There are a lot of writers and authors who have full-time jobs in other fields. A lot.
For some folks, it’s a matter of necessity. If you’re supporting a family (or several), have a ginormous mortgage, or are working to pay off masses of debt, including student loans or medical bills, you might not have the luxury of being able to fling off your day (or night) job and commit to the hermit-like profession of writing for your supper. For others, it’s simply a matter of loving their full-time job or career and keeping the writing and publishing to the wee early-morning hours, late nights, or weekends.
For a lot of us, writing full-time is the goal. This, we tell ourselves, is when we have made it. We can stand on our own two feet, proclaim our writerliness to the world, and immediately pull on all the comfy pants forever. But when do you know it’s time to take the plunge and make that life-changing transition?
Even if you tick off all the boxes on this list, no list or guide is foolproof. But here are a few well-known signs that you’re ready to become a full-time writer.
You hate your current career
Everyone has bad days at work. Sometimes a bad week or two. Maybe a few months. But if you’re having a series of bad months that are leading to years, it’s probably time to reexamine where you’re working and what a new environment might offer. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting out of a toxic workplace or escaping a cruddy manager. But it might also be that this just isn’t the job for you. Now, while you may be whittling away the days at a crummy job by daydreaming about writing all day in your snuggliest pants with a cup of tea within arm’s reach, it could just mean you want a change of scenery or a break. So test yourself. Take a week of vacation. Only instead of relaxing, give yourself a week of writing where you get up, get dressed, and sit down at your desk. Then see how you feel at the end of every day. Did you feel energized or excited when you were productive? Did you feel frustrated and wonder if maybe this wasn’t the career for you after all? Or did you just end up playing old video games interspersed with pecking away at your keyboard or perusing social media—fighting guilt all the while—before eating a few handfuls of popcorn instead of a proper meal?
There is no wrong answer here. In fact, chances are good that if you did all three, you got a taste of how writing all day actually feels. And if you enjoyed it, there’s hope for you. Or damnation. Or maybe both.
You don’t need people every day
This one is the tricky one, and it usually catches people by surprise. It goes without saying that many introverts don’t mind working from home and not spending time with coworkers all day. But a lot of people—and this includes introverts—don’t realize how much they rely on others for social interaction. This isn’t just about working on a team or enjoying meeting and collaborations. It’s enjoying stories from your coworkers, being plugged into other people’s lives and experiences, and being exposed to different kinds of people who don’t share your social circle. Some of these things you can pick up from other sources, such as social media, your friends and family, writing groups, volunteer work, and more. If you not only enjoy being around people all day but actually need it, well, a solitary writing profession might not be the career for you.
You’ve been making steady money through your writing
Originally, I wanted to call this option “you’re rich.” Do you have to be rich to become a full-time writer? Absolutely not. But…it helps. As does having some kind of financial support from either a spouse, family, or (if you’re lucky) a trust fund. Barring those options, the reality is that you likely need to make enough money to live on. Now, some folks—largely successful business types or professionals—have accrued a hefty little nest egg to pad them during this transition, and that can work too. But let’s pretend you don’t have a ton of savings, you don’t have someone supporting you (and making sure you have a roof over your head and food on the table), and the likelihood of you winning the lottery is nil. You can still make this transition. But you have to be savvy about it and take your time. For one, you should have some steady income coming in. Maybe you’ve picked up a few regular freelancing gigs. Maybe you’ve published and sold enough books that you can squeak by on your royalties. Maybe you have a few reliable side hustles/gigs that will keep your rent or mortgage paid and food on the table. Whatever you’re doing, make sure that you have enough money coming through that you can live and you have enough bandwidth to increase that income at some point if necessary. Next, you’ll need to ensure that you have some money tucked away to cover a dry spell. Most people recommend roughly three to six months’ worth of expenses. That’s pretty wise. That said, it’s not advice that many “transitioning to writing full-time” folks tend to follow. And that’s OK. But having that buffer can take a lot of financial pressure off you.
You know that writing books is only part of the job
Most authors and writers love writing. They love it. At least, they love it most of the time. Yunno, when the writing isn’t being painful, surly jerk (because that happens sometimes). But becoming a reasonably successful writer and author isn’t just about the writing. The writing is only part of it. In order to sell your books, your writing, your brand, and yourself, you have to wear a number of different hats. Sometimes you’ll need to spend a large amount of time on things like editing, social media, marketing, advertising, writing guest blogs, promoting yourself, managing art and advertisements, doing newsletters, and being your own best publicist. And dare I say, you’ll find yourself needing to do these things almost as much as you write. And that’s without managing your finances, taxes, administrative tasks, and more. For some authors, it’s enough to just write and revise their books. But for emerging authors, as well as for self-published and indie authors, there’s a lot of work that isn’t writing—and your success might just depend on it.
You know that a big fat book advance doesn’t mean you’ve made it
There are some authors who have experienced the dream. They wrote a book, and they got a book deal that resulted in a large advance. And they thought, “This is it. I really did it.” And then perhaps they dumped their day job, bought themselves some fun new toys and experiences, and waited for the money to roll in. But the royalties don’t always roll in. And then there’s taxes. And there are a few authors who found themselves broke, unemployed, and without a steady influx of royalties to tide them over. In publishing, there are no guarantees. Not until you hit the status of a Stephen King or a Nora Roberts. Be careful with any advances you receive until you see your book sales.
You’re ready for the rewards—and willing to make the sacrifices
A lot of fantastic things come with being a full-time writer and/or author. Flexibility, exploring and stretching the limits of your creativity, going to bed every night knowing you love your job, being able to make your own schedule, not to mention all the money you save on clothes, lunches, and commuting—and these are just a few of the benefits. But there are sacrifices to make. How much do you need financial stability? Do you have health issues that require benefits? How do you feel about having months where you barely scrape by and watch as your friends and family upgrade their vehicles and homes and have more expensive vacations and leisure pursuits that you might not be able to enjoy? What about retirement, having a family, or paying for your kids’ education? There are a lot of authors and writers who have managed to make good coin. But not everyone is successful. So the question you’ll have to ask yourself honestly is this: What defines success for you?
For some people, success is about the material rewards. For others, it’s about freedom. Creativity. Writing and selling a book on your terms. And knowing that you’re steering your own boat toward a destination that not everyone else understands or even accepts.
Because at the end of the day, becoming a full-time writer and/or author isn’t just about making your way in the world. It’s about living in the world on your terms—even if that means a few more challenges along the way.
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.