Why NOT give up the day job?

When I was starting out in writing, and devouring every tip I could get my ink-stained mitts on, there was one phrase that used to make my hopeful little heart sink: ‘don’t give up the day job’. Author Joanne Harris even included it in her very interesting and wise list of 10 things she wished she’d known before she was published.

I didn’t want to hear this when I was starting out. I’d been unhappy in my career ever since I started, and was desperate to do something, anything else. I was sure that selling a book would be my ticket out. And you know what – it was. I quit my job on the day my agent called to say the deal was done. So it is possible.

I was lucky to get a good advance and a two-book deal, and also to quickly find a part-time freelance job I could do from home. That was four and a half years ago, and since then I’ve my finances are, you know, actually fine. (Writers don’t like to talk about money, which I think does us all a huge disservice. How can you take on a career if you don’t have any idea what the industry standard is?) I’m writing two books this year, and I also teach and do extra bits and pieces (do you want to hire me to do a bit OR a piece??) and for now it works.

Obviously this approach is trickier if you have children, or a large mortgage, or lots of financial commitments, or you can’t live with a bit of insecurity, or your freelance income-sources don’t pay you on time (diversifying is the key), or you can’t write very quickly, or you want to know you’ll have security for more than a year or two at a time. And I don’t necessarily advocate immediate Bridget-Jones style walkouts the second you sell some writing. But, I will share with you some things I strongly believe to be true.

  1. There is nothing that will sap your soul and energy so thoroughly as a job you hate.
  2. Having money worries is also pretty soul-sapping (and I find it hard to write when this is the case), BUT
  3. Not having a salary is a pretty good way of motivating yourself to finally do those things you wanted to do but were too soul-sapped.
  4. There are loads of ways to make a living that don’t involve 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, sitting in an office and drawing a monthly salary.
  5. Especially as for many this is now 8-8 Monday to Saturday working, plus an hour-long commute or more.
  6. The first two  years of freelancing (or any new business) can be tricky cash-flow wise. But you can prepare for this if you know it’s coming.
  7. I used to struggle to punch in the code on my office door, I so much didn’t want to go in there. Now I genuinely look forward to settling down at my desk and getting on with things.
  8. In some ways it’s actually MORE financially secure to build your own career out of bits and bobs of freelance work. Imagine if you got fired tomorrow – that sense of security might vanish pretty fast.
  9. Don’t forget you need to put money aside for tax, and maybe get an accountant, and sort yourself out professionally. There are nearly 2 million freelancers in the UK, so it is a viable career choice.
  10. Quitting a job you hate can give you an incredible surge of energy and motivation. Exactly what’s needed to finish and book or establish a new career.

So there you go – while perhaps ‘don’t give up the day job’ is good advice, and certainly I don’t feel you should quit in order to write a book (this is a sure-fire way to never do anything at all in the acres of time that open up to you). But if the conditions are right for you, and you’re smart, and you hate what you currently do – then maybe DO give up the day job.

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