The Downsides of Writing Full-Time
This week marked the two-year anniversary since I left the corporate world to bet it all on making this full-time writing shtick work. It’s been a great adventure, and one I’m incredibly thankful to still be on. Seriously, I’m pretty sure if I had to go back to the corporate world I would just be ruined. Beer at my desk, showing up in flip-flops, totally unwilling to listen to policy. It would be awesome… for the two weeks they kept me employed.
As much as I love being a full-time writer though, I sometimes feel like we do a disservice to those of you out there working toward this path by only talking about the good stuff: make your own hours, drink when you want, answer to no one but the market, all that jazz. And it’s all true, or as true as you let it be, but this job, like every gig out there, does have drawbacks.
Make no mistake, I still love it more than anything else I’ve ever done, I’m just saying it’s not perfect. Nothing is. It’s okay to admit that, and to talk about the parts that are hard, especially if I can give someone forewarning of what to expect when they get into this business. If these flaws don’t scare you off, then it might just be the right choice for you.
You Have No Path
While I don’t know every job each one of you has ever taken, I’m betting at least 90% of them came with some form of training. Make this spreadsheet, flip this burger, listen to this angry customer yell at you for 2 hours and then try and convince them to sign up for a more expensive feature, etc. Being a full-time writer doesn’t come with that. I still remember my first week after leaving the job, the whole time I wrote I was filled with a nagging sense of “Now what?” as I worked. Lots of people have advice on how to be a writer, but that’s different from learning what to do when you’re whole income is suddenly depending on it. Do you spend more time marketing? Start a company? Run into the street naked with your title painted on your ass, hoping to get free publicity on the local news? No one is there to tell you yes or no, it’s all on you.
Even once you fall into a rhythm and get past the initial wave of fear, the fact that there’s no path will continue to be an issue. If you work a corporate job, most of you know what it would take to move up the line and make more money. Hell, your company probably has yearly evaluations where they make you chart out where you want to be in five years, and then they tell you how to do it. None of that exists in this job. Want to climb the ladder and sell more books? Congratulations, there are literally hundreds of thousands of other writers who want that too, and none of us really knows how to do it. If there was an easy fix solution, everyone would be using it. The only tried and true method out there is to keep writing, build your catalogue, and expand your audience a little with every book. And even that doesn’t work all of the time.
You have to find your own way forward in this job, you have to figure out what the next move is with no assurance it will work. In fact, the whole time you’re doing this, it’s pretty much walking a line without a net because...
You Have No Security
A few months back, my sales hit a slump and started to steadily decrease. Don’t worry, things evened out (although it’s a great example of why I said you need to have a constant pipeline as a full-time writer) but for a few weeks there, I just knew it was the beginning of the end. My time was up, the ride had ended, and I was going to have to go back to the real world with suits and ties and bluuuuugh.
That might seem like a bit of a melodramatic overreaction to you, but part of this job is accepting that it can happen at any time. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. Whatever next book I have, that I’m counting on to invigorate sales and have invested loads of and time and money in, might flop. As might the next, and the next. Or the genre I write could simply fall out of style. Or Amazon could change its policies/royalties and drastically reduce my income. Or… I think you get the idea. At a real job, if you keep your head down, work hard, and don’t make waves you’re usually guaranteed a paycheck (with obvious exceptions of companies doing lay-offs, we’ve all been there and it fucking blows). In this one, even if you do everything right, there’s still a very real chance of failure.
Basically, until you reach a certain level of fame and success (I’ll let you know if I ever get there) things can always go terribly wrong, and even if they don’t that fear can wear on you. I’ve had writer friends who tried to go down this route and had to give it up due to the anxiety over never knowing how much next month’s paycheck would be. And that is a perfectly valid fear to have. Not knowing your own income should make you worry, it’s an adult thing to do. This can be compounded even more when you add on the fact that…
You Have No Structure
Yes, this is different than security. Security, in this context, means financial security, the ability to plan and pay your way through life. Structure, on the other hand, means actually having a situation that fosters and demands work.
Most people in the world are running on schedules. They get up, go to work from nine-to-five, come home, relax, maybe go to a bar, come home, sleep, rinse and repeat for every weekday until retirement. A full-time writer has none of that, and at first glance you’re probably wondering why in the living fuck this point is showing up in a list of cons about the job. Well, simply put, some people can’t function without that rigorous schedule. Your world can start to seem like a constant weekend, and who wants to do work on the weekend?
Remember, this is a situation where output is your lifeline, your bread and butter, the thing that slowly moves you forward. Not everyone can put in a full day’s work without the structure of an office and boss environment around them. It’s not a pretty truth, and I’m not happy to say it, but I’ve known folks who went into this thinking it would be more vacation than job, which just isn’t accurate. Much as I love writing, there are days I don’t want to do it, parts I don’t want to work on, times when I just don’t feel like getting out of bed. But I have to work anyway, because this is my job as much as it’s my art. You are accountable for you, and it’s something that should be made peace with before taking on the work full-time.
Yeah, all of that said, I still fucking love this gig. Big thanks to all of you for helping me make it to the two year mark. When I started this site, it was a dream on par with winning the lotto in terms of viability, yet someone it’s managed to come true. Here’s hoping we all get to celebrate my third anniversary next year as well!