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Do You Really Want to Quit Your Day Job?


I know two novelists who quit their day jobs to pursue a career in writing. One of them was forced to return to their day job because they weren’t making enough off their books to pay their i4mt car insurance and other bills. People don´t know this, but they can get cheap car insurance at One Sure Insurance. The other is so stressed out they vowed that after completion of their current contractual agreements, they will never again write under deadline.

Many writers dream about quitting their day job and becoming a career novelist, a freelancer whose sole income is derived from their writing. In our new self-publishing age the rules have changed, allowing for more publishing options, multiple revenue streams, a bigger platform, etc. Success stories abound about self-published authors who do very well for themselves.

However, the stories above remind me that the question When do you quit your day job? is still not to be taken lightly.

Ever since I made a serious commitment to being a writer, the stress in my life has quadrupled. When I was finishing up The Telling (the second book of a two book contract), I was running on fumes. My insomnia had returned. I was experiencing strange new physical problems and eventually ended up on stress medication. But I met my deadline. Which is one reason I am so proud of that book.

Despite the stress of that time, I was never tempted to quit my day job.

Since then, my writing pace has not decreased. In fact, when you combine blogging, networking, and new writing projects, I am probably busier now than I’ve ever been.

But I’m still not tempted to quit my day job.

I’m not sure if this is unique to the Christian writing community, but shortly after my inclusion into it I learned of some unique demographic realities. (How can I say this without sounding weird?) There were a lot of stay-at-home moms and retirees writing Christian fiction. In fact, I was asked to leave one critique group because I wasn’t compensating with enough critiques. I confessed it was feasibly impossible, while working a 40 hour a week job outside the home and trying to write, to match their output. Coincidentally, I was the only guy in the group and the majority were stay-at-home moms and retirees.

Point is, I learned to be skeptical of career advice based on a writer’s background or living situation. I mean, getting advice from some dude who gushes about how much he makes self-publishing… while living in his mother’s basement collecting disability insurance… doesn’t strike me as very smart.

I’ve found that some who are gung-ho about becoming career novelists or freelancers are often those who don’t really have a day job. At least, they’re in a situation that allows for flexibility. Perhaps their spouse has a great job, their kids go to school, they’ve inherited some money, invested wisely, work out of the house, whatever. They’re in a situation where “career writer” means something different than it would for me.

I have a good day job. This isn’t true for every writer, which probably makes the leap more enticing for some. Not me. Forty hours a week, great bennies, close to home. But on the enjoyability meter, writing trumps my day job. Which compounds the stress.

So my mornings are usually a blur, waking early to get a blog post up (like this one), start or finish a project, before throwing a lunch together and blasting out of the house. At work, I doodle when I can. Write during breaks on my tablet. Maybe answer blog comments or emails via my cell phone. Before returning home weary, knowing I haven’t written nearly enough. It’s a maddening affair.

Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to have a career writing. If there was a way to scale back my day job as my writing career takes root, I’d do that. But I can’t. Not with this day job. So at some point I may have to take that leap of faith and leave my day job.

But here’s the thing: It is so much less stress NOT having my livelihood tied to my writing. I know this from talking to writers who do. They are constantly working toward their next deadline. And because their last book didn’t do well, they’re forced to write something they don’t necessarily enjoy just to make ends meet. Keeping my day job AND writing is rough. But it lets me write what I want, not fret (too much) about poor sales or bad reviews, and still have financial stability. Which affords my artistic freedom. When your livelihood is tied to your writing it seems inevitable that you must

  1. Write to market, and
  2. Crank out novels.

Neither of which excites me.

Maybe all I’m saying is that, if you’re serious about being a career writer, it seems you have only two real options: Quit your day job and stress, or Keep your day job and stress. Unless, of course, you’re in that other category of writer whose situation does not demand financial certainty, regular hours, juggling multiple obligations, or worrying about health benefits and life insurance. In which case I’d prefer that you refrain from giving me career advice.

