Dreaming of becoming a full-time writer?
Every writer who lives and breathes to tell stories and share them with the world, whether via creative nonfiction, investigative journalism, or fiction, has probably entertained the idea of becoming a full-time writer. And just as many writers have probably been discouraged from pursuing that dream, by everyone around them.
We live in a world (especially in the West) that doesn’t often value its artists until they’re dead. We encourage our children to pursue more “realistic” careers when they show an interest in the arts.
We tell the child who excels at acting to have a plan B, because very few people make a living with acting. We tell the creative child who’s constantly painting and drawing to pursue a higher-earning career; after all, they don’t want to be a starving artist.
Often times, these children listen to these more “mature” voices and abandon their calling, their passion, the things they’re most drawn towards, to fit in with family and societal expectations. But what would the world be like if we encouraged our young artists, writers, musicians? How much more culturally rich we would be!
Unfortunately, most people in my generation who had a creative streak growing up got brainwashed into a “realistic career,” and as such, don’t have time to pursue the things we’re really passionate about. And then more responsibilities get added onto our plates, and we finally abandon our original calling altogether.
Even after abandoning our creative passions though, a lot of us simply can’t quiet down the thoughts that must spill out onto the paper, and we start to wonder whether we shouldn’t just quit everything to be a writer. Some of us seriously consider making the jump. Unfortunately, a lot of us have a romanticized version of what life as author looks like.
I would love it if this image of the full-time writer were true:
A beautifully appointed room, with a view of the water, a gorgeous notebook, a beautiful pen, and an antique typewriter. I’d sit in this little room and write without stopping until the ink runs out. But this is not reality.
This is more like reality, even for a part-time writer:
The reality for me looks like waking up at 4:30 a.m. to get writing done before my husband leaves for work and my kids wake up. It looks like leaving after dinner to find a coffee shop where I can write without interruptions. It looks like doing way more research than writing, and doing way more asking for approval (via pitches) than actually creating pieces, because that’s how freelance writing works. All that, and I write part-time.
Here’s why I haven’t made the jump to full-time writing
While I love every minute I spend writing and I’ve even started to enjoy the pitching process (somewhat), I’ll probably not make the jump to full-time writing anytime soon, for various reasons. The main reason is that I’ve set up my priorities, and being a full-time writer doesn’t fit with my current priority list.
While I enjoy writing with every fiber of my being, I love my kids more. Those who have been following this blog for a while will know that I homeschool my kids. While working full-time while homeschooling is doable, it’s not healthy, in my opinion. We still need to sleep and eat, and to do those things, two full-time jobs just don’t fit.
I could have my husband quit his job and stay home with the kids while I write full-time, but the reality is that I can’t compete financially with someone who’s been in a high-paying industry (engineering) for over 15 years. Financially, it’s just not a goal worth pursuing at the moment.
How about you? Does jumping into a full-time writing career make sense? Here are the steps you’ll need to follow if your goal is to quit everything to be a writer.
1. Start building up an emergency fund before jumping into full-time writing
For people who work for an employer, have benefits and job security, it’s a good idea to set aside a 3-month emergency fund. For entrepreneur and entrepreneur hopefuls, the emergency fund should actually cover 6-12 months (and preferably more).
If you’re not already consistently earning an income from your writing, you’ll need to set aside funds to cover yourself once you make the switch. This is especially important for those of us with family responsibilities, who can’t move into our parents’ basements while we build a business.
Remember that while you can and should dream about a full-time writing career, you still need to keep your feet firmly planted in reality in order to survive financially.
2. Start getting paid from your writing
It would be wise to ensure you’re receiving consistent payment for your writing prior to jumping into a full-time writing career. Six months of a consistent income would be the safest bet, but it’ll all depend on your financial circumstances. Regardless, before you quit everything to pursue writing full-time, you’ll need to ensure financial security. Which is why you’ll need to make some sacrifices in the beginning.
You’ll need to spend a good amount of time building your writing business while working a job that gets you paid. If you can afford to work part-time, that would be ideal—you could work the rest of the hours on the writing while still receiving a paycheque.
If you can’t yet afford to go part-time, then yes, you’ll probably lose some sleep or have to give up some other part of your life to devote to writing. Just remember that it’s temporary, and once your business is more established, you’ll have (a little) more time. But don’t get so involved in growing your business that you forget to put your family first.
3. Get on the same page with your significant other
If you’re married and/or have children, this is extremely important. It’s all fine and good to want to pursue your dream full-time, but if it’s causing friction in your marriage, it’s time to re-evaluate.
While your spouse should definitely support you in your pursuits, if the family is suffering financially and emotional while/because you do, you’ll need to re-evaluate your priorities.
Discussing a plan of action for when things will be done and when you expect to earn from your efforts may be necessary to keep the peace. And maybe, just maybe, if your kids are very young, it’s OK to admit that the “supermom” who does it all is an unrealistic image. Writing will still be there when they’re older, and it’s never too late to pursue your dreams.
4. Quit amicably (or ask for a sabbatical if doable)
You’ve finally gotten to the point where you feel confident enough to quit your job: you’ve got 6-12 months of expenses set aside, you’ve consistently earned money from your writing for the last six months, and you’re ready to jump into a full-time writing career. Don’t get so excited that you become a jerk.
Leave your employment amicably. If your work offers a sabbatical, ask for one for a year: work on your writing during that time, and see what happens later. If your employer does not offer a sabbatical, quit nicely: simply explain that you’ve chosen to go in a different direction with your career. Don’t burn any bridges, because you never know who could be a contact for your writing down the road.
You’ve set aside your emergency fund, you’ve been consistently earning from your writing, and you’ve put in your resignation letter. It’s time to say yes! to a writing career. But remember: it’s still a career. In fact, it’s a business. And you can’t be a business person if you don’t have some structure in your life.
Set up systems and schedules to ensure that your work gets completed ahead of deadline. Whether these deadlines are imposed on you (in the case of freelance writing) or you impose them on yourself (in the case of self-published book authors), you’ll need a date on the calendar to complete work by, and you’ll need to set up smaller process goals to get you to that deadline ahead of time.
Buy a calendar, get creative with a day book, bullet journal or planner, or simply write things on a dry-erase board, but whatever you do, sit your but down on the chair and actually write (and research, and pitch).