On writing full-time

A twitter follower recently emailed me with a great question–so great, in fact, that I wanted to answer it here on the blog.

Colleen asked:
“I’m wondering how you knew it was safe to leave your day job.
When did you feel secure enough in writing as a career?”

The short answer is I didn’t know when to leave, and I never felt completely secure walking away from that steady paycheck. (Probably not a very reassuring answer, but hear me out.)

About a year after my book sold, when I was mostly done with its revisions, had long since received my advance, and was drafting the second novel in the series, I finally left my day job. I’d worked as a web designer since 2007, and had been at my current job for about two and a half years. The owner of the company was kind enough to coordinate a phase-out schedule for me. The whole thing made my transition easier and their hunting for my replacement less stressful. Starting in July of 2011, I dropped down to just four days of work a week. By 2012 I went to three. Then around February I was down to two, and by mid April, I was done completely.

But turning my back on the day job pay check was hard. And scary! Writing holds no promises of steady cash. No promises that your next book will sell or your current one will be a success. Simply put, it’s a bit terrifying to say, “I’m going to leave my comfortable day job–that I love–where I am paid twice a month at a very fair wage, to write with no real security or knowledge of when and where my next pay check will come from.”

But my dream was writing. It was what I thought about while I sat at work designing, the thing I couldn’t wait to get home and do. I wanted it to be my career. So the Engineer and I talked about things for awhile. (A long while.)

Here are some of the topics we touched on:

Money, money, money

We are personally big savers and always have been. We felt that between his job, my advance, and our savings, we’d be okay with my writing full-time for the near future. Note: near future. We may need to reevaluate things in the coming years–How’s my series doing? Have I sold anything else? How’s his job? Where do we stand on everything else listed out below? You get the point. ;)


Kids, or lack thereof

It’s just the two of us right now, so we felt a bit more confident taking a risk when we’re providing only for each other. If we had kids, the decision may have been very different.


Time, and how I needed more of it

I knew I wanted to have a better balance between my work and personal life. I’d been able to handle revisions and a full-time job, but not without sacrifices. Every weekday evening, and almost every hour on the weekend, was dedicated to writing. I rarely saw my own husband, let alone friends/family. This is still often true when I’m under deadline, but I knew things would only get crazier on the writing front once I started working on book two and that something would have to change for me to find a happy balance.


Home office = no commute

This goes hand in hand with needing more time. My day job was in Boston. We live in New Hampshire. I spent one hour (each way!) commuting to my job. Weekly, that’s ten hours without traffic (and there was always traffic), that I spent stuck in a car, not writing. Or reading. Or with the Engineer. I’d be lying to say that ditching that hellish commute didn’t factor into my decision. (Another perk: I now drive so little that I’m saving an insane amount of money on gas.)


Harsh realities

There was a chance that writing full-time might not pan out, that we’d need more income, that something wouldn’t unfold quite as we planned. It was a depressing possibility, but one we still needed to talk about. (I decided I could always do some freelance design on the side if it came to that. Or find a part-time job locally.) This was a bridge we decided to cross if we had to. But we didn’t pretend it wasn’t there.


Goals and priorities

What did we want in the next few years? To buy a house? Have kids? Travel the world? Start our own business? (We basically just talked about what we saw on the horizon and how writing full-time might factor into any of those options.)


In the end, there is always a reason to say no to something. Chasing your dreams is scary. It’s much easier to play it safe and stay in the shallow end where your feet can still touch bottom.

handlettered blackboard print by Mandy Bosveld

I’m not saying that every writer should immediately jump at writing full-time if they have the chance. It’s still an important decision/life change that requires a lot of honest thought and analysis. I’m just trying to be upfront in that I had a pro and con list a mile long, and there were items in both columns when I made my decision.

I couldn’t be happier with the path I chose. I feel more fulfilled at the end of each day now, much more balanced in the amount of time I spending working versus not. I can truly immerse myself in the industry, whereas before I was split between two (publishing and advertising) and unable to invest as deeply in the first as I would have liked. Sometimes it gets a little lonely writing from home, but that’s what coffee shops are for. The financial side of things is still scary. I think, as a writer, it always will be.

But this is the career I wanted. Badly. I’m so glad I didn’t let fear hold me back from pursuing it.

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