Have you ever thought about quitting your job and becoming a full-time writer? It’s what many aspiring and newly published writers dream of doing, isn’t it? I know I did, but having gone from a salaried job, to full-time writer, and back to working again, my advice is to keep working at a non-writing related job either full or part-time. Here’s why:
Writers Need to be Connected to Real People
Not long before my first novel was released, I left my job and became a full-time writer. I had finally realized my dream, I thought, but it turned out that things changed. At first, I loved most of my time as a full-time writer. It gave me more time to do marketing when my book was releasing and to help my PR team get the word out. I blogged more frequently than I do now, and I had more time to write my next book. There was even a silver lining. I got to spend more time with my kids, and it’s a good thing I had them to get me out of the house because I soon discovered that the downside of writing full-time is enduring daily isolation. Writing is solitary. There is no way around it, and while it’s the only way to get a book written, the more time you spend alone, the more disconnected you can become socially. It’s important to note that in a profession in which your introverted side will thrive, being less social isn’t usually the best thing for the long-term. Writers need to be around people, and you need something non-writing related to do with someone else. You need to be reminded that you are more than a published author. Hey, wait a minute, you might be thinking, can there be more to life than being published? Yes, of course there is. You are also a mom, dad, friend, knitter, fisherman, or golfer. Maybe you used to be a heck of a good accountant, teacher, or burger flipper, too.
Writers Need a Schedule
It might come as a surprise once you’ve gone full-time as a writer that if you aren’t diligent, your productivity will plummet. Even if you take precautions to prevent this from happening, you are now, in the eyes of many, a person with unlimited time. This isn’t a judgment of you or a conspiracy by your friends to keep you from writing. It’s just the common misunderstanding that the public has of writers. Really, nobody gets it but writers. When you write full-time, you ideally have more time to write. You are your own boss and your editor doesn’t expect you to clock in when you start writing. Since you don’t have other people telling you how to use your time, it makes sense that you should be able to employ the BIC method (Butt in Chair) all day long, but it won’t be easy. The truth is, most of us can’t write for six to eight hours straight on a regular basis – our backs would break and we would go crazy – so we need to fill our other time with something else. While that could involve many writing-related things (research, blogging, reading books on writing craft, etc.), sometimes, in our isolation as writers, we begin to accept any and every coffee date, volunteer request, and any excuse to get out of the house that comes our way. Because we can quickly give up too much of our time, Full-time writers need to be choosy about accepting requests and keep a calendar that you stick to when it comes to your social life. It’s important to get out of the house and serving our community is a good thing, but it can easily take over our writing goals. And if you aren’t really living the life of a full-time writer anyway, you might decide that you might as well get a job. Having a job communicates to everyone else that you do not have unlimited time, and then you might find it easier to create a writing schedule. Certainly, there are full-time writers who are doing a fantastic job at managing their time, but those writers usually have a steady stream of income flowing in from their writing, and that, as most writers know, is a rare thing.
Writers Need to Survive Financially
While there are many upsides to being a full-time writer, let’s face it. Most published writers don’t have contracts waiting for them. Not only are writing careers like James Patterson’s and Sue Grafton’s rare, they are almost unheard of in today’s industry. My second novel came out at about the time that the publishing business was turned over on its head. The industry saw cutbacks, restructures, and a plethora of wake-up calls throughout the industry. Since then almost nobody gets giant advances and even when they do, they rarely come in one big payment anymore. Writers who used to think they had it made for years to come are now finding themselves facing more perilous times and an unsteady financial future. Luckily for the publishing industry, writers don’t really do it for the money anyway. So what is the answer? For many writers, it is going back to work.
Going back to work isn’t the same as throwing in the towel. It doesn’t mean you are giving up on your dream of writing. Instead, it’s a way to give yourself freedom. If you have income from other sources, then you are more free to write than if you were writing at home all day long. Back when I wrote my first novel, when I still worked full-time at a non-writing related job, I wrote every morning for thirty to forty-five minutes before work. I got up early before my family awoke and I pounded out as many words as I could every single day. I was motivated to finish my novel, and I wasn’t worried about whether or not I would get paid because I had another job.
The Silver Lining of Going Back to Work is Freedom
Last year I started Substitute Teaching for my school district and I can’t tell you how much freedom I feel as a writer. I love being around the students and teachers and it gives my brain a break from writing, I am more productive because I have to stick to a writing schedule in order to get my word quota in these days, and while I’m still not drawing in millions of dollars in writing royalties, it feels good to contribute to the family financially in another way. And I still write books! I still have a fantastic agent, I have writing goals, and things are still happening, but I am more free to be a writer now than I was before. Writing is a passion again, I look forward to it more than ever, and I anticipate the day I can share my latest book journey with the kids I help teach.
So, what about you? Should you stop being a full-time writer and get a paying full-time or part-time job independent of your writing life? It’s a question that every professional writer has to answer for themselves, and one for aspiring authors to start thinking about now, but for me the decision is clear. I am more myself when I climb out of my ivory tower and get connected, stick to the schedule that working imposes on my day, and get a paycheck. My writing hasn’t suffered at all. If anything, it’s gotten better.
What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts.