Don’t quit your job to write

It’s common for those who want to write, but don’t, to pine over the day that they can/could/might quit their job to write the novel they’ve always dreamed of. The problem is, for most people, when you have plenty of time to write, you won’t. You’ll do everything but write. You’ll read. You’ll catch up on who’s playing who and what’s on Netflix. You’ll call the friends you haven’t spoken too in oh-so-long. You’ll pet your dog and take it for walks. And eventually the money will run out. And you’ll be back at your 9-5, hating life, thinking about how you wish you could quit your job to write.

[ Aside: I’m aware that some people do successfully quit their jobs to write, but they are–without a doubt–the exception, not the rule. ]

The reason most people fail to write when they quit their jobs is because writing is not easy. It takes a lot of training and extended effort to do at all, much less do well. I suspect when most people quit their jobs to write they’re doing it with the expectation that writing is fun, easy, and a vacation from all that struggle and chaos and toil of their corporate gig. They sit down to write and the page stares them down. Or perhaps they begin to type or write, but inspiration peters out. Soon they grow frustrated. Then they realize that a day of writing is a long time. Writing becomes a lot of work–and work is not what they signed up for when they quit their job. They were signing up for the cute little day dream of happily typing away, tea or coffee or booze nearby, churning out pages and pages and shipping a publishable manuscript that becomes the next Harry Potter. But then they quit and reality hits them in the face. They realize that the road to success as a writer is, generally, a long hard one. As in years of hours of work every day, nose down, writing.

Plus, what’s to be gained by quitting your job for a dream you’re unfamiliar with. Oh, sure, you’re familiar with the fantasy of writing, but are you familiar with the reality? Are you ready to be paralyzed by fear? Which is what may happen to many people who quit their jobs and try to “make it” as a writer within some time period less than 5 years. Unless you have enough money put away to get by for five years while you train as a writer, hone your craft, and produce book after book, it would be unwise to commit yourself to make it when much of the making of it is out of your control. You control how hard you work, and how smart you work, but you do not control the reaction of the readers to your work. Will your work be discovered right away? Or will it take a long time to build your audience?

I’m not arguing that it’s impossible to succeed as a writer. Not at all. In fact, I strongly believe that there is no such thing as failure, only success or quitting. I believe if you work at it long enough, smart enough, and hard enough, you will inevitably succeed someday.

I suggest that the smartest way to begin your training, to begin to pursue the dream, is to start writing now. Keep your day job. Let it pay your bills and provide some stability for your new found venture. Then treat writing as a part-time job–an internship. You’re working your way into the career you want, one day at a time, a few hours at a time. Do it, if you can, two hours every day, either in the morning or at night. But do it. If you make that a daily routine (yes, including weekends), you will discover that your endurance, strength, resilience, and ability grows with each passing day–just like a marathon runner who starts out walking before they get to trotting, and trotting a half-mile before they attempt a mile then two then twenty.

As a bonus, if you develop your writing process and your writing muscles, when the day comes that you can quit your corporate gig and living on what your writing brings in, you’ll have a process and a mind set which will enable you to smoothly transition to the life of a full-time writer. You’ll already well familiar with, and well prepared for, the rigors of writing. You’ll have what it takes to go the distance…because you’ve already gone the distance to get there.

Don’t quit your job. Keep it and start training…ahem, writing…now. Write two hours every day until you complete one book.The same day you complete your first book, begin another. As soon as you’re able, in parallel, publish your books after having them proof-read and edited. Write. Publish. Repeat. and you’ll get there. The book by the same title is excellent, btw. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, let’s get training for it!

To create a new life, accessorize!

Now that I’ve woken up and decided to simply be who I am–instead of trying to make myself fit some other mold (something which is more stable, something my parents approve of more, etc.)–I’ve discovered in hindsight that the signs were always there. I even knew that I always wanted to be a writer. I’d said so on numerous occasions. But somehow I still missed the reality of that statement. That it wasn’t just some wishful, I want to be an astronaut, kind of saying; It was truly the wish of my heart expressed in word.

