I used to wonder sometimes if I would make it solely as a writer. This was something I dreamed about in high school. Dreams of life far down the road when I was a big success and could own a summer home in whatever movie setting I currently had stuck in my head. I dreamed that I would live there perhaps full time like in the movie The Secret Window except I wouldn’t have a nasty divorce and then go crazy and start killing people.
My favorite English teacher in high school was writing a book when I knew him. I have no idea if he finished it or not as we lost contact after I graduated and left for college. He gave us (his class) some advice that I never forgot and that ensured that I wouldn’t do anything stupid like quit my only source of income and either live off my parents or live in debt.
Don’t quit your day job.
For 15 years those words have ruled my writing life. I adopted his strategy of writing too – work during the day, write at night. Except I was so undisciplined that I wasn’t writing at night. I was tired and miserable first from college classes I disliked and later from jobs I hated. Then I got married and had a baby. We were so poor it was cheaper for me to quit my job and take our son out of childcare. Thus it’s been ever since.
I’m one of the lucky ones I think. I didn’t have to choose between having a steady income and writing. I had to stay at home to raise my son. Nap time soon turned into writing time. Through trial and error I discovered I’m not much of an article writer. My biggest weakness was the most important strength an article writer should have – ideas. I just don’t have them on the scale needed to make my way in the business. I keep trying through blogging but, for the most part, I’m sticking with short stories and novels.
Roger Morris wrote an article in a special issue of Writer’s Digest – Writer’s Yearbook 2014. The article is entitled Grow Your Freelance Business and it’s really helpful for freelance writers. Informative. Scared me witless at the thought of ever becoming a freelancer. If I still harbored vague daydreams about it, I don’t anymore. Blogging will be as far as I go for actively seeking out freelance work, thanks very much. Why? Because he points out all my weaknesses, stressing how important it is for them to be strengths.
- Choose to specialize or generalize
- Cold-call like a pro
- Generate ideas – lots of ideas
- Leverage what experience you’ve got
- Don’t hide behind your computer
- Think in terms of relationship-building
- Find auxiliary writing and editing income
- Be smart about blogging and social media
Having ideas, being social, being able to go places at the last minute. These are things I either can’t do or am not good at. If that kind of life was important enough to me, I’d try to find a way to push through it and strengthen what I’m not good at but it’s not important enough so I won’t. I’ll be smart and acknowledge that that kind of life isn’t for me. No regrets, no dreams lost.
He also went on to list things you should consider if you’re thinking of quitting your day job.
- Have you had enough important publications to demonstrate that your writing is strong enough to become a full-time career?
- Do you have a steady anchor publication or project to use as a base?
- Can you juggle a dozen different articles in various stages – at the same time?
- Are you overflowing with article ideas?
- Have you lined up any related work – teaching, editing, PR, etc. – to help out in a pinch?
- Do you have the resources – your own or a partner’s – to tide you over for a year or two until you grow your income stream?
If you answered yes to the above, good luck with your adventurous endeavor! You probably won’t have a lot of people rooting for you because, let’s face it, writers get trashed a lot for being impractical when they give up that day job. May your endeavors succeed in every way! Unless they cross paths with mine as an opposing party, then I hope you crash and burn.
That’s a joke. Mostly.
*NOTE: It’s been brought to my attention that it looked like article writing specifically was my dream and that I was giving it up. This is not the case. I tried my hand at writing serious articles as I deemed them to be more financially practical. This endeavor, however, flopped for the reasons listed above. My lifelong dream is to write short stories and novels and I will NEVER give up that dream, especially now that I’ve finally gotten some stories published! Neither do I believe anyone should give up on their dream. I’m just giving advice I read on whether or not people should write after work or if they should quit their job to write full-time.*