When I was eighteen, I traveled north to Milwaukee and attended my first GenCon in the mid 1990’s with some friends from college. It was the first time I’d experienced anything of the sort. I’d been reading Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance stuff for ages, and idolized Margaret Weis & Tracey Hickman; I’d known I wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember but this was the first time that I would be able to actually talk to some of my heros. I was so excited I could barely contain my squee and the pain of my disappointment lives with me to this day.
In truth, they weren’t all bad. I have a great story about meeting making Margaret Weis laugh that I’ll tell occasionally, but it’s the bitterness that often overwhelms the sweet things on our palette. The defining moment that stands out in my mind is when I stopped at one of the author tables and asked the person if he had any advice for someone who wanted to become a writer.
In hindsight, I recognize him for what he was but at the time I was young and vulnerable. When the bitter, angry-looking man spat out the words, “Don’t quit your day job,” I was devastated. Not in the realistic, Boy, this writing business is hard work sense but what did it do to crush this man’s soul? Reality, I’ve discovered, is somewhere in-between.
Love them or hate them, day jobs are a fact of life for the majority of writers. Whether you are single or not, you more than likely need money in order to survive. Food, shelter, and clothing are just the beginning. Health care, unless you come from a country with universal health care* and/or have a working partner, is critical unless you’re SuperNonSpecifiedGenderPerson, which most of us aren’t. So how does stay sane while working a day job with an eye towards writing for a living?
First, let’s define what it means to be a full-time writer. It’s not the romantic notion that you see portrayed on Castle. Oh, how I wish that it were and that I were Captain Tightpants. Writing for a living, or freelancing in any field, involves a lot of hustling. You have to have the right personality and work ethic. You can’t be easily discouraged by failure. It helps if you can live cheaply, budget tightly, and plan accordingly. It’s hard work. It’s far from glorious, but for some, it’s everything.
With that in mind, here are some things to consider if you have your heart set on writing full-time some day and are willing to make the sacrifices necessary.
Does your job leave you a creative husk at the end of the day? Maybe you’re in the wrong line of work. You can tell yourself that things will get better, that your responsibilities will get lighter, but in my experience, they rarely do unless you take steps to make it so. Yeah, this is a big change but so is the potential reward.
Is your cost of living too high where you live? Living in a big city is more expensive than small town living. If you’re in the mood for a new place to live, it’s something to consider. We chose to live in a town of less than 5,000, but off a highway so we could still have access to bigger city amenities as needed at a considerable savings to the house I owned in the city of 100k+, and we don’t feel like we lost out on anything.
Write early, write at lunch, or write late, but write consistently. Once you’ve made the room in your life to pursue your dream in earnest, don’t drag your feet. Find what works best for you — when you can work with the least distraction from kids, pets, or significant other — and make your word count. Write at home, from the coffee shop after work, on the back of your fork lift during downtime, or wherever feels right.
If you’re already writing full-time…I am filled with jealous rage and envy. Kidding, mostly. Otherwise, the advice I received lo those many years ago is perfectly valid. Poorly delivered, lacking context but accurate for short-term planning. With dedication, hard-work, and let’s face it, luck, it is entirely possible and feasible to write full-time if, and it’s a big if, you and yours are willing to make whatever adjustments are necessary to home and lifestyle to accommodate the change.
I’ve been working from home for the past six years, first as a freelance software developer and then a remote full-time employee. One day I’ll make the leap back to freelancer, so I can devote more creative time to writing. What about you? What are your aspirations?
* And even then there may still be out of pocket costs.