Dear Jackass, Why Did You Quit Your Day Job?

Dear Jackass,

Do we really have this conversation again? Every other day I hear about some who’s “ready” to stop working for the MAN and start working for ART. That’s how it’s always presented; one person, tired of their day job, trying to convince themselves that they’re ready to take all that time they’re wasting on earning a paycheck and instead spend it on writing their novel/screenplay/collection of short stories. Convinced that the only reason they haven’t finished it yet is the 30 or 40 hours a week they’re sitting in an office, as if all of the time they sit at home watching tv isn’t the problem. Having to be responsible, pay their bills, take care of themselves, and, you know, be a productive member of society, well all of that is just too stressful. They deserve to be full-time writers, don’t they?

No. They don’t. And neither do you. No one actually deserves to be a full-time writer, except those people who work their way up to actually being full-time writers on top of their day job, and have gotten themselves to a place where they’d actually earn more money if they focused solely on their writing. That’s the progression, folks. You do not quit your job to have more time to write. You write until you write so much that you a) get paid a living wage for it, b) have savings to fall back on, c) can afford your own health care, and d) have spent so much time on writing that you’re literally doing nothing else but going to your day job and putting words on the page.

When you get there, you can quit the 40-hour week to focus solely on the 50/60/70-hour week that being a full-time writer requires. You do know that being a professional writer means more than just fans want your autograph, right? You have to churn out work, consistently. If it takes you more than a year to write a novel, you are not ready to be a full-time writer. If you’re not creating several short stories a month, all of which are getting published in pro-rate markets, you are not ready to be a full-time writer. If you don’t have the level of fame which makes publishers take another look simply because your name is at the top of the submission, you are not ready to be a full-time writer. Simply put, you will not make enough money and your rent will not be paid and you will starve.

God forbid you have a spouse or children or anyone else depending on you, because you will drag all of them down with you. And don’t tell me that your wife wants to support you so you can follow your bliss. You think she’s not worried about having to take care of you? You think she doesn’t have a bliss she’d rather be following instead of being your ATM machine? She wants you to be happy, sure, because it’s the only way to get you to stop being a whiny jackass.

There is nothing more selfish or more pathetic than someone who’d risk their family’s happiness and security because they want to be something they haven’t actually put the work into being.

I know it’s tempting. Who wouldn’t want to spend their days “researching” on the Internet, or having coffee in a cute cafe with your laptop open in front of you? Being able to have lunch at 3 pm at your favorite Indian restaurant because you don’t actually have to be anywhere at any particular time. Taking long strolls in the park or on the beach, soaking up the sun, letting your brain wander. You know, for “inspiration”. It all sounds lovely, but the only people who can afford to actually do these things, to live a life of ease, are people who have someone else footing the bill. Working writers do not have this life, because they are too busy WORKING. They are not playing tourist in scenic old Downtown on a Thursday. They are not catching the latest blockbuster at the multiplex. They are in their offices, writing words down, chasing submissions, promoting their work, adding up their sales figures, and trying to figure out how to cover the electric bill.

There is a way to work as a writer instead of working at anything else. It’s the same path you take when you want to be a CEO of a major company, or a college professor or a professional dancer. You don’t just wake up one day and decide you want to be that thing. You start at the bottom, you put in your time, you educate yourself, you work your way up, and you take every single step on the ladder. It isn’t easy and it isn’t quick and there’s no guarantee that you’ll be any good, but it’s the only way to be sure that you’re not wasting anyone else’s time or money.

But don’t take my word for it. Let Georgia McBride point out, “you’re either high, stupid, extremely romantic, disillusioned, brave or have a tremendous amount of faith in yourself. Or–all of the above,” if you think you can make a living wage from writing YA novels. Let Carol Pinchefsky tell you that, “A writer of speculative fiction can earn awards, the respect of peers, and the admiration of fans. However, what the writer frequently does not earn is a living wage solely off of spec-fic writing.” Briane Keene will tell you that you’ll need, “The clarity to separate art from profession and business from pleasure, because we are not having fun with a hobby—we are paying the fucking bills on time.”

Chuck Wendig cautions that you need 25 things before you can be a full time writer. “Ahh. The old day-job. When you could, conceivably, rise to the level of your own incompetence and sit around watching funny cat videos all day long and still get paid for it. Ha ha! Sucker. Those days are gone. You’ve now entered into a more pure relationship between effort and compensation, as in, the more effort you put into something, the more work you put out, which means the more money you earn. Fail to work? Fail to create? Then you fail to get paid.”

The only good thing about being the kind of person who thinks they “deserve” to be a writer is that generally, you won’t be a very successful one. You don’t understand how to make that work, and you spend too much energy trying to get other people to support you, to fix your problems for you. You’ll fail, you’ll quit, you’ll move on to something else, and we won’t have to deal with you any more. So you know what? You want to be a jackass, you go right ahead.

I’ll be over here, writing.

PS. A few of the people quoted above talk about the need to have a spouse who works full-time to support you, but let me remind you that if you’re depending on someone else to pay the bills, you’re not working as a writer. You’re playing at being a writer like some people build model trains or walk the mall every Saturday morning. It’s a hobby, not a profession. How can you be proud of that?

