Wednesday 28 September 2011

Living the Dream: quitting the day job to write full time

Wanted: Writer. Must live in own world and listen to voices in head, be able to work in PJ’s, and enjoy Pringles or jammy doughnuts for lunch. Dealing with irregular income and a complete absence of job security required. Dreamers may apply.
For many of us writers, the thought of quitting the day job to write full time is a bit of a holy grail: the thing we sigh at, and hope for.
Of course what job you are leaving behind may have something to do with the intensity of said longings. I've always wanted to be a clown!

Which well known children's writer was Wobblebottom?
(Hint: he is quoted, below)

When I got my publishing deal for thriller Slated with Orchard Books a few months ago (blogged here), I took the plunge: I quit my job with Buck’s libraries to write full time.

Me. Taking the plunge.

It wasn’t without a lot of trepidation. For many, the overriding issues will be job security and financial considerations, but given the stellar career opportunities currently available in libraries, this wasn’t my main issue.
My worry was this. I’ve had a few job… er… let’s call them ‘hiatuses’ in the past. When I thought, OK, the next job doesn’t start for X months; in the meantime, I’ll write the most amazing novel. And it hasn’t worked out: unlimited time meant unlimited procrastination. Years ago my best writing was always in that 6 am slot before work.

Me in previous episodes of 'full time writing'

There isn’t any question that writing is what I want to do, what I feel I am meant to do. I’d do it anyhow, but having an actual publishing contract with fierce deadlines means it isn’t a hobby; it isn’t guilt time that I really should be spending baking/jogging/polishing my ducks (insert as appropriate). It is, somehow, legitimized. And this makes a difference to me. Whether it should or not is a separate issue.

My ducks. Poor dears haven't been this shiny for a while...

But it still took me a few months of stuffing around to settle in to this new role. And here are some of the things I have learned:
  1. writing lists is very important. Hence said list. If I didn’t write lists, all would be lost.
  2. being self motivated is essential. If you need crowded time and deadlines to motivate, this may not be for you.
  3. pulling the plug is important: yes, the internet. Move away from TwitGoogleFace now and then.
  4. I need to have some sort of schedule! For me, joining a gym and scheduling going really helped. It also ensures I see humans at regular intervals, even if they are that guy who waves at himself in the mirror on the treadmill, or those scary dudes with loads of muscles and tattoos.
I haven’t got things sorted quite yet. I’ve been practicing saying ‘I am a writer’ rather than ‘I am unemployed’ in a mirror, but it still seems a bit wrong. Perhaps when Slated is published next May it will feel more real.
In the meantime, here are some comments from Real Actual Published or about-to-be Published Authors on writing full-time: the best, and the worst.

The best things about writing full time:

Che Golden: its fun, you get to work in your dressing gown all day and eat Pringles for lunch!

...or doughnuts. Jam ones. My muse rather likes jammy doughnuts

Sarwat Chadda: The best thing by far is the sense of freedom in writing. You're limited by nothing. If you can imagine it, you can write it. You can go anywhere in time, space, people's souls and their minds. You have the chance to create characters and see they become living things. For a bloke it’s probably the closest we get to given birth. Then there are the readers. I spent 20 years as an engineer and cannot remember once anyone commenting on me having done a good job. But as a writer, especially a children's writer, you get a passion and enthusiasm that transcends the mere words you've written. You can make readers out of kids who've never finished a book in their lives. That's pretty amazing.

It is all about the reader!

Ebony McKenna: The very best thing is my imaginary friends aren't imaginary any more, they are very real to readers.
Tim Collins: I don’t think there’s any substitute for a full day of writing. No matter how early you rise, how late you stay up or how many hours you steal from work, it’s not the same. It’s getting harder all the time to live off advances and royalties, but even if you can only afford to take a career break of a few months, I highly recommend it.
Serena Mackesy: I rather like being able to kill people when they annoy me. I like the fact that I can do it in bed, that I don't have to get dressed and that I've not been on public transport in rush-hour more than twice a year in the past decade.

Writer at work: ssssssh....

Joanna Kenrick: Best things: working at my own pace, taking breaks when I want, taking a day off when I need one, also feeling very smug as everyone else rushes off to work in their posh clothes!
Tommy Donbavand: I like working to my own schedule, being in control of my future.

The worst things about writing full time:

Sarwat Chadda: The worst thing is you're running a business and all that goes with it. Bills, paperwork, chasing up letters and payments. Boring, domestic work that is still bloody important. There is anxiety too. But I had it before I got published and so it just shifts around. Now its to do with sales, maintaining quality, is the new idea strong enough, will readers predict this next twist, or will it take them by surprise and raise the story a whole new level.

OMG! I am terrified of bills! No... wait. This isn't what he meant, is it? Um....

Serena Mackesy: I don't like being skint half the time, especially when it's due to the hiatuses between sending off European double-taxation forms to HMRC and receiving them back months later.
Joanna Kenrick: worry about money and the next contract.
Tommy Donbavand: the self-employed managing of an irregular income takes a bit of getting used to.
Tim Collins: You feel much more guilty about procrastination whenever you start working for yourself. But in writing, daydreaming is part of the job, so it’s hard to avoid some periods of inactivity. I’ve found that daydreaming without The Jeremy Kyle Show on is more productive, though.

I'll add one of my own, best and worst together:

the blank page. Love it or hate it, it waits....

And a final word from Sarwat Chadda:
What never happens in boredom. Again, all those years I sat in the office willing the clock to speed up and dreading Mondays. That pit of the stomach dread that ruined Sundays and corroded the quality of family life.
I never have that now. I spend more time with my kids than they could possibly want and I love Mondays.
I love Mondays. It's what writing's all about.
I love Mondays, too.


  1. Thanks for this. While I'm not a full-time at home writer, I feel more inspired now to try to grab a few moments and take advantage of them. Stepping away from TwitFaceetc. as we speak.

  2. Great, thanks for that Teri and everyone who contributed. I've been a full-time writer for nearly two months now and am still adjusting, so it is great to hear other experiences and advice.

    The final word from Sarwat is brilliant. I may print that and pin it to the wall above my desk as a timely reminder.

  3. A great read, Teri. It's such a dream for me, but I'm so scared of taking it even with hubby working. *sigh*

  4. 'I love Mondays' is a t-shirt waiting to happen. Terrific post, and good luck to all who have made the leap.

  5. Can I put the opposing view? I would actually hate to give up my day job because it imposes structure on my life. It makes me get up, it makes me go somewhere and it pays me money. Unlike Sarwat, I get far more encouragement in my day job than I do from people in publishing, who often want to focus on the negative ahead of the positive (N.B. Not talking about writing friends here, who are very supportive)

    I find I get much more writing done when I have to work it around my daily schedule, rather than having that blank canvas effect. Also, having a day job means I have to stay current with the market and spend my time with actual people rather than virtual ones.

    Perhaps it depends on where you work and what your temperament is, but I think you can find self-worth in all parts of your life without hitching everything to a dream.

  6. A great post and some insightful comments. I'm back at work (teaching 3 days a week in a secondary school) after a year's sabbatical. When I told a friend I hadn't seen in awhile that my book was being published this year he said, "See what happens when you have plenty of time on your hands?" I told him, truthfully, that I wrote the book when I had no time--when I was working, had children at home, other commitments. Full-time writing may be the ultimate goal for all of us (it certaily is for me!) but we have to make good use of whatever time we have...

  7. I agree with Tommy about the best part of writing f/t - having control of your time. But like you I have to do a list of what I want to do for the day to make it more motivational and in control, or I am lost what to do. Think it comes from having worked f/t before, having things ready to do.

  8. I didn't jump. I was 'pushed'. But I have no regrets.

  9. Great post Teri and congrats on taking the plunge. I agree that you have to have a schedule and treat it like a full time job (showing up at your computer, albeit in your jim jams, at the same time each day) and put in some butt to chair time. When I've taken leaves of absences from my day job I've gotten tons of writing done (maybe that's b/c I have the deadline of going back to work). I agree that deadlines help.

  10. Yes, I recognise much of this. Especially the anxiety but alos the not hating Mondays.

  11. Thanks for a great post. I just left my day job 2 1/2 weeks ago. I'm really happy to see that it takes some time to settle into the writing life. I'm currently trying to figure out the best writing schedule for me. Isn't it interesting that housework becomes fun when it's a form of procrastination?

  12. Thanks, everyone, for the comments.
    I like Candy's 'I love Mondays' T-shirt: but wearing same may annoy those around us!
    And certainly as I said, this option best isn't for everyone. I'm still struggling to adjust to a schedule, particularly tricky when you have a day when writing is best left while you mull things over, because I feel I should be writing every day.
    And yes, Julie, polishing ducks is very attractive on those sorts of day...

  13. I'm a bit disappointed that nobody has had a go at identifying the clown!

  14. I can't wait to jack in the day job. I only work part time and it's still an imposition. When I think of all the well-conceived projects - ideas for novels and TV scripts - that I have in my head but have no time to execute, I seethe. Can't. Blinkin'. Wait.

  15. Oh sorry Terie ... it's Sarwat Chadda isn't it?

  16. Great post, Teri. Is the clown you?

  17. the clown is neither me, nor Sarwat!!
    Should I tell?


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