When to quit your day job

No, I’m not quitting my day job.

But it is something a lot of writers think about.  Dreamed about, even.  I’ve thought about it.  But it’s never been a dream.
A little context.  I have a day job that is a career, a job that I love with prospects for advancement and amazing benefits.

I have a writing career that has become a career rather suddenly; I love writing; there are prospects for advancement, and amazing benefits (though less tangible ones than dental and flex spending).

So how do I put those two things together?  With great difficulty, it turns out.  During the past summer, I worked full time on my day job while getting my first novel ready for publication.    It was very stressful.  It was like being a frog in a pot of water with the gas turned on underneath.  My little webbed toes were boiling by the time I realized it was time to jump out.

The problem is, I can’t write full time.  I’d be crawling the walls with boredom and loneliness after the first week.  That’s a big factor, when thinking about writing as a career–can you be alone with your thoughts and your MacBook while everybody else is at school and your partner’s in the lab or at work or whatever, and get anything done?

So I talked to my colleagues this week about going half time at my day job.  It’s a go.  A perfect solution for me.
Would you do it?  Quit your day job to write full time?

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  1. 1. Kelly McCullough

    My full time job is kept man, which means I get to write full time and have health insurance. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, though it is nice that the books are starting to make enough money that we’re drifting toward being a two-income family.

  2. 2. Matt

    On the one hand, I feel like if I didn’t have the forty-hour work week, I could get so much more done. Yet I know that, when faced with the blank page, I’m prone to all the procrastinating and rationalizing many (all?) writers are subject to. Chances are I’d end up wasting tons of time not writing.

    Plus, with a job, I to some extent interact with people and the world, whereas if I was writing full-time, I’d have to actively seek out that kind of thing. Not that full-time writers are hermits or anything; I’d just worry about isolation happening *to me*.

    So when it comes down to it, probably not. But ask me again in a few years, maybe I’ll say something different.

  3. 3. May

    I wouldn’t want to write full-time, for much the same reasons.

    I am very much an introvert, and I need something to get me out and about so writing full-time would be a disaster for my mental health, I think.

  4. 4. David Louis Edelman

    The problem is, I can’t write full time. I’d be crawling the walls with boredom and loneliness after the first week.

    Yes, but it’s my understanding that full-time writers are so busy fending off groupies, having tea with Mick Jagger, answering letters from adoring fans, conducting photo shoots with Annie Leibowitz, lecturing about their work on college campuses, and trying to find creative places to stash all that extra cash that they don’t have time to be bored.

  5. 5. Steve Buchheit

    I doubt that I’ll ever be able to quit the day-job (you know, unless those prayers to become a hack like Stephen King or Dan Brown get fulfilled). It does offer medical (such as it is) and a retirement (union, baby!). Neither of which is offered as a full-time writer.

    I did choose the day-job to make more time to write. Or at least more head space I could call my own. The other jobs I had on offer (after losing the previous) would have required much more thinking about off-time and would have left my creative brain feeling like having been wrung out at the end of the day (like the old job).

    Now I just need to get to the point I can quit the second and third jobs to get more time to write.

  6. 6. Tim Pratt

    Yes, I’d quit my day job the moment I could afford to do so (and keep my current standard of living!) in order to write full time. (Well, I like my job, so I’d give ‘em two weeks’ notice.) I don’t think boredom would be an issue — I’d just cook more, read more, keep the house cleaner, watch more movies, take more walks, etc. I finally clawed my way to the point where I could cut down to four days a week at my day job, so every Wednesday I get to pretend I’m a full-time writer. It’s bliss. I look forward to it every week. It keeps me sane, honestly, knowing I have that time, that I’ll be sure to have at least one very productive writing day each week. I dream of having every day be like that.

    Of course, I’m an anti-social misanthrope, which helps. The occasional convention or writing workshop or dinner with friends is more than enough to keep me sufficiently socialized. I work well by myself.

  7. 7. Sarah Prineas

    Tim, you make writing full time sound awfully tempting…

    I don’t think I’m going to actually write any more now that I’m going half time, but I will definitely be less stressed, which will make my family happier. And I’ll have time for other stuff when I’m not at the day job besides writing.

  8. 8. Mike

    I’ve found that I *can’t* write fiction and have a full-time day job. My DJ involves writing, and once I wrestle with words for someone else all day, there’s nothing left for my own writing at night or weekends.

    If I can find a DJ that (a) doesn’t involve writing and (b) pays more so I can work less, then I can refocus and get back to serious real writing. Organ donation is a good income generator but the long-term prospects are dim. :)

  9. 9. Kate Elliott

    I think it depends on the day job. A great day job can probably feed into the writing, or give the brain a break – not to mention the security of a regular salary and (one hopes) decent health care and pension benefits.

    Me, I couldn’t wait to quit. I never wanted to work full time for other people. In my case, it helped that it was cheaper for us to have me stay home anyway, given the costs of child care, so I juggled working at home with being the point (wo)man for day to day issues with the children.

    keep the house cleaner

    that didn’t work out so well for me

    Yes, but it’s my understanding that full-time writers are so busy fending off groupies

    — oh, wait, the doorbell just rang, gotta go

  10. 10. john Levitt

    Hey Sarah, Didn’t I suggest half-time months ago? (Pats self on back)

    I think there are two big factors here. One, do you like your job or do you hate it? There’s a lot of satisfation from a job you love, very little from one you hate.

    Second, how prolific are you? Some, like Mr. Pratt here, have been known to whip out 50,000 words a day. I, on the other hand, only average one or two. (Words, not thousands.)

    I’m having a very tough time balancing work with my sequel deadline.

  11. 11. SMD

    If I knew that I could make a decent enough living (as in comfortable for my standards), then I would quit working a day job in a heart beat. I love being home, I love writing, and I love all that comes with writing for me (all the research I get to do, all the google searching for random things that eventually show up in my work, etc.).
    Will that ever happen? Most likely not. But it’s something I would love to do. Being a full time writer for the rest of my life would be amazing.

Author Information

Sarah Prineas

Sarah lives in Iowa City, Iowa with her mad scientist husband and two kids. Author of the Magic Thief series; the first book is coming in summer 2008 from HarperCollins and a bunch of other publishers around the world. Visit site.

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