Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Many years ago, when Hector was a pup (look it up), I made the fateful decision to start writing full-time. Sounds like a dream, no?

Well, in some ways, it was. But several things made that transition possible. First, I had already enjoyed some success as an author, having published my first book and contracted (if I recall correctly, and that’s never a given) my next two books.

Second, one day I got two phone calls within minutes of each other; each one offered me a few paying writing opportunities. I had said yes to the first call, but told the second caller, a BIBE (“big important book editor”), that I’d have to get back to him. I was confident I could accomplish the first caller’s projects while working my low-paying, time-consuming, full-time job; but the two callers’ projects combined seemed too much. I would have to turn down the second caller’s projects.

Upon hanging up from that second call, I was a bit crestfallen. My wife sat next to me on the couch and, after I related the content of the calls, asked, “If you were writing full-time, would you be able to do it all?”

“Well, yeah,” I said.

“Did they mention money?”

“Yes.”

“Would the money support us?”

Altogether, the combined contracts exceeded what I was making in my full-time job. “I’m pretty sure.”

She might’ve rolled her eyes. “Well? What are you waiting for?”

A few days later, I gave my notice; and a month later, I was a full-time writer. But there was one more factor that contributed to quitting my “day job.”

Third, I wasn’t making much money at my day job.

Those three factors—a bit of a track record, a few solid offers, and the fact that we’d been living around the poverty level already—made me a full-time writer. And I’m happy to report that, since then, I’ve added to my track record, continue to get occasional solid offers, and continue to flirt with the poverty level.

But my story is merely descriptive, not prescriptive. I routinely warn writers against quitting their day jobs. It takes a long time to build to a point where some combination of advances, royalties, work-for-hire, and plasma donations supply enough income to pay the rent (or, in my case, the Dunkin’ Donuts line-of-credit).

Around the time I started writing full-time, I was chatting with another author, a novelist who is much smarter and more accomplished than I am. He said that when he made the decision to write full-time, he took a page from his family’s experience starting and running a restaurant. He said that, for the first two years, a startup like that meant 12- to 16-hour days, every day, 365 days a year, in order to build the foundation of a successful business. So that was roughly the kind of schedule he set for himself in order to produce the output that would blaze the path for his later writing efforts.

I said, “Wow.” After further thought, I said, “Wow.”

That’s not a route everyone could or should take. My brain doesn’t function a full 16 hours a day, let alone 365 days a year. But it apparently worked for him; he’s published something like a bajillion books and won a number of impressive awards.

So, having written all that, I’ll conclude with the answer I sometimes give when someone asks, “When can I quit my day job?” I say, “When you’re making as much money writing as you are at your day job. Or maybe more, since you’ll have to buy your own health insurance and fully fund your FICA contributions.” Not exactly Solomonic wisdom, I grant you. And maybe not all that encouraging, either. But consider the source, and take it or leave it.  

24 Responses to Don’t Quit Your Day Job

  1. Avatar
    Shirlee Abbott September 9, 2020 at 3:40 am #

    I retired from my day job. I work part-time, closer to home. I write more.

    The first two things would have happened anyway. The third is the icing on the cake, the open door, the hoped-for opportunity. Sometimes God works in predictable ways.

  2. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson September 9, 2020 at 4:45 am #

    Great advice. Also important to note that unless you are very disciplined, you may hardly write more as a full-time writer. As silly as it sounds, many have experienced that.

  3. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 9, 2020 at 5:34 am #

    I didn’t quit my day job;
    cancer pulled that little score,
    but this is not a writing hob,
    for I’m not writing more.
    I find there is a maximum
    of the words that go to page;
    when it dries, where they come from,
    no discipline nor rage
    nor keeping feet set to the fire
    will wake the sleeping muse,
    and I might as well retire
    from my Royal, and choose
    to not the idle hours scorn,
    but see them as where words are born.

    ‘hob’, in this context, is a machine for cutting gears

    • Avatar
      Susan Sage September 9, 2020 at 7:27 am #

      Andrew, I would have to disagree with your poem on one point. You said you’re not writing anymore, and yet, you write responses to multiple blogs. By doing that, you are writing words that encourage, uplift, humor, and edify those of us who are blessed to read what you’ve shared. I’m thankful for you, brother. Take care and thank you.

      • Avatar
        Shirlee Abbott September 9, 2020 at 9:03 am #

        I agree with your disagreement, Susan. Keep those words coming, Andrew!

        • Avatar
          Judith Robl September 9, 2020 at 2:13 pm #

          And I add my “amen” to Susan’s and Shirlee’s words above. You are writing. And you are fulfilling a purpose in God’s kingdom. Love you, brother. Still praying.

