Originally posted on Jan. 27, 2014. Updated and reposted on Jan. 18, 2016.
This question has been on my mind a lot considering that over the past year I’ve gone from no day job to two concurrent part-time jobs. How much to work while pursuing a creative dream is a common dilemma. There’s no easy answer and the approach you take depends on your writing habits and where you’re at in your life and your career. However, if you’re considering quitting your day job, or reducing your hours to part-time, or even going back to work full-time, maybe I can help by sharing what I’ve learned over the last decade pursuing my dream while working part-time, full-time, overtime, and not at all.
Writing While Working Part-Time
When I first decided to write a book, this was the option I picked. Since I was already living like a starving artist (click here for my 10 Tips to Survive the Starving Artist Lifestyle), I knew I could pay my bills with part-time work. If you can afford to live on less and have a job where you can cut back your hours, perfect! Give it a shot. This is the most low-risk option. But sometimes you don’t have that luxury and might need to pursue part-time work on top of your full-time career before you can quit the day job. Fair warning: this is a brutal, exhausting phase, but remind yourself it will be worth it when you have the extra time to write!
Working part-time is best for those who write in short bursts or need daily breaks from writing. Not everyone can sit at their computer and write for 8 hours straight. If you get burnt out after 4 hours, then you might as well go to a part-time job, right? I also find that a part-time job is like having a bunch of mini-deadlines. If I only have three hours to write before starting work, I’m less likely to procrastinate.
But my first part-time experiment had a downside because I worked freelance. Instead of having just one part-time job, I had a multiple clients who would give me tiny jobs that all together were supposed to equate to part-time hours. But it’s hard to say no when you’re freelance, and soon I had so many little jobs I was working full-time…
Writing While Working Full-Time
Lots and lots of people work full-time and write. If you do, you need to be dedicated to the measly hour or two a day you have to write. You can’t procrastinate or wait for inspiration. This option takes a huge amount of discipline. It’s so tempting at the end of a long work day to just relax and not write, but if you’re serious about finishing that novel, you must write! The other option is waking up and writing for a couple hours before starting your day job.
The type of full-time job you have also influences your writing. Is your job creative? If so, are you creatively burnt out by the end of day, or inspired to create more? Will your job help your writing career? Or would you rather have a job that’s completely separate from your creative side?
My full-time job was writing television shows. I liked doing something creative all day, but often had nothing left in the well for my own projects. Plus, TV is never 40hrs/wk. It’s more like 60 or 70 hours. So when I had enough money saved, I quit to write my book.
Writing While Not Working
When I quit my day job, I was already an experienced screenwriter and had a novel idea I’d been working on for a year. I was ready to write with no distractions, or so I thought. Turns out my idea still needed a lot more development, and in fact I got so frustrated that a few months in I scrapped it for a whole new idea, which took more months of development. By the end of my year off, I was finally ready to start writing. Not that I regret it. I needed the time to immerse myself in the process and experience what it’s like to write a novel full-time.
So what is writing full-time like? Well, it can be lonely. I missed my co-workers. But if you hate your co-workers, that won’t be a problem. Writing full-time is awesome when the words are coming fast, but demoralizing when you hit a slump and have nothing else to do. This option is best if you already have a lot of writing experience and know how to handle those highs and lows.
So with that in mind, before you quit your day job make sure you: 1) have a few years of writing experience under your belt, 2) have a solid novel idea that is ready to write, and 3) have a backup plan for when your money runs out. My backup was keeping in contact with people in the TV business, and whenever I was a couple months from being flat broke, I picked up a gig with them.
After living all three options, I learned the best one for me is to write while working a part-time job. It helps with my motivation. I procrastinate less. And I need breaks away from my novel (especially during the development phase) to help me recognize and solve story problems. Though if I’m ever lucky enough to be a full-time novelist, I’ll deal with this by having two projects on the go, so when I need a break from one novel, I’ll work on the other.
Deciding what’s right for you might take some trial and error. It did for me. And if you’re pondering the question of whether to quit your day job, hopefully this post gave you some insight about the options.
Anyone else have tips for choosing a happy working-writing balance? Please share in the comments!