There has been a lot of talk on Twitter lately about whether you can call yourself a serious writer if you don’t give up your ‘day job’ to pursue your dream of writing full-time.
I’m sure most writers dream of packing in their day job to have the time to write for a living. When I’ve been in particularly bad jobs, I’ve fantasised about what a full-time writer’s life would be like; get up around mid-morning, after a lavish breakfast in bed of eggs, croissants and tea, followed by an hour’s tinkering on the laptop before a long lunch-break down my local country pub with friends, all fellow writers of course. This would lead to an afternoon of plotting and writing the next of my bestsellers, which my publisher is obviously eagerly awaiting. (Remember; this is a fantasy.)
With this in mind, the first time I was made redundant from my day job, I was ecstatic. (Disclaimer – I have to point out I’d worked one and sometimes two jobs at a time for almost twenty years and had deliberately built up savings in case the opportunity ever arose for me to be in this position. So, financially, I was fine and therefore redundancy wasn’t the traumatic experience it could have been at earlier points in my life.) After waving goodbye to my colleagues with more glee than they expected, I planned to give myself three whole months off before looking for a replacement day job.
In those three months I was going to write a novel! (Picture Bilbo Baggins skipping away from The Shire to start his adventure…)
I hadn’t spent that much time writing whilst I was working full-time because I was always exhausted. I’d concentrated mainly on short stories until I wrote my first novel (The Girl Who Died). And, interestingly, a short story I wrote during a brief break in between jobs in my early thirties became the first piece of writing I ever got published. In a real anthology! It was the first story I ever submitted to anyone and I only had the time and energy to submit it because I was between jobs.
So, did my three months off work result in publication and an income that meant I didn’t have to go back to a day job? No, of course not! But my garden was looking amazing. I’d completely re-designed it and lovingly tended and planted everything in it myself. And the three months off taught me that you don’t necessarily need loads of spare time in order to write. Sometimes, having too much spare time kills creativity and motivation. You have more time to procrastinate and more time for doubt and guilt. But, towards the end of that summer, once the garden was looking lovely, I started writing my second novel (Who Cares If They Die), which was later published by Ruby Fiction. I have now finished the second and almost the third in the series, all whilst working part-time.
I find that having a day job, if you find one you enjoy and with hours that suit you, can stop you from becoming isolated and introspective, plus it provides rich pickings for things like characters, anecdotes etc. It can also pay your bills in a way that full-time writing may not ever, if we listen to all the advice out there.
However, having the time to actually sit at your computer for a set period every day, five days a week, means your output will obviously be larger and you’ll have more work to submit to a wider variety of publications/publishers. Also, you’ll have time to actually query/submit your work. Querying is hard enough already, without trying to do it with just ten minutes spare here and there.
So, should you quit your day job to write full-time?
Yes, if: you want to, you can afford it and you’ve had good feedback on your writing so far.
No, if: it means you’ll get into financial hardship and you can’t guarantee you won’t spend the time growing a garden from scratch instead.
In my opinion, it’s better to find a day job related to your interests (I know, I know, not easy.) that leaves you with enough time and energy to write and submit alongside it.