So go ahead, call me a non risk-taker. But do you really want to quit your day job?

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{ 34 comments… add one }
  • Mike Dellosso June 6, 2013, 5:28 AM

    Mike, great post. And THANK YOU for bringing this subject up. To be honest, it’s tough competing with authors who are stay-at-homes and have time to network and crank out novels and do all those things that build a career that I just don’t have the time nor the luxury to do. I know it’s not popular in the Christian market to mention “competition” but it is competitive. There are only so many readers out there and we’re all competing for sales.

    Like you, I squeeze my writing into my early mornings and wherever I can grab a few minutes throughout the day during my normal work hours. Evenings are devoted to family stuff. I, too, nearly buckled under the stress trying to meet my last deadline and had to take a few months off afterward. It’s a tough way to go about it but for now I’ll keep my steady day job with the steady income and benefits.

    • Mike Duran June 6, 2013, 7:24 AM

      Mike, compound this market competition (in the CBA) with the fact that the slice of the pie you and I and others are competing over, I mean the spec and suspense categories, is rather narrow compared with women’s fiction, makes it doubly frustrating. Thanks for commenting. Godspeed to your writing and work endeavors!

      • Mike Dellosso June 6, 2013, 9:20 AM

        And that slice of pie doesn’t seem to be getting any bigger, does it?

      • Jessica Thomas June 6, 2013, 9:40 AM

        Yes!! I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed this (and laments it a bit). I hate to think we’re competing against each other, but there is a competition but for our readers’ time, I think. There’s just only so much of that stuff (time, that is).

        It seems most of us who read Christian spec fic also like to write it, so our reading time is diminished that much more (I know mine is anyway). There are so many books I’d like to read, and just can’t. Sometimes, even when I have time, I can’t pick up a book because there are too many choices and my brain is too tired to make a decision. (Sad, but true.)

        This has caused me to ponder the ultimate future of publishing and indie publishing, in particular, when we live in a world where people find it increasingly difficult to sit for any length of time.

        It’s also made me wonder what on earth I’m thinking, starting yet another independent press, as well as wondering whether it will help or hinder the Christian spec fiction market. And yet I’m doing it anyway because I know of a good novel that needs a home. (Ah hem. MINE. Although I do want and plan to publish other authors.)

        There’s no way to run the numbers, but my hunch is that in Christian spec fic, we have an overabundance of writers. Which means expanding into the secular market isn’t an option, for many of us, but a job requirement. (On top of the day job.)

  • Rebecca P Minor June 6, 2013, 5:36 AM

    Excellent thoughts here, Mike. I have been in both camps–I started out as a stay at home mom who wrote constantly, critiqued heavily, and hence got my first three writing projects to press in the space of a year. But then things changed in my husband’s professional life (followed a calling to teach in a Christian school) and I am now a writer with a day job. I often wish I could write as my career, but looking at it the way you stated it– writing to market and cranking out books–makes me seriously rethink that.

    Thanks for always saying it like it is and giving us sophomores in the business something to chew on.

  • Matthew Sample II June 6, 2013, 5:40 AM

    Thank you! Food for thought….

  • Carla Laureano June 6, 2013, 5:43 AM

    “Quit your day job and stress, or Keep your day job and stress.”

    That pretty much sums it up, Mike. Making the leap from hobbyist to professional, even for one who falls into the class of not having to work full time to make a living, is not easy. I admit, we have more flexibility. But finding time to write is just as difficult for once whose livelihood is not tied to a paycheck.

    Let’s compare.

    – Waking early to get a blog post up (like this one), start or finish a project, before throwing a lunch together and blasting out of the house –> Just substitute “before the children wake up and all hell breaks loose”

    – At work, I doodle when I can. Write during breaks on my tablet. Maybe answer blog comments or emails via my cell phone. –> Substitute “while kids are in the bathtub, waiting for pick-up at school, and while they’re occupied with TV for a few blessed moments, thank you God.” Oh, and on summer break, cut that in half, because they never go to school.

