Back in November of 2014 I lost my job as a FileMaker developer. I was working for a company that was soon to close its doors. I’d seen the writing on the wall for some time, but had held on as long as I could. When it finally happened, I wasn’t sure what to do. The COO of the company, a person I admire greatly, was transitioning to a new job as well, and she offered me a position working with her. Around the same time, I’d also sold 3 books to Simon Pulse. Violent Ends, We Are the Ants, and an untitled book to come out in 2017.
I’ve said many times, both here on my blog and in other forums, that having a day job was extremely beneficial to my writing. It offered me the ability to write what I wanted without fear because I had the financial security to not worry about whether my manuscripts sold or sold for a lot of money. I could write my passion projects, and if no one wanted them, I wouldn’t be up a creek.
So when I lost my job, it seemed like the obvious choice was to accept a position with my old boss that she’d offered me. But I didn’t. I turned the job down. It would have involved a lot of traveling that might have made it more difficult to write. I was on the fence about it, and I talked to my mom. She told me if I was ever going to take a chance on writing full time, this was my moment. This, coming from the woman who constantly told me that writing was a fine thing to do, but that I should always have a fallback, was what finally convinced me.
I knew my financial situation would give me about a year to write, after which I’d either have to sell something else or find a new job. Well, that year (which stretched to closer to 16 months) has come to an end. Here’s what I learned.
1. Budgeting is hard. Publishing is traditionally slow. It can take months after you’ve sold a manuscript for the contracts to get worked out and the publisher to pay you. I’ve even heard situations where it’s taken longer than a year. If you’re earning royalties, you’ll only get them twice a year when royalty statements come out, and you’ll have almost no idea what those royalties are going to be.
Trying to create a budget when you’re only getting advance money, the delivery of which you can only offer a best guess at, is difficult. I’m used to budgeting a month or two in advance at most. Having to budget for over a year in advance proved more difficult than I’d imagined. That said, I didn’t do terribly. But things come up you don’t expect. I had a random root canal that needed to be done. Self-employment taxes were more than I’d expected. Life happens, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do to stop it. But when you’re living on a tight budget and you know you have no more money coming in (or you know you do but can’t predict when or how much that’s going to be), it can really foul things up.
I decided if I ever write full time again, it won’t be until I’m consistently earning as much in royalties as I do from my day job.
2. Writing full time is lonely. At first it was awesome. Wake up when I wanted, stay up until 3am. That disruption to my normal schedule actually caused me to go through a 4-5 month period of extreme insomnia. But it was still cool to make my own schedule.
But then as time passed, I began to grow more hermity. I’m writing became my excuse not to go anywhere. I felt like since I was essentially self-employed I needed to spend all my time writing. And as a result, I actually saw my friends and family less than I had before. My partner’s jokes about me never leaving the house became less funny with each passing day. I became isolated and withdrawn. I was happy, sure, but I was lonely as hell. And that loneliness stifled my creativity.
3. Working from home can be hell on a relationship. My partner worked, and so did I, but since I was always home, we were constantly annoying each other. If he was home from work while I was writing, I grew frustrated by the loud sounds of the television or any interruptions. On his days off, he would grow annoyed by my constant presence. It’s not that we didn’t and don’t love each other, but I’d had my own life when I’d worked, and he’d had his own quiet time. When I started writing full time, both of those things disappeared. Our relationship definitely suffered for it.
If I ever write full time again, I’m definitely going to write from a co-working space. Not only so that he’ll have time to himself, but so that I don’t wind up so isolated.
4. There’s only so much writing I can do in a day. When I worked full time, I wrote either early in the morning or in the evening after work. Generally I’d write for about 2 hours, during which I’d average about 2-5k words. As it turns out, that’s about the most my brain is capable of. Sure, I’ve had days or even stretches of days where I pounded out 10k words, but those aren’t the norm. I generally wrote 5-6 days a week. So even at the low end of the curve (writing 2k words 5 days a week), I was still writing almost 500k words per year. Working full time from home didn’t see an increase in my overall word count. I still averaged about 2-4k words per day; I just stretched those out over 8 hours as opposed to being forced to do them in 2.
The one benefit working from home did have was my work on Violent Ends. The pace was so quick (18 months from conception to shelf), that I’m not sure I could have done that while holding down a day job. But that was a special circumstance. Overall, I don’t think working from home full time honestly did anything to help me write better or more.
So those are the things I learned. I’m starting a new job on Monday. A job I’m genuinely excited about. I’ll be working as a database admin/designer, something most writers would probably find incredibly boring, but which I quite enjoy. The people I’ll be working with seem extremely cool. I’ll be going back to writing whenever I can find the time, but I’ll have a steady pay check. I’ll get to interact with people every day. My partner and I won’t be constantly at each other’s throats, each secretly wishing the other would get out of the house for a while. True, it might mean slightly less time for writing, though I don’t think my writing will suffer for it. It’ll mean I won’t be able to respond to emails as quickly (though, being honest, I kind of suck at that anyway), and that I won’t be able to attend as many book events as I did last year. It means I probably won’t be as present as I was on social media, which maybe isn’t a bad thing.
But my main worry when I was trying to decide whether to accept the new job back in November ’14 was that the momentum I’d built up—three books being published in 12 months—would stall. And maybe it would have with that job. But I don’t think so. I’ve come to believe that not only was having a great day job I enjoyed going to every day not a detriment to my writing, it was a benefit.
When I started looking for a day job, I thought I was admitting defeat. I thought it meant I was a failure as a writer even though I’d always planned to only write full time for a year. But having a day job doesn’t make me less of a writer. It doesn’t make me a failure. It makes me a writer who’s got a day job and that’s all.
So if you don’t see me around as much, it’s just because I’m working. It means I’m designing databases and sitting in on meetings and punching a clock and maybe playing Exploding Kittens with my new co-workers. But it’ll also mean I’m writing. So long as you awesome people keep wanting to read my books, I will keep on writing them.