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Robert's Rules of Writing #57: Keep Your Day Job

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

"Keep your day job" is probably one of the most common pieces of advice handed out to aspiring writers. Even writers who sell enough in a year or two to consider the possibility as more than just a remote fantasy are told to be patient. They're told to wait until you have X number of dollars in the bank from their writing, and a backlist of books that can keep them going in a lean year.

In general, it's a piece of advice I would give people as well. However, from my own experience, I know that sometimes the best piece of advice to give someone isn't "Keep your day job" but "Quit your day job."

As regular readers of this blog know, in the summer of 2004 I quit my day job to spend a year writing a novel. The novel I finished still hasn't sold to a publisher yet, but that's not really the important part in the grand scheme of things. The important part was that quitting my day job gave me spiritual fulfillment worth far more than the salary I had been earning. It gave me a chance to focus on one project and to learn through the novel-writing process of writing a novel just what I needed to do.

So, based on my own personal experience, I'd be willing to recommend quitting one's day job as a viable alternative. However, it's not a blanket piece of advice. Because if you do quit your day job to write, you really do need some sort of safety net so that you can eat for the year. In my case, I was very fortunate. Nomi was willing to see my year through, so we were able to manage for that time on her salary and her company's health insurance plan. (Never give up health insurance if at all possible.) If I had been on my own, and wanted to give up my day job to write, it wouldn't have been nearly as easy.

But...sometimes a work situation can become so detrimental to your writing that you really have no choice. Sometimes you have to take drastic measures if you want to write. And in the end, only you can judge for yourself the best course of action.

(As a final note, I should add that Masello's essay actually goes into other advice to the prospective freelance; for example, in a few brief paragraphs, he points out the type of writing that tends to sell more. If you're really looking to support yourself as a freelance writer, his advice is worth looking into.)

Copyright © Michael Burstein

Comments

I have to agree, from my own experience and that of everyone who's done it, taking a year off to write never provides an immediate break-in to the field (not even for Piers Anthony), but it's the best year of your life. I learned a ton as a writer and I've never felt so fulfilled.
My advice on this is a little different: Only be prepared to quit your day job when you realize that writing is and of itself a day job. A lot of people who don't write are shocked to learn I put in a 50-60 work week, every single week (except vacations) I think I've discouraged more would-be writers (inadvertently, I want everyone who wants to write to write!) with that little tidbit than anything else I've ever said.
When I took the year off to write, I treated it as a day job like any other. I didn't have an hour quota, but I did have a page quota. And to make sure I stuck to it, I was required to send my five pages to my wife every day, so she would know that I had actually spent the day working.
Writing aside, sometimes one has to give up the day job for one's mental and physical health.

I'm making far less money and working far less hours than I used to, but I'm a much happier and less stressed person in the two part-time jobs I'm working currently. (It helps that one of them does have health insurance benefits.) My weight and blood pressure are no longer climbing with each passing year.
All too often, people stay with a job they hate because they're worried about their ability to find another one. I was extremely fortunate; once I was ready for a new job, there was one out there for me.
When a job begins reducing you to tears before you even get there in the morning, it's time to quit. Same thing with working up to 60 hours a week with no overtime pay. Or having your boss pull a gun on you.

Unfortunately, I've experienced all three of those in less than a year. -_-; Going back to school's my excuse for quitting the last one, but I've definitely left myself enough room for writing, too. ^_^
When a job begins reducing you to tears before you even get there in the morning, it's time to quit.

Agreed.

You had a boss pull a gun on you? This I've got to hear.
The job/writing conflict has prevented me from getting much of anything done. As it happens, I love my job; unfortunately, it leaves me next to no time or energy for writing, for which I seem to require at leasta three-hour block to make any progress. It doesn't help that my work and my writing have no real similarity to one another. And financially I'm nowhere near the point of being able to take an extended leave from work, either. My job pays the bills and my writing is for my own enjoyment; my job therefore wins the argument every time. The whole situation is quite depressing.
Just as a thought, but is there any way you can even manage to write one page a day? As Gay Haldeman likes to say (and others say it too, but I remember vividly the way she said it), a page a day is a book a year.
Quitting your day job can be bad for your writing. Suddenly you're not writing because you're moved to, but because you have to, to put food on the table. So the quality goes down. At least, that's my theory on what happened to Misty Lackey. Well, her well-documented mental problems didn't help, but maybe if she'd kept her day job thing would have turned out differently.
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