One of the signs I overlooked when I was trying to be a computer programmer and economist and banker was the contents of my Amazon wish lists and Kindle. Today I was struck by the fact that I have 68 books on writing on my Kindle–more than any other category, including fiction. I’ve definitely read more fiction than I have books on writing, but still, it was certainly more books than I have on How To Be An Economist–or How To Be A Computer Programmer.

That realization is what prompted me to write this post because it’s directly tied to another part of making anything you want a reality: If you want a certain kind of life then you need to accessorize. You need to do those things which flesh out the pursuit. In my case, I want to be a writer. Other than the reality that any day I write, I am a writer, I also want to be a professional writer who makes a living writing.

Any day I write, I am a writer; But if I want to be a professional writer, I need to take it to a higher level. For me it’s helpful to dive in to the world of writing. Rather than reading programming blogs and forums (as I used to when I was trying to be a programmer or economist), read blogs and forums on writing. Rather than read books on programming or economics, read books on writing. Above all, treat writing like a job, an enterprise…as if you were launching a business. Because truthfully, you (and I) are. When you decide you want to make a living from your writing and you start writing with that in mind, you are launching a business.

Yes, you might strive to be merely moderately entertaining in the beginning–hell, it’s better than being terrible, and a lot more realistic than hoping to be amazing right out of the gate–but like someone opening a bakery, you have to start baking bread, writing down some words, intending to make some money from your efforts.

That’s what I’m doing: launching my writing business. Writing is rewarding, but I’m doing it for the money. If there were no money in it…I might do it, but I doubt it. My attraction to writing is that I can make money at it, and it’s deeply rewarding. I’ve never bought into the argument that a true “passion” needs to be something that you’d do even if you didn’t get paid to do it. For me agreeing with that argument would mean that my passion was Netflix watching and reading and perhaps the occasional video game. But those are just entertainment. Passion must be deeper. I think it’s entirely appropriate to have a passion that you ultimately want to make money from–and perhaps this is why the money matters to me–because it means that you have readers…that you entertain people enough with your words that they are willing to pay money to be entertained by you. As a writer I don’t write for me. I write for you and everyone else. I enjoy and find writing rewarding, but ultimately, I am motivated by the idea of sharing my stories with others. And the measure of how well I’m doing that is if people are paying me (1), and how much they’re paying me (2).

So to accessorize as a writer, I recommend reading lots of writing books–develop your skills and craft with what I call “writerly education.” You cannot learn to be a master in a vacuum. Learn what you can from those who’ve proceeded us on this path. Also, if you read news, blogs, and forums, switch to reading writing news, writing blogs, and writing forums. Everything feeds into your passion and motivation. Develop a writing routine which you can commit to every day (I once read that a writer needs to work every day in order to stay in touch with their flow. I agree and found it immensely wise–besides, if you write every day you’re much more likely to get where you want to be much faster). I write from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. every day. Well, that’s what I’m working towards. Sometimes it’s later than that, but I do it every day. Even when I feel ill. Buy a special pen, or computer, paper, mug…something which puts you in the writing mood, which you only use for that writing time. I have a special pen and paper which I only use in the story search/design phase and only for writing. I have a Macbook Air which I only use for writing. When I pick up these tools, it helps me get in the groove of writing. Mentally it orients me to write.

Finally, have a ritual. For me, I just read something in the War of Art that I’m going to adopt. It is a prayer which summons the Muse and asks for her guidance as I write. I will say it before I begin my daily writing, just after I make my morning espresso.

Eventually, I hope to find a good writing hat, or item of clothing that I can wear every time I write to further help me really enter the writing zone.

In short, build an entire writing world–even before you’re doing it for money. The more real it seems to you, the easier it will be to believe, and the easier it will be to persist in your routine and make steady progress over the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.

