After writing yesterday’s post, I had more thoughts about the do/don’t quit your day job argument and why I have such mixed feelings.
One big thing that I don’t think most people dreaming of being a full-time writer realize is that having more time to write probably won’t result in making more money from writing (with some exceptions). That’s because you’ll be fortunate to get one publishing slot a year, which means that if you can write one book a year while having a full-time job, you’ll be able to write as fast as they can publish you, so writing more won’t do you much good. Maybe, if you’re really lucky/good/successful, you might get two slots a year, like if you do a spinoff series (which requires the initial books to be successful), or if you write two different kinds of books, like adult and YA. The big exception is category romance, where the top writers can get four or more books a year published. And, of course, with self publishing you can publish whatever you write. Otherwise, don’t count on being able to boost your writing income by all that much by quitting your day job and having more time to write.
The main reason to quit your day job is for physical, mental, and emotional health. You may be able to keep up with the publishing pace while having a day job, but once you’re writing for publication, writing-related activities will eat up more time, and that time will have to come out of either your free time or time you previously used for writing. There are editorial revisions, copyedits, galley proofs, reviewing cover copy, researching ideas for covers. When the book comes out, you may be asked to write guest columns or blog posts and do interviews. You may be asked to read books to provide promotional blurbs. At some point, when you’re having to devote most of your waking hours to either your day job or your writing job and you’re even using your vacation days for writing conferences, conventions, travel to booksignings, or writing when you’re on deadline, something’s going to give. Your relationships may suffer. Your health may suffer if you’re not getting enough exercise or sleep.
And your work may suffer. That, I think, is the main argument for quitting a day job. You can’t write well when you’re burned out. If you’re not able to live life, if you don’t get to read for pleasure or do anything that isn’t work-related in some way, your creative well may empty and not be refilled. When you’re pressed for time, it’s harder to dig in as deeply as you probably should. For instance, right now I’m reading an entire book to research the backstory for the heroine of the book I’m plotting. Most of what I learn may not even show up in the book other than in the first few pages (the “ordinary world” part of the story), but I think it will help me get into that mindset and flesh out the character. Writing full time, I can get through this book in two days while also doing other work. If I were fitting this in around a day job, it would be a week’s worth of reading. It probably wouldn’t be worth a week of writing time to read this book. That might not make a huge difference in the finished book, but I think it will be richer from having done this.
Leaving the day job means that you have time for a life in addition to work, and you aren’t as pressed for time to work, so you can dig into your work to make it even better. You can also deal with more of the business stuff without sacrificing writing time.
But you can’t relax and enjoy the benefits of not having a day job if you’re worried about finances, which is why it’s not a step to take lightly. It’s also not an all-or-nothing situation. My last two years of my day job, I worked out a deal with my boss to telecommute and work semi-full time (I still counted as a full-time employee for benefits, but I was working 30 hours a week, and being paid part-time meant I had a hard stop on the number of hours I could work, so it drastically cut my working time). I had reached the point of burnout because my job had become something like 60 hours a week with a lot of travel, and I wasn’t able to get any writing at all done even though I had publishers asking to see something from me. I broke down in tears in a staff meeting when we were allocating client work and it came down to me being scheduled for more than 200 billable hours in a month. I actually tried to quit then, but my boss talked me into staying and worked out a way for me to stay but also have time to write. Something like that is worth a shot. Depending on your commute, just getting to telecommute a few days a week could free up hours of time. If you’re making money from publishing, you may be able to afford to take a pay cut in exchange for cutting a day of work a week or going to part time. There’s also freelancing, temping, and contract work.
Mostly, it boils down to what allows you to be both sane and reasonably financially secure. I guess my measure of when to quit the day job would be when you’ve got at least two years of living expenses saved up and when you feel like something has to give — when either your day job doesn’t allow you the time you need to write or you have no life other than work and writing. It’s a very individual thing and will depend on your family situation, your degree of introversion, how much you love (or hate) the day job, whether continuing that career is a viable thing, etc. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to quit to have a career, but don’t let anyone scare you away from making a move that might save your sanity.