady income to pursue a dream that may take a while to pay you, you’ll need to be realistic about how you’re going to live until you can earn a living from your writing. Cut back on your spending and double up on your saving until you’re sure that you can live without a salary for at least a year before you make the move. Do you have a mortgage or family requiring a significant financial outlay each month? How will you handle that? Can you move back in with your parents for a year? Use one car instead of two? Take the bus or bike it instead of the train? Anything that is going to help you to cut back on expenditure and save money is worth considering. If you’re neck-deep in debt, this may not be the time to make the jump.
3. Face Your Family: You’d think that trying to save to give yourself a financial cushion while you try to make it would be the hardest thing about the process, right? Don’t believe the hype – facing your family is the real biggie. You’ll need to let the Mom/Dad/Husband/Wife and the generous Grandma who sent you money every month while you finished med.school/grad.school/college know that …… you’re not feeling it anymore. Yes, you really want to ‘throw away’ tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars worth of education to …… write stories ….. about people who don’t really exist ….. that might never see the light of day, far less become bestsellers. And, on top of everything else, you want them to like it! Lol! But facing your family helps with another really big challenge about this process, the one where you ….
4. Face Yourself: Do you really want to dedicate the rest of your professional life (or even the next year) to a (mostly) solitary existence writing a book/books that no-one may ever really want to read? Are you prepared to put in the hard work? To surrender the high regard of your (current) professional colleagues? To live on peanut butter and pizza for the sake of working on your craft? Be realistic. Not everyone can answer ‘yes’ to these questions. If you’re happy to write a poem per year in a few stolen moments each day and the thought of taking public transportation makes you suffer panic attacks, accept that quitting the day job may not be for you. Not now. Maybe not ever. Ask yourself whether you can honestly say that the inner turmoil from not pursuing your calling full-time is more uncomfortable …. than the creature comforts you currently enjoy are comfortable. And then decide whether you should…
5. Try Before You Buy: Take a writing class, visit a writers’ colony or attend a number of readings in your area for your next vacation or while you hold down the day-job. Or consider taking a (paid/unpaid or part-paid) sabbatical from your job (if your employer offers this) and going off to study writing for a year so you can work on your craft in a supportive community and still have the option of going back to paid employment when you’re done. Or sign up for an apprenticeship with a publishing house/literary agency/new media magazine/other magazine during your sabbatical. The point is, open yourself up to new opportunities in the field you love while you transition, don’t be inflexible. Not every writer will make the bestsellers’ list, but a hell of a lot of them go on to wonderful careers as acclaimed creative writing lecturers, literary agents or editors! If nothing else, you’ll learn about the writing world from different perspectives, and that can only enrich your writing experience. Above all …..
6. Protect Your Muse: Remember that the ultimate aim and intention is the writing itself. Don’t sacrifice your muse under the guise of giving it all of your attention. In other words, don’t throw the day-job to the wind, thinking you’ll be giving your writing the time and attention it deserves, and then find yourself devoid of inspiration or unable to write because of money problems or anxiety. It’s hard to write when you’re homeless.
Are you ready to take the plunge?