11 Things I Wish I’d Known About Full Time Writing When I First Started Writing Novels
I’ve been writing full time since June 4, 2009. Although it has been my dearest wish to be a full time writer, the decision to go full time at that date wasn’t mine—it was a surprise, forced on me by suddenly being fired and finding myself on the sidewalk with a cheque in my hand. That cheque ran out a long time ago and I’m still writing for a living.
There are many, many information pages on the net that tell you about the joys of working from home – the flexibility, freedom and independence. Plus the downsides that come with it. That’s not what I’m going to talk about here.
As you know from the information I let slip in posts from time to time, writing fiction for a living is precarious and stress-fill. But it has its upsides, too. In fact, writing fiction for a living is a lot of things I never expected it to be. Here’s eleven of them.
The arrival of royalty cheques takes on new meaning
When I was working full time, the royalty cheques used to arrive every month. I never thought much beyond “Oh, yep, here it comes again.” I didn’t process much beyond the size of the cheque and how many copies each particular book had sold.
Things like what date the cheque had arrived, and if it was a few days later than usual or a few days beyond our usual mortgage payment date were totally invisible to me. I didn’t have to worry about such nonsense when I was getting a regular (and hefty) two-weekly salary back then.
I’ve been through the nail-biting process of royalty cheques actually going missing now. Try that one on for size. The bank just looks at you strangely when you try to explain about royalty cheques and Canada Post and delays and missing cheques until you sigh and pull out your abused credit card and pay the damned mortgage payment…
You have to plan to get out of the house
You read working-at-home health guides that suggest walks around the block to stretch out the kinks and get some Vitamin D, but you don’t really process it until after a few months when you step out of the house for the first time in two weeks and blink at the sun and realize how long it’s been since you’ve seen it. And that it’s been that long since you put on a pair of shoes.
Sitting in a chair all day, when your daily commute is a fifteen second walk down the stairs to your family room, can add up to a seriously sedentary lifestyle, totally devoid of even mild human interaction, such as the office jerk sticking his head around the door to piss you off.
So you have to plan outings. The gym. Shopping. Shopping trips take on royal significance after a while, filling you with glee when you think of people! Just sitting in Starbucks and people-watching can be a whole afternoon’s entertainment all on its own.
People think you don’t really have a job
This one used to get my goat a lot (and still does if it’s someone who should know better). Now, I’ve built better defenses and better responses.
But many, many people, when they learn I’m a full time fiction author, seem to have a perceptional shift and presume that I stay at home and do little or nothing with my time, except maybe write the odd page or two of prose (or porn, if they know what I write), for which I get paid a small fortune. The rest of the time I spend manicuring my nails. Or something.
These days, depending on the person and their response, and the circumstances, I might trot out statistics, or a sarcastic response…or simply agree with them that, yep, I don’t have a real job. Some people are determined not to listen, after all. Their minds are made up, especially when it comes to “artsy-fartsy” people sucking off the system and the economy. I might politely point out that I have never tapped the Unemployment Insurance system in this country (although I was entitled to when my severence ran out), nor will I.
The other type of person who thinks I don’t have a real job says it with a touch of envy. With these people, I try really hard to correct their impressions that my job isn’t real, by telling them the truth…but more on that in a minute.
You lose track of days of the week
This phenomenon took a while to kick in, but now I quite often find it difficult to anchor myself in the Monday-Friday mindset. I can never remember what day of the week it is. Part of the problem is that everyone in our household works on flexible schedules, so there’s no distinct Monday-Friday schedule for anyone. No day looks the same from week to week.
For me, the name of the day is irrelevant. But as the rest of the world operates around this sacrosanct “today is Xxxday!” structure, I do need to keep at least one finger hooked in the system so that I don’t lose track altogether. My publishers, my readers, all my promotion efforts and my $money$ are all organized around the calendar, so I work to keep it straight in my mind.
Plus, I still do have the occassional deadline to keep. 🙂
You work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life
One of the illusions I had when I was working full time and dreaming of writing full time was that life would be easier. I would be able to give up the insane juggling of work/writing/trying to have a life, and actually have a life, and write for a living in the meantime.
That hasn’t happened.
Oh, I’m having a life. It’s called writing for a living. Mark and I laugh ironically about it. I sit at my desk from seven in the morning to sometimes seven in the evening. Most days it’s five or six at least. There’s very few breaks in there. Most of them are the run-upstairs-and-grab-food type breaks.
The family come down and sit at my desk to talk to me, if they need me. My cats, Pippin and Merry, either curl up on the desk, or on the chairs next to me.
I do this six days a week, if I can negotiate the Saturday properly. Seven, if Mark is on a wrestling road trip. And if Mark is on the road, I’m at the desk for as long as I don’t need to sleep, or the household isn’t actually in crisis mode.
Until my income is a bit more secure and my cheques larger, this pace will continue. It has to. I’m paid for what I write, so I must write.
You’re one of the smallest percentage of writers in the world
When I had the hated day job, I got the impression that everyone but me was writing for a living. It certainly felt that way. Now that I’m writing full time, I’m starting to learn that there are very few writers that are actually living off their fiction income. I can’t find statistics for it—not recent or reliable ones.
I’m guessing that out of all writers who have ever sold a stand-alone title (i.e. “a book”) the percentage of them who are writing fiction full-time would be in the low single figures, and they would nearly all be writing genre fiction. POD and e-publishers have helped a fair few authors go full-time, but that model is now faltering, too, because there are just so many epublishers and the current bun-fight over ebook pricing, eReaders and piracy is making the market skip a beat.
