(How To) Quit Your Job & Write

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I am starting this blog nearly a year to the day I quit my day job to write full time. This post isn’t actually so much a step-by-step “how-to”; rather, this post is about under what circumstances this may be an intelligent move and I filter this through details about my own decision-making process. I assume that a lot of my readers here have themselves contemplated this move away from the daily grind in order to pursue a novelist’s career. And, if this isn’t you, it will give you a little background about me and about the risks we writers face in order to chase our dreams.

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Should you quit your job to write?

No. Don’t do it: quitting your job is a stupid idea. You’ve got car payments, a mortgage, kids to feed, student loans to pay, a family who—until now—was fairly assured about your sanity.

Yes. Do it ASAP: quitting your job is a wonderful idea. It’s work that’s stupid. All it does is get in the way of you and your Great American Novel. Without a job, you’ll have time to write your masterpiece.

I’m not a huge fan of relativism, but when trying to decide if quitting your job to pursue the career of prosateur or poet is a smart move, you’re going to need to look closely at your own life and situation before putting in your two weeks. That being said, I really feel work is stupid if it’s unfulfilling. An artist is better off making art full time than being jailed in an office cubicle, wasting talent mopping factory floors, or faking smiles to fulfill the expectations of the craptastic customer service industry.

So, I can’t tell you to quit your job or even if it’s a good idea for you in your own particular situation to quit your job. I can only tell you about my own experience in quitting my job.

Let’s start out with this plain and honest fact: I’m not unemployed. You see, I hope to someday make money at writing, but I’m one of these novelists (to paraphrase Flaubert) who can spend an entire morning putting a comma in and then spend an afternoon taking it out. At this pace, I simply can’t make a living as a writer doing articles for magazines or wing out enough short fiction for the New Yorker and other paying venues to keep my debts at bay. That’s why, when I decided to quit my day job, I first sought out another job to replace it. This new job, though, had to have this one important difference: it would allow me time to write, either at work or more time to write outside of work. I ended up getting lucky because I found a job that gave me both.

How do you know it’s time to quit flipping burgers and time to pick up a pen? That’s a tough one. For me, I needed more than one reason to make writing my fulltime vocation. When I quit, I had over three years of tenure. It was a fairly good job, paying well for the area. I ranked highly and was liked by my co-workers. But, the company forced me to transfer to a new position—it turned out to be a position I just didn’t like. Now, I already didn’t actually like my job, but it was bearable (most days). This transfer though involved a lot of technical knowledge of a major video game platform, which was not a good fit for me.

Was this enough to quit my job and pursue writing? No. It might have been enough to find a comparable job, one not involved in any way with tech support or knowledge of the latest first-person shooter, but with equally awesome benefits. What tipped the scales from workaday life to writer’s life was this: the start of a new novel.

Let me set the scene: when I first moved back to Nebraska after many years in South Dakota—most of them spent as a university student—I began working on book. I set out to start writing a short story, but it went past the normal limits of the genre and it grew to be a novella (the longest thing I’d ever written at that point). My first drafts of this book, Descriptions of Heaven, were written between 2012 and 2013. After this, I worked on short stories and further revisions of my novella. Then, in 2014, I began working on a really cool novel, which (had I finished it) would have been a kind of cousin to Derrida’s Glas, except it would have been fiction and quite possibly still a readable document. It’s painful to admit this but. . .this cousin to Glas was a ‘malformed neonate’ and its health was failing as fast as I was writing it. In despair one day, I picked up a blank piece of paper and started writing the first lines of what is now my novel-in-progress. This was gutsy, if only because these lines were the start of a book that had been gestating inside my brain for over seven years. I didn’t know I was ready to write it until I saw that I had actually penned out the first few lines. After the first page was written down on paper, I knew that I had to devote myself as wholly as possible to this book.

The first thing I did was math (an unnatural act for me, which is why I rechecked my work several times) and decided that I could afford to quit if I could get x-amount of pay at another job and if this other job allowed me to devote x-amount of hours to writing every week. And, as I mentioned above, this meant working less hours or a job where writing at work was possible. I’m not going to credit myself with any brilliance in picking out my new, writer-friendly vocation; I got the idea from my best friend, Mike Convery, who had worked at a hotel one summer and normally spent most of his working day deep in a book. Luckily, in the Sioux City area, the majority of hotels and inns are located all in the same general vicinity. I went out on a Thursday night right after work to pick up applications, turned them in on Friday, and had a job at the one closest to my home by Saturday.

Did I vacillate? Yes.
Did my long-time employer beg me to stay? Yes.  🙂
Did I stay? No.
Why? Because, my new job offered me a schedule I couldn’t resist. I work only two days a week. I grant, they’re sixteen-hour shifts, but that’s not bad considering the payoff, which is tons of time to pursue writing. And, really, it’s often slow enough at the front desk for me to be able write, read, watch cartoons. . .or even blog (now that I’m a blogger).

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So, do I—in general—recommend quitting your job to become a writer? Yes, but do it smartly; you might already have the perfect balance between day job and writing desk (you might just need some time management skills to utilize that balance). Or, maybe the workaday life is holding you back. For me, it was a mix of the muse, a poor fit with a new position, and the presentation of a perfect opportunity that led me to make writing the main focus of my working life.

How about you? Would love to hear your stories, thoughts, and concerns about quitting your job to write the next Great American Novel. Comment below.

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One thought on “(How To) Quit Your Job & Write

  1. Kudos on taking that step to more writing. I found that tutoring and teaching work the best for me. I tutor kids who have problems with writing, then go home and write myself. I hope all this time you have writing has helped produce something INCREDIBLE.

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