          • Avatar
            Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 10, 2020 at 7:14 am #

            Judith, love back, and thank you…I don’t know God’s plan, but I know that He gives me the impetus to keep this up, and I’m grateful to Him for the job.

        • Avatar
          Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 10, 2020 at 7:12 am #

          Shirlee, thank you…I’m here for as long as it lasts.

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 10, 2020 at 7:11 am #

        Susan, thank you for this. You’ve brightened my day.

  4. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. September 9, 2020 at 5:36 am #

    Bob, I haven’t quit my day job yet but there are times, like now, where the day job requires so much work that there isn’t time to write…..bad, bad.

  5. Avatar
    Debbie Wilson September 9, 2020 at 5:37 am #

    ” And I’m happy to report that, since then, I’ve added to my track record, continue to get occasional solid offers, and continue to flirt with the poverty level.” I love your advice and sense of humor!

  6. Avatar
    Tom Morrisey September 9, 2020 at 5:54 am #

    Twelve years ago, after two decades of freelance writing and working as a novelist, I took a day job (I still have it), even though my book income exceeded my “real job” income for several years.

    Why do it, then? Because the day job had medical, dental and vision benefits (not to mention life insurance) a 401k with matching contributions, and included a pension if I stayed long enough (I have).

    They’ve talked me out of retiring twice, but I intend to do so within the next three years and, when I do, the pension, savings and social security should keep me comfortable until I die at the keyboard, writing my novels.

  7. Avatar
    Jill Weatherholt September 9, 2020 at 6:00 am #

    My reasons for keeping the day job are the same as Tom mentioned, particularly the medical benefits and pension. I love writing books and plan to continue as long as God leads me down that path. For me, writing is a hobby that pays pretty well, but not enough to quit the day job. Great topic, Bob!

  8. Avatar
    Sandra September 9, 2020 at 6:02 am #

    I believe the thought of being the next Max Lucado or Lisa Harper fills our hearts and minds with hopes of being invited to speak, travel and stand before an audience eager to hear what we have to share….NOT!

    Unfortunately, some of us learn the hard way of making the mistake of leaving our full time job to write.

    This is where God’s wisdom comes in, as I’m sure we all know too well. Use wisdom, keep the day job; and keep writing!

  9. Avatar
    Jennifer Chastain September 9, 2020 at 6:11 am #

    Great advice -along with a healthy dose of humor! This has been my plan all along – work hard until I can fully support myself with my writing.

  10. Avatar
    Frank September 9, 2020 at 7:37 am #

    Writing is a long and winding road. It is often lonely.

  11. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver September 9, 2020 at 7:42 am #

    I really enjoyed your title and the humor behind it. We have “flirted with poverty” so long it’s become a dear friend. 🙂

  12. Avatar
    Lester September 9, 2020 at 9:12 am #

    It all comes back to “security” I think. When you live on a project to project basis, some of the security of a full time job just isn’t there. Some people can live with that, and some can’t. I’ve done both, and I probably could have made more money going the free-lance route. But some of us need the accountability of having a boss.

  13. Avatar
    Megan Schaulis September 9, 2020 at 10:21 am #

    Maybe these days it doesn’t have to be all or nothing? Maybe one could reduce hours at a day job as the writing career grows or opt for a job with flexible hours.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 9, 2020 at 11:23 am #

      I keep looking for a night watchman or receptionist job for a company that never gets visitors or phone calls so I can write while getting paid (and getting benefits) for my day job. Oddly, I haven’t found it yet.

  14. Avatar
    Janis Van Keuren September 9, 2020 at 10:32 am #

    Thank you, Bob, for a wise article sprinkled with doses of humor. It makes the subject seem easier to accept.

  15. Avatar
    Judith Robl September 9, 2020 at 2:16 pm #

    Bob, I love your tongue-in-cheek delivery. It’s real and relatable. And I’ve not quit my day job (although I’m past 80). I can write when I’m 90 or more. Just saying…

  16. Avatar
    OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU September 10, 2020 at 3:55 am #

    Thanks Bob. I have not quit my day job but so, so many times, I do long and wish to concentrate on my writing career. It is a dream, for now. It is my prayer that one day, not too far away, I would be able to rely on my writing career. With God, all things are possible. God bless you Bob.

  17. Avatar
    Wendy September 21, 2020 at 9:03 am #

    I did quit my day job. Each day I went into work I thought, “I need to be home working on my book.” All day, every day. After a month of this, I quit. It was the only way to complete my book project. So I live on savings and work towards the goal.

    During a three-year time of adversity, when I was repeatedly up against impossible circumstances, God came through for me (often at the last minute) and showed me I can trust His plan.

    I’m all in.

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