Monday, June 8, 2009

Don't Quit Your Day Job - Or Should You?

At one point in my writing career I decided that if were to have any success at all, I needed to concentrate my time on writing and ditch my day job. During the four years I worked at home, I treated my writing as my job, sitting at my desk from 9 am to 3 pm most days. I was quite productive during this time, writing four novels, and starting many more.

But after four years I decided I needed to go back to work, at least part time. Why? Aside from the obvious need for money, I found I missed my colleagues. Writing is a solitary occupation, and although I enjoy spending time on my own, this was a little too much of a good thing. I needed some company. But one of the main reasons I decided to go back to work was because despite my best efforts I remained unpublished. After so much rejection I needed to know I could succeed at something.

Ironically, it was at the point when I decided I should increase my working hours at the day job that I was offered an ebook contract. I have since sold all four of the books I wrote while I stayed home to write. These days I am very busy with edits, revisions, promotion and trying to keep myself organized. There hardly seems time to begin new projects. So I find myself again wondering, should I quit my day job?

There are strong arguments both for and against. Wendy Lawton of Books and Such Literary Agency says the vagaries of publishing means that it is extremely difficult to say when a writer might be in a position financially to pack it in at the old job. Even if you sell your book you’re not out of the woods. “Even with a two- or three-book contract, there’s no guarantee a writer will receive another contract unless he has solid, growing sales numbers. And who knows how fast a publisher is willing to take subsequent books? Selling the first book guarantees exactly nothing.”

Kristine Rusch concurs. She writes in “The Freelancer’s Survival Guide: When to Give Up Your Day Job” that making a living strictly from writing isn’t for everyone. She suggests reframing the question into three new questions:

1. Should you quit your day job? Kristine Rusch writes: “For most people, the answer to that question is no. Most people can’t handle all of the things it takes to be a full-time freelancer. Not that most folks aren’t smart enough or talented enough or even ambitious enough. The difference between most people and full-time freelancers boils down to one thing.

The ability to take risks.

Full-time freelancers are risk-takers. Most people aren’t.” If the thought of not having a regular pay cheque every two weeks makes you break out in a cold sweat, you’re likely better off staying at your job.

2. Who Should Quit Her Day Job? Rusch says that if you’re okay with taking risks, you’re single with no dependents, and have some money in the bank, by all means go for it. “However (and this is a big however) if you have dependents, you need to think long and hard about quitting that job. Children cost money. Spouses lose their jobs. Elderly parents need care. The entire clan—at least those old enough to vote—should be in on this decision together.”

3. Should I Quit My Job or Should I Downgrade? By this Rusch refers to remaining within your company but perhaps taking a job that takes less of your time and causes you less stress. This will allow you to hang onto your job’s health insurance while still maintaining the security of a regular pay cheque. “You still have a safety net, but you’ll have more time. You’ll also find out if you can manage to get your freelance work done with that extra time. And you’ll figure out if your household can sustain a lower level of income.”

But quitting your day job isn’t all about the money. Wendy Lawton writes: “There seems to be something about writing as a second job that makes the writer uber-productive. When you only have a couple of hours a day, those hours are golden. On the other hand, when the whole day stretches out before you, it’s easy to lunch with friends, play video games to “warm-up” and spend way too much time on the internet. Besides that, many writers need the stimulation of the work world, rubbing shoulders with all types of people to stay real and write real.”

She also argues that for some writers the pressure of having to produce and make money from their writing causes the writing to suffer: “As the need for money becomes greater, writers often take on too much work, pushing deadlines, working for multiple houses and rushing the art of writing. To build the kind of career that will allow a writer to eventually write full time without financial strain, each book has to be better than the last. A writer can’t keep chasing deadlines and squeezing in books to make ends meet. He needs the freedom to write slowly and artfully.”

So as tempting as the idea of quitting my part-time job is, I think I will hang in, at least for a while. Have you thought about quitting your day job to write? Or do you think your day job actually helps you write?

32 comments:

Yunaleska said...

For financial reasons I stay in my day job. I'd like one day to earn enough writing that I can quit...although for a while I'd stay because I love my job! It provides great story ideas and the people are lovely.

Monique DeVere said...

I've been blessed enough that I didn't need to go out to work. My hubby and I always believed that if you have children one parent should be on hand to raise them properly. I got the job! tee-hee.

But saying that, I've taken on one or two part-time jobs in my time for research purposes.