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18 thoughts on “Dear Jackass, Why Did You Quit Your Day Job?

  1. I quit my job because I wanted to murder everyone I worked with. I came home angry every night. That’s no way to live. For a while, my job through a relief pharmacist’s agency was getting me 20-40 hours a month, which was great (at $50/hr? You bet.) I’ve gotten squat from them for TWO YEARS now, and I’m leisurely applying for jobs and being rejected mostly.

    But then, I’m just a poser jackass, since my spouse’s job and insurance is what pays our bills.

    • You quit your job because you HATED that job, and had the security of knowing that you had time to look for another one. That is not the same as quitting to be a full-time writer when you hadn’t yet worked as a writer enough to make enough money at it to support yourself.

      If you want to be offended here, sure, you can do that. It’s my semi-regular snark-filled rant post. It’s bound to offend people, because it’s stated in a bold, often harsh way. I’d hate to offend you because I like you, but in this particular case I do think that we’re not talking about the same thing.

      • I certainly hadn’t made enough as a writer to support myself. I’d never even sold a story (though I think my first sale came around that time). I wanted more time to write, because I couldn’t really do it at work (we were a very slow pharmacy, so there was a lot of down time, but also a lot of interruptions) and when I got home, I was too ragey to do anything.

        I have a very supportive spouse who doesn’t really care if I work or not (though we could use the income, because we’re burning through savings). If I worked, I’d lose all the time for my hobbies and exercise, because the jobs I’ve been looking at aren’t the kind you can write or read or crochet during (and only have 30-minute lunch breaks, so no walk around the building *and* food).

        I’ve prioritized differently. Do I think I “deserve” to be a full-time writer? Does that even matter? I’m writing most days, I’m in a writing group, I’m submitting stories (and selling some on occasion). But short fiction doesn’t do much for me; I write novels. If I can get the novel and the WIP to a decent state (the latter may imply some changes in the former), I’ll start submitting them.

        I’m lucky that I have someone who is willing to support me while I work to establish a career in writing. That doesn’t mean I’ve done it wrong.

      • Sorry, it looks like my earlier reply to this comment got deleted or didn’t post (WP via iPhone).

        You said:

        Do I think I “deserve” to be a full-time writer? Does that even matter?

        Well, yes, only because that’s the point of the post. There are plenty of people who quit their day job, dump all the responsibility on the spouse, and expect good things to happen for them just because they want it. They don’t make a plan for taking care of themselves in the future, they don’t have the experience to make themselves write consistently, and so on. To them, this rant.

        You, on the other hand, have pretty clearly explained why you don’t fall into this category. If you and Ben are both happy, your bills are paid and your needs are met, then great. You’re not doing anything wrong. And as you’ve said, if you really need more money, you’ll go back to working 9-5 (metaphorically). You’re not dead set against it, and therefore this post is not about you.

        Do you like going to your writer’s group? I’ve been thinking about joining one (there are a few local groups), but I’ve heard warring opinions on the subject.

  2. Needed to read this today. Thanks for posting.

  3. Looks like I can’t reply to the comment above, so new thread yay.

    I agree, the special snowflakes who want fame and fortune to fall in their lap are jackasses and deserve scorn (and their friends and family pity).

    I like my writer’s group, but every group is different. One member moved to Texas and looked for one there, and found one that only allowed “I loved it!” She was kicked out because she gave constructive criticism. (She’s typically honest but not mean, and she’s good at finding the weak points.) So if you can find a good group, whether in person or online, of people who give good feedback and not all fluffy sunshine unicorn bunnies, it’s worth a shot. I like figuring out where other people’s stories are weak, because it helps me find where my stories are weak. It’s definitely one of those places where your mileage may vary.

    • Yes WP has the funk today.

      I want good critiques, not fluffy sunshine. I have people who will tell me how great my writing is regardless of whether I think it’s any good. I need people to tell me where I’ve failed, so that even if I don’t choose to “fix” it, I still knew that I was making a choice. I have heard that groups around here are more on the compliment side than the criticism side, so we’ll see. If I do find one I like, I’ll post about it.

      • Some people recommend the Online Writing Workshop. There’s a fee, but I’ve heard you get a free month (?) to try it and see if it works for you. If there aren’t any good groups near you, there’s always the internet.

  4. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a hobbyist writer. When I hear about how hard some writers work–or how creatively tied up they are by contracts–I think I’d rather keep my day job forever!

    • I don’t think writing while having a day-job necessarily makes you a “hobbyist writer” – in many people’s cases it’s a second job, period. Often a second full-time one. And if someone chooses to write only an hour a day, maybe a few hours on the weekend, there’s nothing wrong with that either. Words on the page are still words on the page 🙂

      I plan to keeping working a steady job until I don’t have a choice anymore, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that point. In fact, I’m actively trying to get enough education to get a better day-job. I like the idea of being able to provide for my son, have health insurance, make my car payment, see the occasional movie, go to a convention a couple of times a year … I recently had this conversation with a friend and we agreed that we need the stability of knowing that the rent will be paid and the apartment will have heat. Then we can feel solid, secure, and take risks with our writing instead of our finances.

