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Don’t Quit Your Day Job

The first phrase a writer hears upon bravely telling the world that she wants to be a writer is typically, “don’t quit your day job.” Everyone will tell you that the chances of supporting yourself as a writer are slim. Even if you can support yourself, it will take years to get there. And unless you’re the next JK Rowling, you’d probably still make more money stamping widgets out of sheet metal on the nearest assembly line than you ever will as a published author.

How very depressing, right?

But if I listened to that advice, this post would end right now. Instead, as of last Friday, I’m now a member of the crazy fringe — one of those people who left a good job to pursue writing full time, without even a single contract to give me confidence.

Am I crazy, stupid, or both?

There are probably arguments on both sides. But the way I look at it, “crazy” is taking a big risk that might not pay off, walking away from a secure position to test the unknown. “Stupid” is taking that same risk without thinking it through, with no safety net and no backup plan. While this risk may be utterly, terrifyingly crazy, it’s not stupid — I’ve been planning for this day for several years, and I have plans for reentering corporate life if it doesn’t work out. And ultimately, since I don’t have kids, I at least know that no one else will starve because of me.

But even if you’re not in a position where you can quit your job (and I’m certainly not recommending it for everyone!), the decision process I used could still apply. The biggest realization I had, and what ultimately set me free, was this: what held me back was fear disguised as rationality.

Deciding to quit was really hard. I also knew I wasn’t happy staying in my job. I spent six months agonizing over the decision, and the amount of time I spent thinking about it was hurting the other aspects of my life. Ultimately, I made a list with every single reason why I “couldn’t” quit. Then, I wrote down whether I could mitigate or remove the obstacle.

This is some of what I came up with:

  • Reason: What if I can’t get another job? Reality: I’m still employable, and my company will likely take me back if I come knocking.
  • Reason: What if I get sick? Reality: I budgeted very carefully to include decent health insurance. If I get catastrophically ill…well, not to be morbid, but I would rather spend the last months before a catastrophic illness doing something I love.
  • Reason: What if I get lonely sitting at home writing all day? Reality: I still have friends – I can make plans with them and still see people every day if I want to. I can also use this blog, Twitter, mailing lists, etc. to get more connected to writing communities.
  • Reason: What if I don’t sell my book? Reality: This would happen whether I’m employed or not. If I don’t sell, write the next one.
  • Reason: What if the publishing business explodes? Reality: This would also happen whether I’m employed or not. I also have a background in online advertising, so I think I can navigate the market as it moves online.

There were plenty of other reasons, but the main point is that all of these reasons were fear-driven. Fear of failure, fear of being lonely, fear of a changing market — fear, fear, fear. They were rational fears in the sense that most sane people are worried about the market, health insurance, relationships, etc. — but they were still fears.

Think about your writing. What do you want to do but aren’t doing for “rational” reasons? Are you not signing up for a conference because you feel guilty spending the money? Are you not entering the Golden Heart because you don’t think you’ll final? Are you not finding a critique partner because you think you’re not ready to share your work with someone?

Then ask yourself if those are real reasons, or if they are fears. If you’re not entering the GH because you’re struggling financially, that is a real reason — I’m not advocating abandoning common sense. But if you’re not entering because you feel guilty spending money on something that is “just a hobby”, or because you feel like your writing isn’t “good enough” — that’s a sign that you’re afraid and not valuing your writing as much as you should. If fear is driving your decisions — sit down, think through how to mitigate or remove the fear so that it is no longer rational, and stop letting it hold you back.

What do you think? Do you have any fears disguised as rationality? Or do you think I’m dangerously crazy and should be sequestered from rational writing society? Share your comments — I would love to hear from you!

49 responses to “Don’t Quit Your Day Job”

  1. Gil Gonzalez says:

    Although I won’t be quitting my day job anytime soon, thank you for reassuring me the baby steps I am taking to position myself (I am attending a writer’s conference this weekend) are the right things to be doing. Yes, I have put off writing because of rationalized fears. Your post has served as a proverbial kick in the rear for me to stop making excuses and start writing again. Thank you.