    – Before returning home weary, knowing I haven’t written nearly enough. –> “Before getting the kids in bed an hour late after karate, dinner, baths, cleaning, and laundry, realizing that it’s already 9:30 and I’ve now been up for about seventeen hours.”

    – It’s a maddening affair. –> Yes, pretty much.

    The only difference is, I never get a paycheck for days that go like this, and it pretty much never stops, whether I decide to be a career writer or not. (And in case anyone says I don’t understand, I’ve done both– I’ve written while working full time with kids and while staying home full time with kids. Frankly, a lot of times, the former was easier.)

    Not complaining, Mike. Certainly not taking offense. Unless you’re independently wealthy and you have no children, there’s really no such thing as a writer’s life of leisure. And even then, I suppose there’d be things to worry about. Like, I don’t know, where to anchor your yacht.

    I don’t want career advice from that person either.

    • Mike Duran June 6, 2013, 7:39 AM

      Carla, I definitely don’t want to start a gender war. We’ve raised and homeschooled 4 kids, the younger ones just through lower elementary. So I can attest how hectic a mom’s life can be. Definitely not wanting to downplay that! The thing is, every situation is different depending on number of kids, their ages, living arrangements, education, etc. And at some point, the stay at home mom eventually graduates (as her kids hopefully do) to a different schedule. So while I don’t want to make it sound like moms have it easy, unless they keep cranking out kids, their” full time”gig eventually winds down.

      • Carla Laureano June 6, 2013, 8:16 AM

        I don’t want to make this a gender war either (plus, there are lots of stay-at-home-dads!) Thing is… once the kids are out of the house, then there’s college and retirement to pay for. And I don’t know about all SAHMs, but either I need to be making enough from writing to justify staying at home to do it or I need to get another job.

        Either way you look at it, we’re in the same boat.

  • Kessie June 6, 2013, 6:29 AM

    Yep, and yep. No point in quitting your job until your income stream is equal to or greater than your paycheck. And how many books does that take? Sixty? Seventy?

  • billgncs June 6, 2013, 7:06 AM

    it always seemed to me, that the point of a day job should be to help fund investments that generate passive income. That solves many problems – and can be very freeing.

  • Jill June 6, 2013, 7:22 AM

    I admire what you’re doing. I’m not sure I could do it. Being a housewife-writer is doable if I protect my life from the stress of too many activities for the children and a social life. I carefully guard my time. But I don’t think I could do that if I worked 40 hrs a week. As it is, I find it difficult while homeschooling and working 1 day a week. Sorry, Mike, I’m not trying to make you feel worse, but I shudder at the thought of doing what you’re doing. It makes me feel ragged. May God give you strength and rest.

  • Shay West June 6, 2013, 7:25 AM

    I am one of those lucky few whose day job gives me plenty of time to write. Not to mention that I love my day job (college professor). Even if by some divine blessing my books took off and I could make enough writing to quit my day job, I don’t think I could. Teaching and interacting with my students keeps my spiritual tank on full. I can’t imagine a life without teaching. The fact that I have a day job I adore and get to write novels on the side? Double blessing from God 🙂

    • Mark Carver June 6, 2013, 8:24 AM

      I’m an English teacher at a university in China and I too am thankful that I have more or less enough time to write. I have a wife and two young kids at home along with a ridiculous commute (across the ocean!) everyday, plus the fact that I live in freakin’ China, but I get a sizable lunch break and I can hammer out a couple of pages every day in my office. I’m also quite tolerant of noise (probably from living in China for so many years) so I’m able to write while Dora the Explorer is on TV and the clattering of food preparation rings out from the kitchen. But I have to be intentional and not just write when a bolt of inspiration zaps me. I have to tell myself, “Okay, this is your hour to write – make it count.” Sometimes I rock it, sometimes I meander, but I am always grateful that I have the time and mental flexibility to write in the environment that I’m in.