I think if I had to work to subsidise our income it would be crazy to give up work until earnings from writing matched take home pay from the job.

Hugs.

Janet C. said...

Great post, Jana! As I am about to quit my day job - not for reasons of staying home to write, but hopefully that will be the result once we've settled - I am excited about the prospect of writing full time. I just hope I can be as diligent as you were (9-3, eh?).

I can understand the solitude issue - and, as Monique said, the research issues. But as daily stuff gets in the way of writing after the day job, it would be wonderful to have longer than a retreat weekend to dedicate to writing full time.

If anyone's interested in a really good book about a woman who quits her job (a year's leave) to write the next "Great American Novel", I suggest Christina's Schwartz' All Is Vanity. Her journey is portrayed in a way every writer will understand - and her final decision as to what she'll write plays havoc on her marriage and a long time friendship. I loved this book (author of Drowning Ruth - another great read).

K - now I have to get ready to go to the day job :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, excellent post. When I retired after 20 yrs with the military in '95, we decided that I would stay home and raise our teenager and 4 yr old. This was possible because I began to receive a pension equal to a part time worker for my years of service. (Smartest move I ever made.)

Imagine my surprise when I got pregnant after retiring! I'd go to a legion mtg then rush home to nurse my son! Ironic or what, eh.

Another baby and a move to the farm, miles from anywhere with only 1 vehicle had me thanking God for the military pension coming in.

Five yrs ago when the youngest started school, people in town would stop me on the street or call me up whenever a job opened at the Co-op or cafe. I'd tell them I wasn't looking for work. Invariably, they'd say, 'Why not? You're young.' WEll, yeah, but that wasn't the point. The point was for the first time since I was 12 yrs old, I was FREE. I could stand on the steps and decide whether I wanted to garden, clean the barn, cook, clean, or relax. My choice without one part of my brain wondering whether my current child was. I loved it. And our 80 goats loved my attention.

Three yrs ago my writing bug returned after a 25 yr hiatus. We sold the goats and finally - finally, I started writing full-time. I can't seem to concentrate during the day, however, so I work on my characters, outlines, email, housework, etc. But at 9 pm I have to write. And I'm very productive until 2 or 3 am. I think that makes me a night owl. :)

Silver James said...

G'morning, Jana. And once again, welcome to the Garden at Wild Rose Press! I'm also in the position where I'm basically retired and have some income coming in monthly--not a huge amount but enough that I can travel a bit without feeling guilty and can write guilt-free, too. I've always written, even during the years I took hiatus from actively trying to get published. I'm a solitary creature and have never minded the isolation.

I hear a lot of people say they want to "just be a writer" and then realize that there's a lot more to it than just sitting at the keyboard writing. One of the biggest obstacles I faced was convincing others that what I did was a job.

Great post today, Jana!

Captain Hook said...

At the moment, if I had a day job (or a night job or any job at all), I wouldn't quit.

Helena said...

I guess you could say I gave up my day job to write, though only in a roundabout way. I never wrote in any serious way while I worked full-time and raised three sons, tho I wanted to. When I retired, I coped with moving and getting settled, the death of my husband, and becoming involved in various activities in my new community, THEN realised that my situation was ideal for writing full-time, if I wished to put forth the effort.

I am fortunate that my various pensions are enough to live on, but my life is as busy or busier than when I was working, so not much has changed. You'll hear more about this in my blog tomorrow.

I knew a writer of children's books who cut back to part-time in order to devote more time to writing. Shortly after that her first full-length book was published, and subsequently several more. Eventually she quit her day job as a children's librarian entirely.

Ultimately, it boils down to a willingness to take the risk that was mentioned. I find other ways to do research and maintain contact with people. But there is no arguing with the need for income, so it is a serious decision to make, no doubt about it.

Good topic, Jana. And good luck with the decision.

Karyn Good said...

I've loved being a stay-at-home Mom and am very grateful we were given the opportunities to make that happen. Those blessings are now giving me the opportunity to be a full time writer.

Having said that, I'm finding it still takes a huge amount of discipline to plant my butt in front of the computer everyday and stick to a writing schedule.

Good luck with your decision, Jana.

Ban said...

i can so relate to this post - when i was working i had tons of ideas i couldn't wait to put down once i got home. now i'm a stay at home mom and though i SHOULD have tons of time to write ... i don't. aside from the obvious(two girls), everything conspires to keep me from actually working on my stories - internet being the biggest distraction :(

Hayley E. Lavik said...