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  2. This is just an awesome post, Sara! Even with my sale, I was really hesitant about quitting the day job for pretty much all the reasons you listed, but I have not regretted the decision in the least. I absolutely love writing all day, taking a break when I need to, writing until 2 a.m. when necessary. The freedom to just be creative is such an incredible reward, but I couldn’t agree more. It takes careful planning and some attainable long-term goals.

    Good for you for taking this leap! I just know it’ll pay off! You have an amazing talent, after all. (And an awesome agent!)
    ~D~

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks Darynda! You’re definitely an inspiration – so glad that you made the leap. I haven’t fallen into a rhythm yet (it’s only been a couple of days, after all), but I’m already liking being able to stay up until two a.m. on a weeknight 🙂 I think the time to really dedicate myself to this is going to be worth the sacrifices.

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  3. Carla says:

    Fantastic post, Sara! For me, quitting isn’t an option yet, for practical reasons. (Health insurance, mortgage, the kids like to eat, etc.) Besides that, I get inspired at work. It has its good days and bad days. On the good days, I can grab a few minutes here and there to write, and my office is full of characters to write about. On the bad days, I’ll write because good grief, I need to hang onto my dreams before the managers stomp on every last one of them. I’m so proud of you for striking out on your own! It makes such a huge difference when you believe in yourself and your stories! Attagirl!

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      I’m so impressed that you can use your job as motivation – both on good days and bad days. I think part of my problem was that I actually liked my job, and so the good days just made me want to work on ‘day job’ stuff more, and the bad days made me rather frustrated. So, more power to you on being able to squeeze motivation out of the office – if I could have consistently, this would probably be a very different post 🙂

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  4. Elisa Beatty says:

    Congrats, Sara, on taking that big leap! I envy you tremendously…oh, the idea of being able to spend the day writing, and stay up til 2 a.m. if you’re on a roll!

    I’m in pretty much the same boat as Carla: Bay Area mortgage and two perpetually-hungry kids, not to mention almost total lack of savings, keep my nose to the grindstone. I do actually love many things about my job (teaching), but it’s unbelievably demanding, and devours most of my time and energy during the school year.

    I have to figure out how we can live on a bit less income (backing off on American materialistic overconsumption would be a good place to start) so I can at least reduce my work hours. There are days when I think moving to a less expensive part of the country would be a good idea–but I love it here too much. Ack, priorities!!!

    Good luck to you! Use your newfound freedom well!

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    • Diana Layne says:

      There are actually books on this subject. (cutting back) 🙂 I love the Tightwad Gazette–yeah, it’s old but still relevant. And another one is called Miserly Moms and she lived in your area, I believe, and figured out how to make it on one income. And the new tightwad gurus on the scene are the Economides: http://www.americascheapestfamily.com/
      I haven’t really followed them since I learned how to make a penny scream long ago, but from what I’ve seen the info is good.

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks Elisa! The Bay Area mortgage is a huge stumbling block – the single biggest reason I’m able to do this is because I made the decision to spend my downpayment on living expenses and set myself years back on being able to buy something out here. But since I grew up in Iowa (where you can quite honestly buy a palace for the price of a condo in Palo Alto), I just have a mental block against paying Bay Area prices for real estate.

      I also struggled with the idea of moving someplace cheaper – my savings would certainly go much farther. But I decided that for my own sanity, I needed to stay someplace where I knew a lot of people; if I was writing at home full time and had no close friends/easy way to meet people, I think I would go insane within the month.

      It is about priorities, though, and it sounds like yours are in the right place. I hope the next year brings all sorts of wonderful things for your writing!

      And thanks to Diana for posting those links – can’t wait to check them out 🙂

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  5. Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

    My part time job makes me crazy but keeps me sane too. The job forces me to interact with “real” people at least 3 days per week. Otherwise I’d be in PJs 24/7. My writing career has stopped me from (or I’ve used it as an excuse) pursuing a full-time job.

    What I’d like to quit is housework, grocery shopping and cooking.

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      I”m right there with you on the housework and grocery shopping 🙂 And I can totally see the benefits of a part-time job; if I get bored with myself in a few months, I’m going to try to pick up some freelance consulting so that I have a reason to interact with other people.

      I’ve also said that I’m going to get dressed in something appropriately grown-up every day — we’ll see how long that lasts before I revert to pajamas full-time.

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      • Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

        My PJs are more like lounge wear. I might be able to go outside and wheel the garbage can to the street without the neighbors calling the cops, but I wouldn’t meet friends for coffee wearing them. Best of luck.

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  6. Diana Layne says:

    Great post, Sara! And good luck on your new venture. My fears would take up pages so I won’t list them, and I’m sure most writers have fears. I’ve found the only way to conquer them is addressing them one at a time as you’ve done here!

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks Diana! I still have plenty of fears – but this was such a huge decision that I’m giving myself a breather on the self-improvement for a few weeks/months 🙂

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  7. Tamara Hogan says:

    Given the health issues and financial commitments I need to accommodate, I have what I think is a pretty optimal mix. After I sold, I cut back to a 3/4 time schedule at my day job, which keeps a salary coming in and gives me the ability to retain group health insurance. Interacting with other humans on a regular basis is a good thing, too!

    Congratulations, Sara, on making the leap. I hope you’re enjoying the time.

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  8. Jen says:

    Sara,

    This is a wonderful post, and this is something I’ve struggled with for a while. I want to make the leap into full-time writing, but I also know it means a significant lifestyle change as well as closing a chapter in my life. We would be solely reliant on my husband’s income, and it puts additional pressure on him to feed us.

    All of this is rationalization. At the end of the day, I’m making a fear-based choice to stay where I am. However, I’ve been moving closer to making the leap myself. We need a couple of more things in place first, but like you, I’m ready to make the decision–publishing contract or not.

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Jen, thanks so much for stopping by. I don’t think this is the kind of decision that you can make quickly, for all the reasons you described. A big thing I left out of the post is priorities – if your priorities are truly to have more disposable income, feel independent/not put pressure on a single income (until your writing takes off, that is ;), then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if your priority is to have more time for your writing…it may take some time to get there, but you’ll figure out a way eventually. Good luck getting those pieces in place, and I can’t wait to hear what you decide!

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      • Jen says:

        Oh, believe me, I’m green with jealousy now! I congratulate you for having the courage to do it.

        But now is not my time. And as I watch my friends one by one get publishing contracts, it gets harder. However, I’m standing in line waiting for my turn, and when it comes, I’ll be ready. In the meantime, I have a job I love working with people I consider friends. How fortunate to be in that position!

        Realistically, this will probably be the last career job I ever hold if things go the way I want (and expect) them to.

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  9. liz talley says:

    Congrats, Sara, on taking a leap of faith! And that’s really hard to do, especially when we know there will be people waiting to point a finger and say, “Gosh, was she stupid or what?” LOL.

    I made the same decision. Basically, for me it came down to deciding whether to quit and write or take my part-time job to full-time status. It was a hard decision, and, honestly, I think my husband would have been pleased if I had chosen to stick with the job…but I wouldn’t have. I wanted to say I tried. No regrets. So I quit. Fortunately, I sold a few months afterwards and though I’m not making enough to crow about, I’m able to pay for unnecessary things, like camps for the kids, new windows, new AC, etc.

    I don’t think you’re crazy. I think you’re brave. And if it doesn’t work out, then you can always say that you took a chance on your dream 🙂

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks Liz! I do comfort myself that at least I’ll know that I ‘took a chance on my dream’, as you said – even if it doesn’t work out, I’m not going to have regrets. I’m glad that the decision to focus on writing is working for you, and congrats on all your upcoming releases!

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  10. jbrayweber says:

    I’m still so proud of you for taking this jump. You ARE rational and you will do very well for yourself. This is a brave new world you face. Seize it full on and you can do no wrong. Now your dream becomes reality. 🙂

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  11. Cat Schield says:

    Oh to be a full time writer. What a wonderful thing that would be. It’s a goal of mine but probably won’t happen for a couple years yet. I’m a single mom with a mortgage and a kid in private school. I might sacrifice buying a new car, but not my daughter’s education. I am hoping to drop 8 hours off my full time job next summer though. Even that will make a huge difference in my life. Congrats on your move, Sara.