      • Shay West June 6, 2013, 8:27 AM

        I do the same thing as you 🙂 Although I find that I meander quite easily 😉 But I get a LOT done over summer break and winter break

  • Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman) June 6, 2013, 7:50 AM

    Off-topic: Mike, reminding you that I will buy any book you write with A. J. Lecroix in it.

    • Mike Duran June 6, 2013, 8:36 AM

      Ha! I had so much fun with that character, Lelia. Thanks for mentioning that. No plans now for ol’ A.J. Although I believe he and Reagan Moon did cross paths in Louisiana…

  • Steve Rzasa June 6, 2013, 9:54 AM

    Mike, glad to see this topic come up for straightforward discussion. I work about 40 hours a week full-time at our public library plus an hour or more in the mornings at a local print shop prior to the library hours. I commiserate 100% when it comes to finding time to write. Writing on lunch break? Yep. Wednesday mornings are my best time, when I get about a two hour gap between the print shop and going in for the later shift at the library. My writing comes in fits and starts. Sometimes I’m lucky if I get a couple of pages in a week. Other times, I can crank out a chapter or two (rarely.) But leaving the day job? No thanks. Besides, I can’t do the solitary thing for long, you know? I need social/workplace interaction with live human beings.

  • Kat Heckenbach June 6, 2013, 10:13 AM

    “There were a lot of stay-at-home moms and retirees writing Christian fiction.”

    That is what I find as well. But here’s another twist–the SAHMs and retirees in the writers groups I’m in are the ones not moving forward. The ones I know are working on memoirs or still fiddling with the romance they started writing 15 years ago. The writers in my groups who are moving forward in publishing are the ones with already full schedules from jobs or school or whatever. That may not be true everywhere–I do *not* mean to generalize or stereotype, but when I look immediately around me in the groups I actively participate in, I see that pattern.

    I’m a SAHM, btw, but I homeschool and am putting a lot of energy in things other than writing. I find it hard to keep up with the critique demand put on me as well. I also have realized that being published has made me SO much busier. I wrote my first novel in three months and followed that with a SLEW of short stories, but once FA actually released, my writing slowed way down. So much energy is required for marketing and staying connected in the writing world. And now I’m teaching writing classes at the local homeschool center and teaching a workshop at a local writers retreat and participating in writers panels at conventions and judging writing contests..and…and…

    Anyway, I don’t want to wait until I’m an empty nester to focus on my writing. I’m doing it now because now is when I want to do it. My husband and kids are amazingly supportive–my whole family is (although I have suspicions some of my extended family is praying for my soul because I write about magic) and I’m lucky that my husband’s job allows me to stay home and homeschool and write. And let’s be honest–when I’m retired, I want to be retired. Not working suddenly to get a writing career going. (The ultimate daydream is living off those royalty checks when I’m older :P. not holding my breath, but hey, I can dream!)

    • Kat Heckenbach June 6, 2013, 10:25 AM

      Oh, and PS–it’s not I’m getting paid anything to do the marketing and contest judging and writers panels and whatnot. That’s all time I’m spending, and in some cases money I’m investing (author table fees, travel time/gas, etc.). I do get paid for teaching classes, but that is minimal. Just sayin’–a lot of why writers can’t quit their day jobs is that they end up having to invest a portion (or all, if you’re just starting out) of their earnings back into things like marketing.

  • Bob Avey June 6, 2013, 11:12 AM

    I’ve spent many years working as an accountant, most of it spent in the petroleum industry, and even before I became a published writer, (2006) I dreamed of finding a more enjoyable way of making a living. Now that I’m approaching retirement age, I’m seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel. I just hope the politicians don’t completely destroy Social Security before I can get there.

  • Teddi Deppner June 6, 2013, 12:59 PM

    Yes! Mike, it’s refreshing to hear someone questioning the trends they hear all the time. Everyone’s life is different, and it’s silly for us all to assume that the “ultimate” in writing is to quit your day job and write full-time. Some people may actually enjoy their day jobs. 🙂

    While I love that you’re challenging the conventional wisdom, I’d urge you to reconsider ONE thing at the core of your article: the inevitability of stress.

    The OPPORTUNITY for stress is inevitable. “In this world, you will have trouble,” Jesus promised us. But the stress itself — the lack of inner peace, the tight ball of nerves in our stomach — has a cure. Jesus was quick to add, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

    Stress is a choice we make — a choice to remain full of care and concern about things outside our control or unhappy with choices within our control. If we take the time to consciously take the thing that’s stressing us out and fully commit it into His hands, the stress leaves with it.

    Those authors who quit their day job and then write stuff they aren’t passionate about to make ends meet? That’s not inevitable either. That’s a lack of faith. A lack of peace. And maybe, it’s a lack of wisdom, because they weren’t truly prepared to make a full-time living off what they were passionate about writing.

    No criticism intended for anyone in particular — just hoping to remind us all (me, too!) that we have a lot of freedom to choose. Life is what it is. Sometimes we can change it, sometimes we can’t, and sometimes change takes time. Regardless of all that, we can choose to be at peace or choose to be troubled.

    When I feel it’s impossible to be at peace because of my circumstances, there’s one reminder that always gets me back on track: If someone in a concentration camp can choose peace and joy, then so can I. How about you?

  • GEOFF WRIGHT June 6, 2013, 4:24 PM

    Hi all, just a short run down on my situation. I have had chronic fatigue for the last 13 years and have not been able to work. I live in Australia with my wife and 2 children. The government here is very helpful and has supported me and my family the whole time. I have two novels being released later in the year, but not just for the Christian market. So, for me the thought of a good day job is a luxury I’ve missed out on for a long time. Would I want the stress of living solely off writing? NO WAY. The stress and my chronic fatigue would be at war with one another. I’m just excited to be getting published after ten years of trying. God’s Peace. Geoff.

    • Katherine Coble June 10, 2013, 8:05 AM

      Geoff–I’m home with multiple chronic autoimmune conditions.

      Like you, the stress of a normal workday is something I deeply miss.

      • GEOFF WRIGHT June 10, 2013, 3:28 PM

        Hi Katherine. Sorry to hear about your illness, though I found your message encouraging. The ways of the Lord are sometimes truly mysterious. On the upside of things, I just finished my Ya Paranormal on the weekend. God’s Peace. Geoff.

  • Bobby June 6, 2013, 4:54 PM

    Lots of good stuff here. I’d argue chief among them is whether the elusive “writing as day job” is basically a lot of green-looking grass on the other side of the white picket fence, ESPECIALLY for those who either hate their day job or don’t make much money at it. Or both.

    In Stephen King’s “On Writing,” he describes writing in the morning and to mid-day, then sitting around reading fan mail or watching TV. Honestly, I’m not sure I could do it. I really wonder if all that isolation has its unintended effects (I could be wrong; I have no experience).

    Much more attractive seems to be what Ted Dekker and George RR Martin do: heavily cultivate fan followings and spend all your non-writing time traveling around to meet them. Now I’d sure love to try something like that, hehe. Of course, that involves A LOT of social networking and blogging (Dekker used to be a very prominent blogger) and your book has to take off.

    • Shay West June 6, 2013, 5:10 PM

      I wish I could do that too! Teach, write, and have extra $$$ to go to all the scifi/fantasy conventions 😀 Meeting fans of your own work + meeting your heroes = awesome!

  • R.J. Anderson June 6, 2013, 7:47 PM

    I’m a SAHM with three kids in public school and two elderly parents who live with me but are still reasonably independent most of the time, and it still takes everything I’ve got to write one (yes, that’s 1) book a year.