My husband and I knew what we wanted to work toward when we first married. We paid our dues in the obligatory miserable jobs (everyone needs a few horror stories, right?), I supported him when he went into his training, and he's supported me while I've been in school. We've been two years finishing my degree and know we can live off this income just fine, so I've no desire to go throw myself back into the grind unless it was a job I utterly wanted. We've been planning so I could write full time, and I'm very thankful that I'm able to do so.

I can see the need for some outside company, and maybe a part time job might be a good decision, but I'd only take something I loved doing, if it didn't detract from my writing time, and I didn't begin to hate it. Memories of fast food managers don't make me too keen to wind up with more 'bosses' than necessary.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Yunaleska,
I'm lucky too in that I really like the people I work with. I enjoy my job and it's not terribly stressful. So I fulfill my need to make a few bucks with a need to get out and socialize a bit. And like you say work always provides good story ideas. I work with veternarians and animal technicians so some day one of those characters will work their way into one of my stories.

Jana

Jana Richards said...

Monique, thanks for joining us!

When my kids were small I stayed home with them most of the time. Later, I worked different part-time jobs that were flexible enough that I could work around them while they were at school. I've always been grateful that I was able to spend a lot of time with them. They grow up very fast, I can tell you!

And now that my girls are grown up I'm lucky that I don't have to work full-time and can still devote a lot of time to writing. In her blog Wendy Lawton calls a spouse who works while the other writes a "patron of the arts". I'm sure my husband would be pleased to be called that.

Jana

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
There's no doubt that the daily grind gets in the way of writing. I hope that this move means you can at least work less. But be forewarned, when you feel like you have a lot of time, there's a tendency to waste it.

Knowing what I know now I'm not quite as anxious to quit my day job as I was before. There were other issues in my previous job that made it easy to quit; it was a pretty tense place to be.

The book you mentioned sounds interesting. Is this fiction or non-fiction?

Jana

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
When I went to the EPIC convention in 2008 I was struck by the number of people there who were retired from their day jobs. Most of them had been writing through jobs and families for years, but then like you said, when they retired they were finally free. These are some of their most productive years writing wise. Of course, most of them didn't get pregnant after they retired :)

I hope your crazy busy June isn't driving you too crazy.

Jana

Jana Richards said...

Hi Silver,
Great to hear from you last night. Thanks for the warm welcome.

I have to admit I still feel a little guilty for not bringing in a full-time salary. So guilt-free writing and travel for my writing would be awesome. My hope is to some day make enough from my writing to at least equal or better what I make working part-time. More would be even better!

It is hard sometimes to convince people you're working. Non-writers don't understand the hours it takes or the dedication. And it only gets more time consuming once you're published. This is not an easy profession we've chosen but I think most of us here wouldn't want to do anything else.

Jana

Yunaleska said...

Don't feel guilty for working part-time. I can't work full time due to health reasons. I need my rest :) But writing can be done while resting, so all is good :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Captain,
I realize I'm in a really lucky position. I have my own "patron of the arts" who supports me financially. This support allows me to pursue my dreams.

Here's hoping you find a great job - be it day, night or otherwise. Happy writing as well.

Jana

Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
You're not the only person I've talked to who say they are busier since retired than they were in their working lives. The great thing about retirement is that it's all about you. You have the freedom, sometimes for the first time, to pursue dreams, to volunteer, to travel, whatever.

Wendy Lawton went on to explain in her comments that she didn't want to give the impression that no writer should ever quit her day job to write. For some people, like your children's librarian, it's the right decision. I think for the time being I want to keep my feet in both worlds.

Jana

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
It is a blessing to be able to stay home with your kids. And if you can transition from there to full-time writing, you're doing great.

Writing a book requires self-discipline. It's a job and you have to treat it like one. It's not like I could say to my employer "I'm just not in the mood this morning to do the accounting. I think I'll play on the Internet until inspiration hits me". You have to write whether you feel like it or not. That said,I'm probably the worst offender for not keeping my butt in my chair. There are a lot of distractions at home and sometimes they seem a lot more fun then fixing a particularly difficult scene.

Hang in there Karyn!
Jana

Jana Richards said...