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks Cat – I’m sure my decision process would have been much different if I had private school tuition to budget for! But I hope that you’re able to cut back on hours if that’s what you want – even a few extra hours can mean so much if you’re able to focus on your writing during that time. Best of luck!

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  12. When my husband finished grad school and we moved to Maryland, I naturally had to quit my job in Seattle, which had been satisfying but very mind-consuming. Now I’m a zoo volunteer on Mondays, and I write the rest of the time.

    So, I’m a little like you (young, non-contracted but agented, and child-free), only I’m a few years in. Let me tell you how it’s gone.

    It was a little weird at first. People seem to give me funny looks when they learn that I’m not working outside of my home. I guess it seems weird for young women to not have a regular job these days, and I used to feel defensive about it. But now I just say that I’m a writer when people ask me what I “do,” and I’ve learned that if I believe it, so do they. I don’t care anymore if they think I’m weird or delusional, or if they dislike me because my life rocks and theirs sucks.

    So my advice: tell people you’re a writer. Write it on forms, use it in social situations. Maybe it’s always been your passion, but it’s your job now. Own it.

    Sometimes I miss the pressure of “real” work; I suppose that would change if I had a publishing contract, though. I miss my co-workers, too. Yes, we have the Internet (and lots of virtual co-workers through it), but it’s hard to replace the feeling of being on a team and working together to achieve some sort of goal, day after day.

    I’ve learned that whether you get paid to do your job or not, you only get out what you put in. You’ll only feel the satisfaction of a job well-done if you DO a job well. Personal satisfaction has very little to do with what someone pays you, and a great deal more to do with how fully you apply yourself to achieving a goal.

    For writers, it’s important for external achievement to matter less than the internal application of effort. See, we can’t control whether we get a contract or not, but we CAN control how hard we work, and how well we write. If we, as full-time writers, feel that we’ve done the very best we can do each day, then that contract shouldn’t make us feel much better than we already do. It’d just pad the bank account, and give our mothers something to brag about.

    Of course, it’d feel nice to be paid to write, but I don’t think that sort of satisfaction lasts very long after you cash the check.

    Writing full-time is still an experiment for me, and I still wonder if I’d be happier with a regular job. I miss the office; I miss the grind. I occasionally apply for “dream” jobs that I’m woefully under-qualified for, just to see what might happen. But the farther I get away from my full-time days, the less employable I become. Perhaps that’s not true, but frankly, it’s never that easy to explain gaps in employment, and with each new version of Microsoft Office that comes out, my administrative skills get a little dustier.

    I don’t miss the excuses I used to make for myself when I wasn’t writing full-time, though. No longer can I tell myself that I’m not writing because I’m too busy or too tired. If I fail to achieve my writing goals now, it’s my own darned fault. It’s wonderfully freeing — and frightening. There’s nothing to hide behind anymore.

    GOOD LUCK, Sara. Keep in touch.

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    • Holy crap, that was a long post. I’m sorry for hogging the blog, Sara. Jeez! That’s what happens when you work from home…

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I seem to get more actual writing done on days when I work my day job than days when I don’t. Maybe it’s because I KNOW that on work days I absolutely HAVE TO get my pages in before I hit my desk!

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Jamie, definitely don’t apologize – this was an incredibly useful comment (and probably worth writing a blog post on someday!). I love hearing the stories of other people who are doing this. And your advice to “own” that you’re a writer is so important – much better than minimizing it by saying that you’re “taking time off” or something else that implies this is less than what it really is. Keep in touch – I’d love to hear more about your journey.

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  13. Kudos to you, Sara, for being intrepid enough to follow your dream, and to do it in such a wise and considered way. Keep us posted!

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks so much – will definitely keep you posted. It’s a lot easier to stay up to speed on the loop when I don’t have the day job to contend with 😉

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  14. Laurie Kellogg says:

    There is nothing like having the freedom to write full-time. My problem is that sometimes when I have lots of time, I waste more of it instead of fully utilizing it. Enjoy yourself, Sara. Life is too short to live with a lot of what-if-I-hads.

