It’s been nearly four years since I said goodbye to my safe, secure and somewhat soul crushing job in SEO marketing and while there have been plenty of near misses and minor panics since, it’s up there as one of my best ever decisions.
Living the dream
Leaving fulltime work has made it possible for me to appear at festivals, to support friends at their readings, to go on writing retreats and write a whole lot of words. More importantly, it forced me to take writing seriously. I gave up job security and a pretty A to B career path on a gamble, forcing me to carry on rolling the dice, no matter how many times only Snake Eyes glinted back.
Lucky for me, I’d picked up the skills and lovely people around me I needed to make freelance contacts and keep myself in coffee and toast without having to put all of my eggs in the creative-writing basket. Things would’ve been very different if I’d made the leap into the great unknown hoping to support myself from fiction alone. I’d be a lot skinnier and I might’ve beat my caffeine addiction for a start. It’s a difficult time even for hugely successful and published authors.
I’ve also had a great time taking on small roles at various literary organisations, ensuring I never had a chance to get too comfy in my jammies and offering some much needed perspective. I’m currently working on digital content for the Writer Development team at Scottish Book Trust and it’s a real joy to see so many wonderful blogs, stories and experiences come in from all sorts of writers. It’s also nice to have a space to rely on in the uncertain world of freelancing.
A bunch of people have asked whether I recommend the freelance life (particularly recently, particularly writers) and my answer is always yes but with some big caveats. Do it only if you think you’ll be able to take the rough with the smooth, remain stoic in the face of what might be a steep uphill struggle and motivate yourself to get yourself to your laptop even when no one is breathing down your neck.
If that sounds like a nightmare, why do you think you need to give up the day job anyway? Tons and tons of incredibly successful writers maintain a fulltime career in another field. In fact, it gives them a whole host of perspectives they might miss out on if they switched to writing alone. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years it’s that there’s no clear path to becoming a ‘proper’ writer – only ditch your day job if it’s a lifestyle you expect to suit you in more ways than one.
Six-year-old me wanted to be a writer, I wonder what six-year-old me would have thought about the idea if she’d had a look at twenty-eight-year-old me. I still want to ‘be a writer’, but I guess my idea of what that actually means has changed quite a lot. In a world where you can’t turn around for another article decrying the end of print or the decline in reading levels, writing for a living seems like a much more slippery beast than the small version of myself ever anticipated.
Me as a wee 'un
But in a way, that’s exactly what I do – it’s just that the money tends to come from copy and marketing content. Which isn’t such a bad thing, I suppose. Obviously, I’d love to spend all of my time writing fiction but the more I write, the more I seem to see the weak points in my writing and the more I start thinking to myself that maybe I’m not ready.
Not only am I seeing flaws I’d never even have thought of looking for in the past, but I’m starting to wonder whether writing fiction full-time would actually suit my temperament. Maybe I need to spend a certain quota of the week writing about travel insurance or cosmetic surgery as a way to empty my mind and get myself warmed up. The deadlines that aren’t self-imposed certainly help too.
Churning out sentence after sentence about things I’m not that interested in is certainly good practice, not to mention an incentive to spend more time writing about things I am interested in out of work.
I suppose what I really thinking think of myself as is a writer in training – which is a much more forgiving view as well as one that lets me make plenty of mistakes along the way. Looking at everything as a learning experience is a pain in the ass, especially when you’re as impatient as I really am, but it’s my best bet at improving.
If you write, how do you think of yourself? Do you call yourself a writer and what type of things do you think have been your biggest learning experiences?
Recently I’ve felt an awful lot like some kind of work-ogre who scares away all of my time. Hours, minutes and seconds flee at my advance, meaning I never seem to have anything to spare for the projects I actually enjoy.
When I say work is taking up too much of my time, I’m not kidding – I keep having to fly to London for meetings and faffing about trying to set up new processes for my department – and I really don’t want to.
So I should do less work right – maybe scale back at the day job? Yeah, well there’s the rub, I really, really want to, but I’ve never been one of those writers who can shrug off the expectations of the non-writing world. All that means is that I’ve found myself on a career path and I’m now scared to step off it. I’m fighting for a promotion and a pay rise, and it looks possible – but sometimes I think that I’m actually fighting for something that’s detrimental to the life I want to live. (That’s one where I write lots and lots :))
My long term plan is – and has for ages been – to go part time at work and spend the remaining days writing. The thing is, I’m waiting for two things; enough seniority at work to make it feasible, and some kind of sign from the writing world that it wouldn’t be a waste of time. The curse of being too sensible… I could be waiting forever at this rate.
