Last post, I mentioned that I was in the process of making some life changes to pursue writing. Now I'd like to delve into this a little more.
I've given much thought to the challenges of transitioning to full-time writing and am planning a series of posts in which I'll air my thoughts on how to overcome them. I'd like to start with one of the obvious challenges: Supporting yourself in a field that is traditionally not very lucrative. So while most of my posts will probably be aimed at some aspects of writing, this one will be about supporting yourself.
Writing is an occupation with a sharply have- and have-not culture. On the pointy end of the scale, the Kings and Rowlands and Grishams make seven-plus figure livings, but for every one of them there are thousands of people just trying to scrape by. These are the so-called starving artists (a term I kind of hate). The smart ones start plying their craft fresh out of school, plugging away until they either make it or lose passion/give up and start fresh on a new career.
Unlike these young idealists, people coming into things after more than a decade in the work force have additional worries. Even if you don't have a wife and kids to support, there are still significant opportunity costs associated with attempting to break into a tough field like writing.
Let's start with a simple truth for old dogs like me: You need to ease into new ventures carefully. Imagine your career like a series of stones (i.e., jobs) crossing a stream (i.e., your life). While your goal is to make it from bank to bank smoothly as possible, you certainly don't rush blindly from one stone to another. However enticing that next step may look, you don't trust it until you've put a toe on it and felt things out. You need to know that the new stone is going to support your weight when you finally make the jump from the old stone, otherwise you're getting wet.
In the corporate world, this means not quitting your current job until you have a new offer lined up. For a writer, however, things aren't so obvious. What constitutes stability and success? Is it selling your first book to a publisher? Is it making five figures a year from writing? Six figures?
The answer is usually not obvious, as success can be both arbitrary and fleeting. What's not debatable, though, are the additional costs incurred by an established professional who puts their career on hold to pursue their passion. Let's use me (our dunce ju jour) as an example: Imagine I quit a six-figure job to take a year off and write my first novel. I have no great illusions of success and am prepared to live more modestly in exchange for doing something I'm really interested in. There's one problem though: My book stinks. It's so bad I decide to give up and go back to science. However, in my absence, the world has moved on: my cushy job's long gone and I wind up doing shitty contract work for half the salary as before. Eventually, the soulless corporation wears me down and I'm fired when my bosses mistake my perpetual thousand-yard stare for drug addiction. I then fall into deep depression and spend my life savings on the companionship of strippers before hanging myself in the maintenance room of an Extended Stay America (patron hotel of the shamed single man).
So yeah, it could be an expensive lesson. And while money isn't everything, it's silly to deny that there's no relationship between income and quality of life. Unlike a 22-year-old with nothing to lose, caution is certainly advisable to someone who no longer lives with their parents.
There are several other good reasons to pursue a dream from a position of financial security:
(1) Free time. Bootstrapping a project sucks. I've done it. It takes three times as long to do anything.
(2) Relatively quick success or failure. Working faster allows you to try more things in the same amount of time, increasing the odds you'll find the right combination that works for you.
(3) Lower pressure. No one does their best work under desperate circumstances. Knowing you'll starve if your new novel doesn't sell is not going to make your prose better. Nor will rushing your work to meet financial deadlines.
(4) Full commitment. With a certain amount of success, your growing creative endeavors will demand you step back from your day job. Juggling a job is a powerful temptation to put off doing what you need to do to move forward.
All of this points to one inescapable conclusion: In order to give yourself the best shot at being successful, you need to come into this from a position of stability.
In the next post I'll explain a strategy for achieving sufficient financial independence to do whatever you want. And no, it doesn't involve hitting the powerball.
Noah's Inner Monologue
Scribblings of a man who can barely operate an idiotproof website.