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      I’m exactly the same way – when I have lots of time, it’s too easy to procrastinate. I just have to get more rigorous about goal-setting and somehow figure out how to hold myself accountable – not going to be easy, but like you said, it’s better than living with what-ifs.

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  15. Tina Joyce says:

    Congratulations, Sara, on having the courage to make the leap now (while you only have yourself to worry about). You won’t have to look back and wonder ‘what if’ or wrestle with regret. Heels clicking that this year brings great things your way.

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    • Sara Ramsey says:

      Thanks Tina! Even if nothing great happens because of this, I know that I’ll learn a lot about myself – so hopefully that will make it worthwhile regardless. Best of luck to you this year!

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  16. I’d love to quit the day job … but until I can actually make money writing, I have to keep working to pay the bills. At least I work in journalism, so I kind of write for a living (even though I now do mostly page design).

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  17. Kim Law says:

    Congratulations, Sara! I love how brave you are. There’s nothing like having the confidence to go after your dream, huh? I’ve no doubt you’ll be selling in no time and soon be too busy to worry about getting lonely 😀

    As soon as I can financially swing it, I’ll be right there, quitting too!

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  18. Way to go, Sara! Thanks for sharing your decision process. That little fear bug can be so pesky and it helps to label it. Best of luck with your writing. Hope your royalty checks will have lots of commas and that your fan mail keeps you way too busy to be lonely:)

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  19. Anne Barton says:

    Sara, I love what you said about not making decisions based on fear. Thanks for the insight and best of luck on your full-time writing career!

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  20. Sara, Great post! Congrats on taking the leap. I haven’t looked back. And yes, somedays, words do come hard but I had those days when I did work outside the home. I think you’re going to be fine.

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  21. Elise Hayes says:

    Sara, congratulations!!

    I’d like to follow up on some of Jamie’s comments. Last year, I had the luxury of a sabbatical year–I could stay at home all year and do my research, reading, and writing. About two hours a day went to my fiction; the rest of the time was spent on academic research.

    Things that worked for me:
    1. Set up a lunch (or coffee, or whatever) date with a friend once a week. Doing so will be a nice treat and will ensure that you maintain your social sanity/contacts.

    2. For a while, I got sucked into computer games–to the tune of about two hours a day. To break that habit, I used a spreadsheet, where I had to account for my time from 9-5 (in half hour chunks). It sounds silly, I know, but it worked for me–it got my butt into the chair.

    3. I set deadlines for myself–real ones. I asked people to read my work and set dates for when I would send them my materials. You could also use contest deadlines. The point is that you’ll get more writing done if you have a specific and concrete goal to work toward.

    I had a great sabbatical year and can’t wait to do it again. I wish you all the best with your time writing, Sara!!

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  22. Natasha says:

    Sara, I’m so proud of you for taking the leap. Your thought-process (reflected in this post) inspires me to approach my fears in an objective and organized way. Quite simply, you rock(-ed) my world. I’m continuously impressed by your courage… and you should know that you’re surrounded by “Sara Champions”.

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  23. Vivi Andrews says:

    Congrats on making the leap, Sara. For me it was about not wanting to regret not giving it all I could when I had the chance. And I don’t regret leaving the corporate workforce for a second. 🙂

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  24. Betsey Pere says:

    I’ve heard that Clickbank makes it next to impossible to earn money through pushing you to supply a variety of completely different items from different credit cards and also Paypal. I want to implement Clickbank but then I am concerned about this situation. Is it correct?

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  25. […] 2) a 25-page critique from Ruby Slippered Sister Sara Ramsey, whose witty first book ONE NIGHT TO SEDUCTION (then titled “An Inconvenient Marriage”) won the 2009 Golden Heart for Regency Romance. Sara’s a voracious reader in all sorts of genres (most comfortable critiquing historical, paranormal, YA, contemporary and suspense); she promises to give your work the “tough love” treatment.  Check out Sara’s recent post on the Ruby blog about daring to quit the day job! […]

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  26. […] years ago, I left my day job to focus solely on writing (a decision I documented in this Ruby post from October 2010). As the second anniversary closes in, I thought I would share with you how this […]

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