  5. Wait, did you read the Big 6 rant about the author who got an advance, quit his job, and then (when things didn’t go perfectly) blamed it all on Big 6 because it’s their fault he wasn’t a millionaire? Or was that completely unrelated?

    I’m not anything like a full-time author. I am a full-time stay-at-home-mom with high needs children and weekly visits to the doctor/speech therapist/behavioral therapist. That’s not a job I can walk away from. Nor is it a job that gives me a paycheck. I write for stress relief, and to have fun, and to (maybe) make some money on the side. I guess that makes me a hobbyist. I could work outside the home, but then I’d need to pay someone to be a mom for me, take my kids to speech therapy, feed my baby, and tutor the kids after school. I haven’t found a job yet that would pay enough for me to buy a clone of myself, so we live off of one income.

    Regardeless, I liked the post. Writing a book isn’t easy, and sucess isn’t something that magically appears overnight. :o)

    • This wasn’t related to the Big 6 thing, but kind of makes my point.

      As far as I’m concerned, staying at home with special needs kids (which, you’re right, is a more difficult situation even than caring for typical children, which the greater expense involved in finding care so you can work) is a job. You have a full time job, you’re choosing to write on top of that.

  6. I know I’m a little late to the party, but I had to comment on such a great post.
    I know someone who has just quit their stable, well-paid job with good career prospects, to become “a writer”. A newly qualified teacher in their mid-twenties, this person isn’t even sticking out their first teaching year, but quit halfway through, and is moving back in with their parents to “live the dream”.
    Partly I feel they are ruining their future job prospects, in teaching or not. If they could only stick it out at the school for 5 more months, they could quit at the end of the academic year for greener pastures, and still have a good work history. As it is, the way I see it, this person has put themselves at a disadvantage by not honoring the commitment they made to the teaching job. Any prospective future employer is going to look at the fact this person has quit halfway through the school year, to “live the dream” while living with their parents, and see an entitled scrounger who cuts and runs with barely any notice when it’s not all sunshine and daisies. This leaves the employer and colleagues in a bind when it happens, too – someone has to cover their work. Essentially, I think this person is shooting themselves in the foot by quitting like this, especially in such a tough job market. When they next need a job, what impression do they think this will have? Employers are going to be extremely wary to someone who quits at a moment’s notice because the job turns out not to be the person’s dream job.
    I’m not sure on the teaching front, but I’m guessing that quitting halfway through their first qualified year of teaching doesn’t leave much of a fallback career, either.

    I completely agree that it’s about a sense of entitlement, thinking they DESERVE to “live the dream” or whatever. Really, Jackass? Because I’m pretty sure most people you know have a bliss they want to follow, but they are adults who act like adults, and work a day job to pay rent and bills and put food on the table, taking responsibility for themselves. Are you saying that you DESERVE to not have to be a responsible adult, more than everyone else? You DESERVE to live off your spouse/parents/whoever? What about the person you’re going to be living off… what happens if THEY suddenly decide they want to quit the day job to become a writer or whatever? Then you’ll both be screwed.

    So far, this person has gone to a one-evening writing “workshop”, written a few chapters of their novel, taken a vacation to see their sibling in a different city, and started a blog. They’re currently in the process of moving back in with the parents.

    Don’t get me wrong, I fully support people who want to be writers/acters/singer-songwriters or whatever. But in the meantime, they still have to get a job. These great writers did:
    http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/PWxyz/2012/08/09/6-authors-who-never-quit-their-day-jobs/

    It’s all very well wanting to be a writer…but it’s not an excuse to abdicate your responsibilities as an adult. Writing as a job is still WORK.

  7. Oops. Sorry, went a bit OTT there.I’ll try and rephrase what I was trying to say a bit more succinctly.

    Jackass:
    1) Reality check. There’s living your dream, and there’s being completely irresponsible. Your job pays the bills, but it is not your inherent right to enjoy every minute of it. Deal with it.
    2) So you’re tired of working for “the man”, and are jacking in the day job to “live the dream”. In order to do so, unless you have savings or the dream is providing a livable paycheck, you’re living, and scrounging, off someone else. You are a hypocrite – why should someone else – your spouse, partner, parents, whoever, work for “the man” so you can follow your bliss? YOU obviously wouldn’t shoulder the responsibility so someone else could do what you’re doing now, so why should someone else do it for you? Also, what happens when whoever you’re living off, gets home one day and says, “Yay, I’ve quit my job too! I’m off to become a writer/surfer/Buddhist Monk, so I can’t support you anymore. Bye!”
    3) Be careful how and when you quit your job. It may feel good at the time to let rip at your boss and stalk out the building, feeling liberated and unburdened. But unless you have a trust fund like an Ecclestone girl, you’ll likely need another job at some point. Aside from needing a reference from the boss you chewed out, if you quit at short notice, or because it’s not your “dream” job, you are advertising yourself as someone unreliable/entitled/lacking in discipline, which does not look good on your CV.
    4) If you’re really a writer, you’ll write, whatever your day job. If you want it badly enough, you’ll make the time for it, rather than making excuses.

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