Friday, December 2, 2022

Leaving the Day Job - Don't Forget the Barbed Wire

A week ago I snickered to myself about how I didn't know how to write about what it's like not having a day job because I still had a day job. 

Now I don't. 

I guess this will be a learn-as-I-go adventure. I'm not raking in the sweet, sweet book cash. Not yet. The only reason I'm not running around like my hair's on fire is because there's a fall back position. I'm privileged to have a partner who does have steady employment. Let's not talk about how close he came to a layoff three days ago while we believed my position was secure. He got word he was safe and two days later my super-safe job evaporated. God, I love recession fears in the tech world. Sigh. 

This does bring me to the easiest way to cushion the slings and arrows and uncertainty of working for yourself. Have a cushion. That cushion could be someone else's steady income that your writing income supplements. That cushion could also be that you budget and plan to build a financial safety net that buys you time. If you want a year free and clear before you have to hit the bricks for another job, you better have done the math and have the cash stowed. Add up your burn rate - the amount of money per month you need to survive. Don't forget medical insurance in those costs. Factor in an emergency or two - car, veterinary, a rush airline ticket - whatever suits your circumstance. While you are gainfully employed in something that reliably hands you cash, start saving. If you make a sale or three while you are working a day job, put part of that advance into the 'writing full time' fund. Plan your exit date from the day job. Don't burn bridges! You may need that network one day. Keep writing. Keep publishing - either via a trad house or via self publishing. The money books bring in replenishes the financial cushion. The more you bring in, the longer you can stretch out the fund to support you through dry spells. Because those happen to the best and the worst of us alike.

What's it like not working a day job, though? It's randomizing. It's a little like living in a castle or a
walled city that is constantly under siege. The moment you aren't working a day job, people come out of the woodwork wanting your time and your energy because - well - you aren't 'working' working. Without really clear, strong boundaries, you'll find your entire day vanishes into a haze of doing things that serve everyone but you. 

Plan to put up barbed wire around your writing time and space. It helps to have a door that closes, maybe locks. Create the structure around writing that makes sense to you. It is the biggest piece writers miss when thinking about leaving a day job to write full time - the structure. With a day job sucking all the air out of the room, you had to fit fiction into the cracks and corners. The limits and structure around those times likely lent a sense of urgency to your word count  because you didn't have much time. Now, without a day job, the day stretches long like a highway across the desert. It's a mirage. Without planned structure in place, you'll blink and realize you haven't written a word or thought about your story for a week. Or more. It's a hard lesson to learn to say no to people, but it is necessary. It's a lesson I still struggle to learn. Just like I'm unexpectedly having to learn how to exist again without a day job defining my time. So as much is it unsettles me, check this space. There may be further developments in the 'what's it like to leave the day job' world.