I know and read about a lot of writers who take the plunge and write full time, or hold down undemanding jobs to maximise their writing time – and I’m jealous, even though I’m pathologically scared of putting all my eggs in one basket. If you’ve quit your day job, how has it impacted your writing life? I’d love to know.
Oh well, nothing’s going to change this week – just stay out of my time-wrecking path if you want to get anything done!
Very few people are able to support themselves financially through writing, so it seems to me that writing must be frequently relegated to the spaces real life leaves behind.
When I read Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own back in my teens, a fantasy of mine took shape and solidified. Since then, I have been desperate for a space – both physical and mental – that is mine alone and that I can retire to frequently. Instead, I hide in the bedroom of my shared flat, sit in cafes with snatched moments and stick the headphones in whenever I can.
These days writing is filling up the cracks and gaps in my time quite prolifically, but despite telling myself it doesn’t have to be this way, I always feel as though it’s consigned to the margins. That’s what makes me want to trash the day job, and god do I sometimes want to trash the day job!
But I do sometimes wonder if it’s not always such a bad thing. If by having writing as the thing I’m fighting to find time to do, it gets to be almost a treat. I doubt it would stay that way if I did it 24/7. Or maybe I’d find I enjoyed it even more. Who knows? Not me until I get brave or rich enough to try it!
Everyone has to do it. Everyone comes to a certain age and has to buckle down and earn a living. (Well, not everyone exactly, but a huge majority of people are responsible for earning enough of a crust to keep themselves going). But how do writers and other artists do it without driving themselves mental?
Many of the people I know whose passions lie in creative pursuits split their lives and efforts into categories. For example, they allocate a certain level of attention to the dreaded ‘day job’ that they grudgingly maintain to keep food on the table and a large portion of their remaining energy is funnelled into what they ambitiously think of as their ‘real job’. The problem with this is how much harder it becomes to keep this balance as you get older.
When you’re young or in further education it’s easy to get away with keeping your day jobs under control. Customer services are often ideal; working in bars or clubs or coffee shops or cinemas provides you with plenty of inspiration and (technically) a level of freedom and lack of responsibility. Perfect for those trying to pen a novel or get a band or film on the go.
However, most people get to a certain age and they want more. Whether it’s more money for luxuries or to pay for additions to their family or it’s a desk job where they get to sit down for the duration of their shift, there are plenty of reasons that encourage people to try and escape retail type industries.
Not content with a job that merely lines their pockets, the majority of these creatives also want one that leaves them with plenty of energy for their extracurricular pursuits. The problem for these demanding artistic types is that they are always greedy for time and space and there aren’t all that many jobs offering that combined with a decent wage in existence.
I spent plenty of time on minimum wage jobs and I was always frustrated by my lack of money and what ended up being a pretty constant state of boredom. Now I have a different kind of day job, and guess what? I resent that too. Mainly because it’s one I find difficult to leave behind when I close the office door behind me.
It’s funny how a global economic downturn can make people re-examine their priorities when it comes to work however, at the moment I’m thinking less about the space I want to write and more about how lucky I am to have a job and a dream at all. Or I’m trying anyway.
I don’t have any dependants but I do hold down a full time job. At least once a week I dream of jacking it in and trying to write full time. But as soon as the thought pops up, it’s quickly buried under a deluge of sensibleness and fear. Even fairly well published writers struggle to survive on writing alone and work to support their literary habits. So I’m nowhere near unrealistic enough to believe that there would be any way to recap the capital I’d lose by giving up the day job, even if my wildest fantasies materialised.
But man if it isn’t hard to squeeze the stories that I want to tell into the margins of real life. I just end up grumpy when I work too hard and guilty when I don’t set aside enough time for writing. Then I feel horribly antisocial when I turn down invites from friends to give myself extra time then feel as though I’m wasting my life when I don’t manage to put that extra time to good use.
I’ve been saving up money for years and, if I lived extremely frugally, I could maybe survive for 12 months on it. The money is technically for a flat now but once upon a time it was meant to be a writing fund so that I could do just that. The thing is, my worry that I’ll never be good enough for that to be the right thing to do with it is winning. How much belief in yourself do you need to give up the day job? Would you do it?