Don't Quit Your Day Job

When I am not spending intimate time with the scanner, or actually doing things with my family, or partaking in actual writing, or procrastinating from actual writing, then I am usually trying to peruse as many websites about writing as possible in my attempt to pretend to know what I am doing (it's fun to impersonate a writer at parties, you should try it). This is either websites/blogs written by professional writers, or websites with several job postings or a site designed to be a complete resource for new or veteran writers (Yes, I specifically posted these particular links to help out those wanting to find such sites); in my internet travels, I've quickly learned there is a vast amount of resources and advice for the wannabe career writer. As someone who would consider themselves at the very beginning of the starting point (meaning, I am miles away from even considering myself at a legitimate launching point), I think most of the advice seems to be very helpful. It would appear that most writers desire to help out their fellow person (especially the fledgling variety). The advice is often a mix of optimistic and critical, because it offers the hope of actually making a true career but also makes it clear it is extremely hard work to make an actual living.

I've also found advice that is outright harmful and destructive, and in some ways, completely unprofessional for a career freelance writer to give. This advice would be for the starting, wannabe writer to quit their 'day job'. I want to make it clear, that most freelance writers discourage a starting up writer to do such a thing, because dreams and hope tend to be a really poor way to pay for one's mortgage and groceries (and if you have a bank that accepts dreams in lieu of money then please refer me to this magical place because then, I need to rework my own mortgage). I could not imagine why any professional, free lance writer (or really any freelancer) would suggest to someone to quit a secure and decent paying job in order to begin a very insecure career in freelancing. As any regular reader knows, my biggest dream and goal is to become a full time freelancer, but I couldn't even fathom the idea of abandoning my current full time paying job in order to pursue it at this point (mainly because Emily has a really strong throwing arm and there is a lot of sharp objects in our kitchen). It is misleading and actually cruel for a professional freelancer to suggest one of the first steps for a beginning writer should be to abandon the security of a job.

I can see the reason for the advice and even why it seems appealing. If you throw away that soul sucking day job, then you now have way more time to write. Here is the scary thing, once you jump into a life of full time writing then it now has become your job. Which means you're expected to do a lot more than scribble a few words for an hour. Instead, you now have to be able to write from anywhere to 8 to 12 hours a day (as well, as likely do similar hours on weekends). What if after a few days, the hopeful writer now recognizes it isn't really all that much fun writing all day by yourself in your stuff home office (though, the person still likes the perks being able to wear their pink bunny slippers all day). Or maybe the person does realize they like to do nothing but compose an arrangement of words and phrases on their computer, but they still have other problems to worry about. First of all, maybe what they like to write isn't what anyone is looking for. The funny things about paid writing is, publishers, magazines, business and websites won't just pay for any pretty assortment of sentences. They are usually looking for a very specific things, which means if one wants to get paid then they need to write that specific thing. Maybe one will get lucky and they will find someone who is willing to pay for their article or prose or pieces of writing that reflect their own preferences. In all likelihood, if you want to make a a decent living as a writer then it is almost guaranteed you will sometimes have to write things that don't interest you(unless your name happens to John Grisham or Stephen King -- which if it is, not sure why you would want advice from a guy who only hopes to have a career as a writer). The reality is, to make a living as a writer means you aren't writing for yourself but rather, you're writing for your clients. Of course speaking of clients, if you are a starting out writer then that means you're probably spending over half your day actually trying to find clients. Even if you find clients, if you are a starting out writer then you probably don't have much of portfolio, which means you're more likely to get rejected then accepted at the beginning. Unless I totally missed the point during economics class, you can't pay the bills with rejection slips.

That entire rant was meant to show what the first few stages of a writing career will be like. This is the main reason why it is probably nice to have a financial back up, unless one enjoys the comforts of a cardboard box and Rat Dropping Soup. But I am sure someone out there will shout, 'If I have a full time job, then how I will I have time to write or find clients!!! Down with my job!!! And down with pants!!!' Now, I do agree with the argument against pants, but the rest is complete hogwash. The biggest advantage of any job that is freelance or where you are your own boss, is that you can set your own hours and decide how much you can/want to work. What this means for the starting out writer, is at the beginning they will be writing their articles and pay copy in the hours when they don't have their dreaded 'day job.' Yes, this probably means a lot less rounds of 'Frogger' (kids still play that right?) and viewings for the 'Golden Girls' (or something that is still on the air), but it also means that you still have a job with a consistent pay cheque while pursuing your dream.

I know that quitting one's 'day job' is appealing. I would love to do it this very instant. In the real world, such an action has pretty dire consequence especially when you don't have any back up. Instead, one has to the find the balance of working the secure job, while also finding time to get their dream job up and running. It is hard work, but that is the thing about dreams, it actually takes hard work to reach them. Every single famous and successful writer that I can think of, at one time had a 'day job' while also pursuing a career in writing. Which is why I find the advice of quitting your day job to be so dishonest and ingenious. It is dangerous because there are hopeful and wishful writers who will look at a successful writer and think, 'Well, they are making a beyond comfortable living while doing a job they love, and I am tired of flipping burgers, so I'm tossing away my apron for a keyboard because they said I should' (important to note, most estalibshments won't give you a keyboard with your job resignation). I really believe it is important to encourage dreaming and to give hopes to those pursuing goals. But I also think you need to not misguide people and give reckless advice disguised as professional.

I say all this, with full knowledge that some may be in a place where they can quit their 'day job' despite the fact they may not have a million dollar client lined up or even any promises for paying work. I am not telling people to hold on to a full time job while pursuing freelance work because I think it will make you a better person to work two jobs at once. Nah, that is walrus spit. Trying to get a successful freelance job up and running is hard enough, and if you can scrap the other responsibilities then of course it should be done (though, I am not condoning the life of a full time hermit -- still go outside and embrace sunlight). I only assume most can't afford to do it when starting out. Some people may actually have a spouse that makes enough to support the family on their own (or at least, one who agrees child labour should be brough back, and so the three year old is thrown out into the work force). Or maybe this person is one of the very few who actually has enough savings that he or she can do a really good Scrooge McDuck swimming in money impersonation. There are some that might have enough money where they can decide to take a year off work, and still pay for things like a mortgage and canned beans. If one has the money, then definitely take some time off work and make a serious run at trying to make freelance become a reality.

What it comes to, is one must make sure they have a plan. One must make sure they have things in place to remain fairly secure rather than throwing it all away on a whim. I am trying to make my dream a reality, but I don't want that pursuit to cause my entire family to live in some shoddily constructed fort down by the river (hmmm, that might be fun for a weekend). I fear that advice like 'quit your day job' is not encouraging one to have a plan or think things through. I am sure there will be a few who do find enormous success despite throwing away a secure job before they were ready, but I also know for a fact that more will be quickly scrambling to find food stamps and shelter from the rain. Whatever choice one makes, they need to make sure they are ready for the consequences, and have plans to keep their life relatively comfortable and happy.

And that my friends, is your free, unsolicited advice from wannabe freelance writer.