    I don’t know why it takes me so long. I watch scarcely any TV — maybe 2 hours a week tops, during the winter season — and spend far less time than I’d like on reading (indeed, now that I’m in the throes of revisions it’s no time at all, even though I’ve got a pile of droolworthy novels waiting for me). My house is nowhere near as clean as I’d like it to be either, so I’m not procrastinating with chores either. Yet the idea of writing anything more than that one book a year, even in the form of regular blog posts or short stories, makes me want to curl up in a corner and gibber.

    So I am in positive awe of you, Mike, and all the writers I know who manage to hold down a full-time job AND still generate new creative content on a regular basis. I’m sure that if you were in my position you’d be cranking out 3 books a year at least!

  • Tony June 7, 2013, 1:59 AM

    I hate my day job . . . so I’d be fine dealing with the stress of writing for a living. Better than having your life threatened every other night. =/

    But I see where it could be a tough decision to make. Especially since a writing career isn’t exactly steady income. You might sell a lot of copies of your first two books, then never sell another book again.

  • DD June 8, 2013, 5:23 AM

    Many people start writing thinking it is a “get rich quick” career. Just walk around a bookstore, probably less than 10% of the authors are “big names.” It either takes that rare big success, or a long line (and many years) of books to create a steady income.
    Writers are also shocked to learn the pay isn’t so great (which is why even some established writers have turned to indie publishing). I know many who would be happy to just replace their current income writing. A career shouldn’t be a “job.” Keep writing until the “jobs” are no longer needed.

  • Tim George June 10, 2013, 5:39 AM

    A multi-published and well respected author told me recently there are several elements to a successful career as a full-time writer: hard work, honing one’s craft, timing, and luck. The timing and luck part is not what most of us want to hear because that is totally intangible and dependent on factors we have no control over. Hard work and honing one’s craft can be accomplished while working a full-time job but will probably take much longer to bear fruit. Having a steady pay-check and benefits make it much easier to give timing and luck a chance to catch up to all that hard word and honing one’s craft. Thanks Mike.

  • Katherine Coble June 10, 2013, 8:37 AM

    I’m almost certain you did not mean to imply that those of us on disability* are living a life of comparative leisure. I realise that having a fulfilling day job where you earn your own money, being able to drive a car and go wherever you like without making advance arrangements like a ten-year-old, being able to schedule appointments in advance and being able to keep most of those appointments is stressful. I used to have that life. I know exactly how stressful it is.

    But I promise you that is a life where you can come home at the end of a day, where you can write in the early morning, where can showe without crippling pain, where you get vacations and holidays.

    There is no vacation day from disability. The closest I ever come is when I have surgery and am under general anesthesia.

    I don’t deny that your life is stressful. I just do very much mind the misconception that those “on disability” have an easier life somehow.

    *I don’t collect disability payments. At the moment we are blessed by my husband’s work.

    • Tim George June 10, 2013, 10:48 AM

      I didn’t take Mike’s words as dismissive of the disabled at all. However, you raise a point that could bug the crap out of me if I allowed it. When people hear (even those who see me all the time) that I have MS and am a writer, they often comment, “Well at least you have plenty of time to write.” Uh yeah to earn a living with the ability God gave me as long as it isn’t interrupted by extreme fatigue, eyes sight that tends to blur out at the onset of that fatigue, writing during bursts of energy which I know will be followed by mind-numbing brain fog, etc.. Like you I am not on disability because at this point in life my wife and I can manage without taking others’ tax dollars. To the guy in his mother’s basement, if he’s making money from self-publishing I hope he’s paying rent, helping pay for groceries, and saving what he can so he can get off the public dole as soon as possible.

      • Katherine Coble June 10, 2013, 1:23 PM

        Tim, I hear that all the time–along with “with all your free time how come you haven’t finished your book yet?”

        And it bothers me for all the reasons you mentioned. Not that i have the same breakdown of symptoms but it’s a similar experience of life-limiting at the hands of illness. Although I suppose some will tell you it’s a poor carpenter who blames her tools. Nevertheless, there seems to be an assumption about lifestyle that just is far off the mark.

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