I think a lot of writers, once they uncover that burning need inside themselves to tell stories, start wringing every last drop out of their spare time to spend honing their craft. That was definitely the case for me. I wrote the first draft of my first novel in the hours between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m., after coming home from my full-time job and tucking my then-toddler son into bed. After surviving my son’s infanthood, I was already accustomed to exhaustion, so I just made it work. Sleep deprivation? Eh. Small price to pay. I wrote a book!
The whole process took about eight months.
At that time in my career, I was working as an interior designer. If you’re new to my blog, here’s my backstory in a nutshell: My bachelor’s is in journalism, and for roughly eight years I worked in that field as a reporter, business writer and managing editor. Around the time I got pregnant, I went back to school to chase my dream of becoming a designer — I love art and architecture, and it’s something I’d always wanted to try. I got a master’s and I got a job with a traditional residential firm. It was an absolute blast, but my timing wasn’t stellar, and the housing bubble burst just as I was starting to get my footing in the field. That meant I had time on my hands, and that’s when I wrote that first book. Not only did I miss writing, I wasn’t doing it for a living for the first time in my career.
That brings me to the point of this post.
To make ends meet, I was freelance writing on the side, and I found that part of my business growing as the design part shrank. I was blogging prolifically by then and reading other blogs, and it seemed a lot of the bloggers I followed were trying to give full-time writing a go — be it freelance, fiction or both. The were grappling with that age old question: “Do I quit my day job?”
I basically had no choice. I wasn’t earning much money as a designer, and my firm was skidding toward the rocks. So I decided to jump ship, and I did start writing full-time. With my design degree and industry knowledge, I had a niche — design writing — and I realized right away it’s what I was born to do. Work was FUN.
But where did that leave fiction? My book? My other new career?
Well, I’ll tell you. It’s been a struggle. I’ve had ups and downs in the two and a half years I’ve spent as a full-time freelance writer, but I have been putting words on the screen. I spent entirely too long revising my first book, but I’m finally querying it out. I’m smack in the middle of a second novel, and I’ve “drafted” (as much as a pantser can draft) three more books. In my loads of spare time (HA!) I’m writing short stories.
That sentence about putting words on the screen, though? I’m putting words on the screen, all right. I’m putting 10,000-plus words on the screen each week for my paying clients. Those are 10,000 words that belong to someone else, and 10,000 fewer words I have in me for my own work. Freelance writing is a great job for me — the best job I’ve ever had, better even than practicing design — but it’s damn hard to write non-fiction for a living and write fiction on the side. It zaps my creative juice. I say this to offer it up as advice for other writers-by-night contemplating a major career move. If you have the resources to write fiction full-time, by all means, give it a go. If you’re considering quitting your day job in IT or accounting or graphic design to become a freelance writer — say, to get yourself closer to that goal of writing fiction full-time — think it over carefully. I’ll be the first to tell you it becomes harder to write books, not easier, when you’re working full-time as a writer of paid non-fiction.
I do have a goal to one day write fiction full-time and make freelance design writing a sideline gig. I do think I made it a harder goal to reach by quitting my non-writing day job. Not impossible. Just harder.
Because I do still think sleep deprivation is a small price to pay for the joy of watching words on the screen turn into my very own books.
Photo by artmoose