It’s a sobering thought. One that makes me thankful to sit at my desk every morning. One that makes me sit at my desk on the very, very rare day when I feel like I just don’t want to write today.
Stat holidays lose all meaning and weekends become annoying
Just as I lose track of what day of the week it is, I always get caught by surprise when a public holiday comes up. It’s a long weekend this weekend – Canada day. When Friday rolls around and I actually realize it’s Friday, I sometimes find I’m getting annoyed, because the end of my work week has arrived and now I have to stop working. In other words, stop writing.
It’s going to be two whole days before I get back to my story and make any more progress towards The End. Two days before I get to spend any more time with my characters, whom I’ve grown to love and adore.
And if it’s a public holiday, then it might be three whole days. Damn. (And in my mind, I’m not being nearly so polite.)
If everyone in our household is working, which they often are because of the jobs they have, then I might roll right over the public holiday and keep on going. It becomes just another work day. Hell, I’m not going to waste a perfectly good day!
You have the coolest job title in the world.
You have no idea how much of a kick it is to write on all the umpty-umpth ID forms and red tape we all get these days, in the “occupation” space: “Author.”
I smile every time I do it.
You get to play your favourite music, at your volume, all day long.
I really hadn’t thought of this one before. But when the rest of the household is away…
I have a surround sound speaker system, with a subwoofer under the desk. I never really got to let the system rip until I was writing full time. Now I can playmy favourites, at whatever volume I want, and I can play the same favourites over and over again if I want to, and there’s no one around to bitch.
Plus, if I get really excited or moved, I can get up and bounce around or dance, or just jig a bit.
Combined with writing a really emotionally intense or thrilling scene and sometimes I have such a blast writing, I wonder why the entire world doesn’t want to do this…
You have the coolest job, period.
See above. Writing fiction really is the best job in the world. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.
I used to hate waking up in the mornings. Hate it. I was a pain in the ass to everyone. Biting heads off, snarling. A real bear. (Now my daughter has taken over the job of imitating a grouchy bear). I slide out of bed in the morning and blink a bit because I’m working my ass off and I’m tired, so I’m not operating so well without the black juice, but that’s about it.
The difference in my happiness level is night and day.
I’ll keep working my butt off just to keep this job, just for that factor alone. I wish I’d known this factor when I first started writing. I would have beggared myself and risked bankruptcy ten years ago just to avoid the last decade of day job hell and the crap I put my family through as I dragged myself to work every day.
But I wouldn’t be the person I am now without that ten years of day job hell, so it all works out.
You become addicted to writing fiction.
This is the very best part of writing full time. You only have to do it for a short while for the addiction to kick in properly.
Part-time writers will say they’re addicted, but they’re not. Not really. They can go for days without writing because they have to. Their lives are structured that way.
But when you’re writing full time and you’re immersed in characters and stories all day long, day after day after day, it becomes an addiction. As soon as you finish a book, it’s a let down. A severence to let it go. You want to stay in that universe you’ve created and keep playing. Keep creating.
Or create a whole new universe. The ideas for books are endless. They come faster and faster. There’s a log jam of books queued up, waiting for you to get to them, even though you’re writing as fast as you can.
And you keep looking at your list of books you want to write, screwing around with the order you’re going to write them in, because you want to write them all right now and you can’t. So you have to pick which one wants to be written the most right now. An impossible choice, as it happens, so you usually end up picking according to plebian concerns, like market demands and publisher demands.
Everything that gets in the way of writing, and more writing, can become an annoyance. You have to work at keeping writing inside boundaries and maintaining a normal life. You get to pick where those boundaries lie, of course – which is the other joy of writing full time: the flexibility of designing what your life looks like.
January 2013 Update.
Just in case you ‘re not a regular reader of my blog, and you’ve tripped over this article via a search or outside link, I should bring you up to date.
The finances and economic realities of the publishing business forced me to first take a part time job (Starbucks), which turned into a badly paying full time job, in late 2010. I also started an author promotion business in order to help pay bills. I really didn’t want to give up full time writing, but those damned bills kept turning up, and the royalty cheques either didn’t show up or weren’t nearly big enough to do the deed.
On September 1, 2011, I started a “real” job — a well-paying, 9-5 suit job. I still have it. It pays the bills and we’re steadily paying off the debit we ran up from my unexpected year off. The removal of financial stress is an enormous relief.
Most of the how-to advice columns and sites out there strongly recommend that before you consider going full time as a writer, you have all your debts paid, and you have six months to a year’s worth of salary stashed away. I heartily agree with this wisdom. The year I wrote full time would have been much easier on the soul if we had been debt free and had reserves to fall back on.
I still want to write full time, and I’m working on getting back to that sublime status. Only this time, I’m publishing all my titles as an indie author, and the income stream seems to be far more stable and predictable — it never goes backwards, for instance. The cheques also seem to show up on time (so far).
This time around I will get to dictate when I make the transition to full time writing. I’m watching my monthly cheque totals rise, and when they’re equivalent to my day job, I can trade in the suit. I’m about half-way there.
You might also find my January 2013 companion post “8 Things I Know About Part-Time Writing Now I’ve Written Full-Time” interesting, too.
This collection of posts turned into a series without me intending it. Here’s the sequence, if you want to read from the beginning: