Saturday, April 16, 2011

Don't quit your day job (too soon)

"I'm a full time writer…"

Every aspiring writer hopes to say this one day. The day they can write their resignation letter and say goodbye to the 9 to 5 job. It's a dream goal, and a sign you've made it. There is certainly a tipping point to being able to do this. From what I've read, it almost always comes with no small amount of trepidation. Pip Balantine mentioned this in her blogs and podcasts, when she took the leap and left her Librarian job behind for full time writing. Her writing partner, Tee Morris, still holds a day job, writing when he's not working and squeezing in life around all that. I don't know Tee's reasons, but as a father I can hazard a guess that this factors into his decision.

But what do you do before that tipping point? There is the obvious question of "At what point do you go from full time librarian and part time writer to full time writer?" But there is the less obvious question of "What's my first priority, Librarian or writer?"

I follow a number of writing related blogs (see the sidebar). In Quick Writing Tips, Daniel argues hard that there shouldn't be any doubt in a writers mind. I do recommend his blog for many things, but on this subject he's sided on the side of "having a productive writing morning? Blow off the day job and keep writing." Now I don't know where Daniel is in his writing career, so I'm not going to judge him. And I don't know what his home life is, so again I won't judge him. If this advice works for him, then I support him in it. I do worry about giving blanket advice out of context and I personally can't agree with him.

 I've faced this very same question more than once. Just this morning I started jotting some notes down before heading off to my day job. The ideas just started gushing and honestly if one of my boys hadn't asked me a question I might not have noticed the time. What did I do? I got up and rushed out the door.

You see at the end of the day, I'm not a project manager, I'm not a writer.

 At the end of the day I'm a father and husband.

And because of that, my first responsibility is to them. Someday I might make enough money to be a full time writer but until then, the day job wins out because the day job is what keeps my family safe and cared for.

Again, going back to Daniel, it's all very subjective. If I were single I might approach this very differently. One other, important factor is your writing speed. Kathryn Rusch points out there are fast writers and slow writers. She offers different advice based on that. I fall into the slow writer camp, so I'm going to be more conservative in my jumping to the full time writing camp.

So what is my advice for holding a full time day job and a part time writing "job"?

Don't do too much…

Seriously, this has to be the biggest thing I learned during my work developing TRO:3085, for Catalyst Game Labs (which was just nominated for an Origins award). I was working roughly sixty hours a week, I was writing and developing 3085, I was writing big chunks of another Catalyst game book, and I was trying to fit time for my family in around all that. I got a personal thank you from my boss, TRO3085 was a well received success and my family started wondering who that funny guy with the beard was.

I was close to burn out. I was trying to do too much and do it all at once. I nearly crashed and burned.

Don't do too much…

I rebalanced what I was doing. It's not perfect and I still feel like I don't have enough time for everything. But I learned I didn't have to take every writing assignment that came my way. I learned I could ask for help. I learned I could say no.

In my work for Catalyst, I work with a great team of volunteers. Folks who help out on Catalyst products for little more than a thank you and free PDF copies of the books. I've lost track of the number of times one of them has come to me and said something like "I'm really sorry but such and such is happening and I won't be able to do much for the next X amount of time." Know what I say?

"Take your time. Family/Life comes first."

Am I going to be the next Amanda Hawking, in the next year? No, I won't be. But that's okay. I'm content to start slow. Slow and steady wins the race.

Family/ Life First-
Don't try and do everything-
Don't be afraid to say no (even to yourself)-
Build inertia slowly, you'll be moving fast before you know it-

Until next time,
Writer, Explorer, Learner

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