Being a full-time writer when you have a day job. Is that even possible? Yes, it is. It won’t be easy, but it is definitely doable.
The Mythic Full-Time Writer
I don’t know of any writer who hasn’t, at some point while writing their first novel, said or at least thought, “I’m going to get this published and then I can quit my job and write full time.” Admit it. You’ve thought it. You’ve probably even said it to family or friends. That’s OK, because they’ve said it to us too. How many of your family members have made the suggestion, something along the lines of: once your book gets published, you’ll be the next J.K. Rowling, living in a castle in Scotland?
I’m not surprised by this belief we all have, of quitting the day job to write full-time, and that it is going to happen as soon as we get our first book published. That’s how it happens on T.V., and in the movies, and T.V. and movies don’t lie, right? Well, in this case they do, but I’m not blaming them entirely for this myth. Until recently, and by recently I mean the past ten years or so, we never saw what it took for someone to go from un-published writer to best-selling author. Writer’s Digest or Locus Magazine might publish an in-depth interview with an author, but not everyone read it. Now, with the prevalence of blogs and social media, authors are willingly transparent about their process, especially in terms of earnings.
There are writers who get to leave the day job and make writing their full-time job, and their numbers are growing, thanks to the indie-publishing market.
How did they do it?
All right, let’s be honest. There are the lucky few who have a spouse or significant other who has a well-enough-paying job that they can stay home and write, without question, or sacrifice.
For everyone else, it takes more than having one book published, before they are in position to quit the day job. They may have worked in a bookstore, as an executive in marketing, or as a freelance editor. Either way, they had some form of external income.
The decision to leave the day job isn’t an easy one. Nor should it be. I mean, wanting to leave is easy. Being able to do it is another thing all together. Loss of income and benefits are two of the biggest factors that should be considered. I have heard that you should have at least a year or two worth of salary saved up so that you can pay the bills, and give yourself a cushion should you need to go back to work and subsequently need to search for a job. Talk to your spouse or significant other about the decision. Sacrifices regarding child-care may need to be made. Will you have more domestic responsibilities if you are home full-time? What about child-care?
There is only one way to get to the place where you can leave the day job, and that is to write. To go all in.
What does that mean, exactly?
It means that not writing is not an option. It means you write stories and novels and you submit them and you keep improving so that you get published. There is never a time when you don’t have something out on submission.
If you choose to self-publish, going all in means you write short stories, and novellas, and novels. You build up a back-list until you have enough to publish on a fairly consistent and frequent basis to build up your following.
Going all in means you treat your writing like it is a full-time career.
The writing gig may not pay a lot, or anything, at first, but it will. How do you get to that point?
You write, and you publish short stories, novellas, and novels. (No, you don’t have to do all three, you can pick one).
Lest you think I’m suggesting you write forty hours a week, let me clarify that to simply say, no. You may need less time in a week to write your first draft. And you may find that when you’re editing, you can easily fill up forty hours or more. Don’t forget that you will also need time for research and studying the craft.
Designate your writing time and stick to it. If writing every day doesn’t work for you, perhaps writing on the weekends does. Great. Whatever you have chosen to be your writing time, jut be consistent with it. Don’t book meetings, kid’s homework, meal prep, or chores, in that time. Close the door to your study or leave the house if you have to. Remind yourself that if you had a book contract with a deadline, you wouldn’t have the option of not writing. You are in training for when that time comes.
Use your non-writing time to research, edit, learn the craft, and the business side of the industry. If you write only on weekdays, then weekends are a great time to research and edit. And if you only write on weekends, then set aside time during the week for it. Take an hour in the morning or in the evening for it.
Most of all, if writing is what you want, then go for it. Go all in. Don’t let anyone or anything distract you from it.
Start with one change. Designate an hour or two a day for this week, and stick to it. Re-arrange the chore schedule. Establish your writing place. Pick one thing to change. Work your way to adding more time and making more changes so that writing becomes a full-time job even when you have a day job.
I know that what I am suggesting isn’t easy. It takes time, and practice. Simply deciding to go all in can be a process in and of itself. Check out my journey to deciding to go all in here. Sometimes, a little extra motivation, a reminder of why we write can be the boost we need to keep going. I have created a quick guide to “Bust the Block” to re-inspire, to jumpstart your motivation, and get you writing. You can get that guide here.
What is the one change you will start with?