Columns > Published on November 27th, 2019

Quit Your Job, Write Full Time

I’m quitting my job to write.

I’m giddy just typing that phrase, even though it’s not true. Maybe it should be in italics. Or maybe I should add "someday" to the end. In italics.

For such a common dream, it’s so unattainable. So taboo to even discuss. It's italics-level taboo. 

It’s laughable, right? If someone said this to you, would you have any reaction other than, “Good fucking luck”? 

I’m not going to lie, I’d like to quit my job and write full time. But whenever I think about it, I think about the roadblocks. I’m not a wealthy man, nor was I from the sperm of a wealthy man or the egg of a wealthy woman. That’s both the longest and grossest way I could think to say I don’t have family money.

I haven't had a ton of luck with publication so far. I’m no Stephen King. I’m no Toni Morrison. I’m no...I’m nobody. 

When I have a problem, I find that the solution usually involves plotting it out in linear fashion. Otherwise I get off track. What are the concrete steps I’d have to take to make this happen? What order should I do them in? Can I eat snacks while I think about it? See, off track already.

Take the journey with me.

Step 1: Is It What I Want?

We tend to start with the financial, but there's something to be said for the emotional side here. Because if you aren't emotionally invested, there's no point in trying to work out the finances. 

Question: Am I prepared to spend my time alone?

Some people get weird when they have a couple days with nothing specific to do, nowhere to be, and so on. Some people need a little more human interaction than they’d get as a stay-at-home writer. Ask parents who’ve stayed home with their newborns. Some people are able to tolerate a lot more of that than others.

Question: Do I want to write, or do I just want a different job?

Hard truth time: Are you quitting because you want to write full time or are you quitting because you hate your job? Being a full-time writer is not the direction to go unless it's very specifically what you want. If you just need a new job, see if you can find one that's more typical. 

Question: Can I Try A Working Vacation?

To find out if full-time writing is what you want, take a vacation from your job and try it. Whatever you can arrange. If it’s only 2 days on a weekend, then there you go. If you can wrangle a few vacation days and attach to a weekend, try that. Try the 9-5 writing grind, see how it feels.

Question: What’s My Emotional Support Network Like?

If you're making this switch, you need your friends, family, and writer colleagues on board. You can't manage this new lifestyle AND be constantly fighting for it or about it. Be real with the people around you, especially the people who need your time and attention. 

Step 2: Is It What I Need?

Being honest with myself, there is time outside of the work day that I could be writing, and I’m not. I'd get more done without work, sure. But could I get a lot more done AND continue to work? Yes, probably.

So, quitting would help me level-up, but it’s not the only thing that’d help, and maybe it’s not even the best thing.

Leaving your 9-5 is a drastic move, so you’d better make sure it’s necessary. Make sure there aren't other things that might be just as helpful. Like, in my case, working on my discipline. 

Step 3: The Financials

Question: Have I Hit The Pratchett Point?

Terry Pratchett decided to quit working and write full time when it turned out he would earn more money as a writer than he would at his 9-5. He was losing money by working a regular job, so he almost had to quit.

It’s not likely that many of us will hit that point, ever. I’m sad to say it, but it’s true. 

However, if you hit that point, you can bypass all the other questions about finances. 

Question: How do I feel about having a lot less money?

Because the dream of quitting your job will come at a price.

I’m a Dave Ramsey fan, especially in terms of financial decisions being emotional. They really are. Taking on debt, paying it off, all that stuff is emotional. Okay, having the money is also pretty damn crucial, but what I mean is, you have to decide what you’re emotionally prepared for.

As an example, how do you feel getting out of a car that’s 20 years old in front of a group of teens? This is an experience I had recently, and it wasn’t my favorite. But, I don’t live my life to impress teens. Fortunately. Because if I was, I’d be failing miserably.

How well do you handle financial stress? How do you feel about living in a smaller home than your peers? Are you able to cook for yourself on the cheap, and will eating most of your meals at home make you sad? How do you feel about buying a boring car and driving it for the next 15 years? How do you feel about taking good care of your clothes and wearing the same things 10 years from now?

By the way, I’m not looking down on anyone who wants to drive a sweet whip (is that what kids call them still?) or live in a nice home. That’s fine. What I’m saying is, what are you willing to give up? Because the dream of quitting your job will come at a price.

Question: Can I go three months on the New Budget before quitting?

Before you quit your job, see if you can live for three months on the budget you’d have if you quit. This is a double whammy. You’ll get to see how realistic the idea is, and you’ll get to save a cash cushion since you’ll be spending a lot less.

3 months might sound like a long time to put off your dream, but if you start today, you’d be done around Valentine’s day.

Question: What’s my financial support network like?

There were times in my life when this question would’ve meant that I absolutely couldn’t leave my job. Right now, if everything fell apart, if I made zero progress, I wouldn’t be homeless. I wouldn’t be penniless. I wouldn’t starve. That hasn’t always been as true as it is now, and I’m very grateful for that.

If you don’t have a partner you share expenses with, parents you can rely on, or whatever situation you’ve worked out, if you’re responsible for your financial present and future, I wouldn’t quit that day job.

Step 4: Move Towards the Mountain

In Neil Gaiman's awesome "Make Good Art" speech, he talks about decision-making in relation to his "mountain."

According to Gaiman, the way to make decisions is to look at them and decide whether they're a step towards the mountain or not. If it's a step towards the mountain, go for it. If not, then leave it be.

In this case, my mountain is working full-time as a writer.

Many a dream dies because it can’t be achieved in perfect, ideal form. The best way I’ve heard it said, perfect is the enemy of progress.

I don't want to miss out on a step towards the mountain just because it's not the giant leap that gets me all the way there.

Truthfully, a lot of us would probably be in good shape if we went part-time and used the additional time to write. Even if we just cut down one day, added an 8-hour writing block to the weekly schedule, that seems like it’d make a huge difference. It’s not giving the corporate world the big middle finger, but again, is that really the goal? Or is the goal to write?

Don’t sacrifice a step in the right direction because the step isn’t big enough.

It's not in the cards for me. Yet. But I've got some concrete steps, things to improve. And working towards that mountain is a hell of a lot better than lamenting how it's not happening right here, right now. 

Got any concrete steps of your own?

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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