Hi ban,
Isnt' it ironic? Just when you get the chance to stay at home you no longer have the time or mental energy to write. It's a bit of a merry-go-round. But maybe when your girls are a bit older, the stars will align, giving you a bit more time to write and the ideas and energy to do it. In the meantime, don't beat yourself up. Enjoy the writing time you have and enjoy your children. And enjoy connecting with us here on the Prairies!
Jana

Jana Richards said...

Hi Hayley,
Sounds like you and your husband have both figured out what you want to do. Each of you is willing to support the other. You sound like a good team.

I've had my share of lousy jobs, some so bad I don't even like thinking about them. Fortunately, my current job (jobs actually; I have two part time jobs)is pretty easy going and doesn't stress me out or take me away from my writing. The down-side: I don't make much money. But then I don't work long hours either.

Trust me, life's too short to be spending it on jobs you hate. So if at some point you do decide to take part time work, make sure it's something you feel good about.

Jana

Erika said...

I would love to be able to quit my job and work on nothing but my book, unfortunately that is not an option for me. Financially we are a two income family which forces me to make time during the week and on weekends to write. It can be a daunting task.

Jana Richards said...

Thanks for your kind words, Yunaleska. I think I was born with an extra guilt gene or something. I feel guilty that I don't work full time and then when I am at work, I feel guilty because I'm not writing. Go figure.

I'm sorry to hear about your health problems. Thankfully, they don't keep you from writing.

All the best,
Jana

Jana Richards said...

Hi Erika,
Two income families are the reality for most people. I really admire that you are able to work full time and still write in the evenings and weekends. It is a daunting task and you should be proud of yourself for what you've accomplished.

Way to go!
Jana

Janet C. said...

Hey, Jana - great discussion here :) The book I referenced is fiction (and when she starts to paint the walls of her office just so she doesn't have to write, I laughed).

Anita Mae Draper said...

Back again...

Janet said, 'it would be wonderful to have longer than a retreat weekend to dedicate to writing full time.'
...and I can't wait for July 26th when all 3 of my kids leave until the following Sat. That's 5 full days! I've already told hubby he has to fend for himself 'cause I'll be a figment of his imagination. LOL

No, Jana, it's not driving me too crazy. I have one big worry however, I've been picked to write Chap 7 of eHarlequin's 'Pass the Plot' with Harlequin Historical author Joanne Rock. I was fine until I read the other 6 chapters and wowza! That's some fine writing. And ah... spicy, too. I really have my work cut out for me!

Why does everything happen at the same time?

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
Painting the walls, eh? Too funny!

Well, not so funny, actually. At this moment instead of writing I am babysitting my dog. She had eight teeth extracted this morning and she is not a happy camper today. She's been whining and crying since I brought her home.
Hopefully she'll be better by tomorrow.

Jana

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I remember you saying at retreat that you were looking forward to some writing time when all your kids were away at various activities. Happy writing!

It sounds like quite an honour to be asked to write this chapter. And a little intimidating as well. I don't know why stuff always happens at once. I think it's a law of the universe or something. Good luck.

Jana

connie said...

Hi Jana,
A post to think on.
Husband and I have been retired for 14 years now. If anyone thinks I miss working for Conrad Black....!
But retirement leaves me torn. If I am up and about, my energy carries over to writing. If I have a whole day free to write, I don't find the energy. I can waste a whole day without even thinking about it. Being a reporter threw me into contact with plenty of different people and situations every day - lots of inspiration and no time to write. What I need now is a large slice of self discipline. It is SO much easier to write a story in my head.
Job sharing might be an option for some people.
I won't go back to work, but I have trained as a victim services counsellor. I can choose when and how much I work. It is time to get back at it.
Good post. It is interesting too to read how you got into the published part!
connie

connie said...

You had 29 posts so far Jana! It is great that lots of other writers are now taking part in prairie chicks blogging.
Welcome everybody. Look forward to all your comments in future.
connie

Strikethru said...

Thanks for this post-- it's something I have been thinking about a lot lately.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Strikethru,
I think about quitting work a lot. And then I think about our Visa bill and the feeling passes...

Seriously though, I'm under a bit of pressure to take on more work and work more hours at one of my part-time jobs (I have two). They are in a sticky spot; they need someone willing to commit to more hours. If I work for them I don't write, plain and simple. It sucks. Meanwhile, the writing's not bringing in a regular paycheque. So I'm still thinking.

Good luck to you.

Jana