J.E.S. Hays recounts advice given by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta at Dragon Con. Most of the advice is pretty spot on – a worthwhile read. I respectfully disagree with the last and title point of the article.
On some level, it isn’t terrible advice for most people. If someone you don’t know telling you to not go after your dream is enough to make you not go after your dream, then you probably should not go after your dream. I felt this way about teaching even back when I still believed I could change the world with a piece of chalk and 180 days. I really miss chalk. Dry erase boards are just not the same. Anyway, my thought was to tell everyone that wants to teach NOT to do it. If you could imagine anything else, go do that. If they still wanted to teach, well, then maybe. Full-time writing may be the same type of thing.
I also think there is a bit of survivor bias. Those that are best sellers give advice on how to make it because they made it. Most people that tried that didn’t make it, so maybe that is not the best plan, but they survived, so everyone thinks it is including them.
Here is my issue with “don’t quit your day job” as it is presented in this article. Don’t take the risk of trying to be a full-time writer until you are on the best seller list and have a couple years expenses in the bank? Keep your crappy day job for the benefits? Enjoy living the most miserable version of your life for the illusion that day jobs are safe. I’ll pass. Because everyone that achieved something great waited until they had two years expenses in the bank before they took the plunge. In modern America, “benefits” have become the chains we beg to have locked onto us with our biggest fear being that one day we might be set free. I’d rather fail pursuing a dream than to succeed at living a misery. This is a plan to keep living a life that makes you miserable until you die. You can do that without writing, if you want.
I left teaching after sixteen years in February of 2013 to deal with family stuff. The family concerns were the perfect cover for the truth that I was miserable in life as it was. I worked for benefits, the benefits did not pay enough, we still struggled to make ends meet, and I was surprised every day to find there was still a piece of me left inside that could die a little more. Once I left, I found that expenses could be pulled much further back than I ever realized. I have serious health issues and so did one of my sons, but staying home with him did more for both of us than working for benefits … minus deductable … minus copay … minus that’s not covered. I get better healthcare paying cash and saving up for bloodtests. Insurance is a racket of the highest order.
I left teaching in the middle of a year in the middle of the week with “write zombie stories” as my master plan. Eventually, I did freelancing and ghostwriting to cover the difference from fiction royalties. I’m not on anyone’s best seller list, but I pay my rent each month. I have to save and be creative for luxuries like gas, food, medicine, and shoes, but we get by. We get by and I am home with my kids. I write full time and I live.
I’m not saying to follow every stupid idea that enters your head. I’m not saying to go and quit your day job. That is a crazy thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it is out of the question. Every once and a while, it is worth it to take a gamble on yourself. The worst that could happen is that you fail miserably and have to start over. That happens to people with dayjobs too.
If you wait until you are ready before you try something new, you never will. You are never really ready for the big stuff.
Charles Bukowski wrote and spoke extensively about the self-imposed slavery of work. I wrote an essay in promotion of a Bukowski tribute anthology I have a story in. You can read that here. It’s got bad words in it, so be warned. Essentially, you are not nearly as stuck as you think you are. Keep your day job … if you want. Flee it, if you hate. Start a new one. Start a new career. Quit it all and find a way to survive writing. You don’t have to, but you can. You don’t have to be on the best seller list to survive on words. I take that back. Surviving is what I did with my day job. Living is what I do now as a full-time writer.
If you tell me you can’t, I will accept that choice. It’s your choice and not mine, but it is a choice. I don’t believe it for a minute and I’m not interested in the excuses because I had all the same excuses too, but I did it anyway. But, still, your choice. Stay because you choose to stay and not because you feel trapped or because the best sellers told you that you are not good enough to be them.
“We have to write an extra book every year to pay for our health care.” Oh, the horror! What?!
I am a hack that is still learning and relearning basics of writing. I am making a living as a full-time writer. It is work, but I would not trade this struggle for my easiest day in my life before. I do not dread Mondays. My worst day of real writing is better than most other days at other jobs. My day is filled with distractions and interruptions and I still love putting the words down between every one. Money is uneven and unsure and yet my family eats and we get by. It wasn’t like I was rolling in cash before.
There was a moment a few months back where it was time to give up. I was pushed to make the decision to go back to teaching. Next month was not paid for. Then, the freelancing came together and I went on writing. I am filled with fear at the thought that I almost gave up. Every person following a dream has that moment before the next thing comes through. It will happen again some time and again after that. If I make the best seller list one day, it won’t be because I kept my day job until I had two years of expenses saved up.
Fear is the prison we invent to keep us from going after our dreams. It is why most people don’t try. Make your own choice, but be sure it is your choice.