Making it happen, one paradigm shift at a time

Last time I wrote about my decision to switch my schedule around–a rather drastic decision driven by my need to be productive and avoid the Netflix-trap. For those of you who aren’t aware (or are made of stronger stuff than I), Netflix is ridiculously addictive. I’ve actually contemplated cancelling our Netflix subscription. Not because we don’t love it. But because we do. Too much. We love love love love love Netflix. We heart Netflix. It’s a problem, though, when the next episode begins playing before I can dig up enough will power to turn the damn TV off. This reality, in combination with a general lack of will power at night, meant that I needed to make a big change. I needed to go to bed early, right after dinner, and get up early enough to write before the baby wakes up. The baby has yet to come to turns with Daddy being a Writer, and what that means for his general availability for playing and reeeaaading. As in, when she’s awake she will absolutely assault you if you don’t give her your undivided attention. I understand it, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I’m her Daddy, and as a toddler it’s a scary thing to have my attention directed with great focus and interest elsewhere. I’m sure she’ll gradually grow out of it–particularly when her own interests and independence assert themselves. I’ve heard from other parents further down the track that this super-dependent phase doesn’t last as long as they wish it did in retrospect. Before we know it (supposedly) she’ll be wanting to do everything herself, and show little interest in our contributions as parents. It’s tricky because I also want to foster a close family dynamic–where we do lots of stuff together and enjoy this journey of life as a family unit. I don’t want to cultivate the Cat’s Cradle riff of how Daddy was never there for his son and then one day his son was never there for his Daddy. Eeeek. She actually had her first screaming, crying, nightmare a night that I had to work late for my consulting gig. She wasn’t too thrilled with her Daddy and completely rebuffed my attempts to soothe her.

It’s a tricky thing balancing my need to become a full-time working writer with all the other conflicting desires and demands in life. I hope as long as I do my best to give her what time and attention I can that it’ll all work out in the end. It’s a poor excuse, but my hope, too, is that this time of working a full-time job, a part-time consulting gig, and writing every morning for two hours won’t always be the way it is…that someday–hopefully sooner than later–I’ll be a full-time writer making an equivalent income or more, with no other work-related demands on my time. Oh, yes, I’ll work very hard as a writer–I know that is what it takes–but the idea is that rather than spending 55 hours a week working, and 15 hours a week writing (for a total of roughly 70+ hours a week), I’ll spend 45 hours a week writing (6-7 hours a day, 7 days a week) and be able to fully participate in family life for the remainder. The dream (what I keep in mind) is to, one day, get up between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., make my coffee and sit down to write until 7 a.m. when the kids get up. Then make breakfast, connect with them for a couple hours, and get back to it at 9 a.m.. Then write until about 1 p.m. and take a lunch. And after lunch do some Business-of-Writing stuff: collaborating with my wife on editing, marketing, distribution, etc. until we finally call it a day at around 2-3 p.m.. Then free-time for dinner and hanging out with the family until bedtime at 8 p.m.. THAT is the life I want. The life I am working toward. On second thought. Maybe I write till Noon then lunch then business stuff and be done by 2 p.m.. After all, the only other main thing I value in life, other than making a living as a writer, is having lots of time to spend with the people I care most about: my family. Done 7 days a week, that’s still 42 hours of writing and 7 hours of business stuff–which equals 49 hours of work. Even if I wrote a bit less (say one less hour a day, in order to give a bit more time to business), it’d still be a very respectable work week. In anyone’s book I’d still be applying myself diligently. Even my Dad’s.

But back to paradigm shifts…the how this is going to happen part of the equation.

I decided I needed to shift schedules. Even after deciding, it took me weeks–months even–to actually make the change. A very big part of me didn’t want to give up my Netflix addiction. But finally, a couple weeks ago, I did. After dinner one night, I brush my teeth, did the dishes, and climbed into bed. I tossed and turned and felt like my legs wanted to go run a marathon. Eventually I fell asleep…hours later. I woke at 4:30 a.m. and set on the steps of our spiral staircase–merely trying to stay up right and fend off the need to sleeeeeeeepppp. And I did. I made coffee. I read. But I stayed awake. I may have even written a little. But the point wasn’t to write initially. It was just to make the all-important shift. I think I even fell off the horse right away, a morning or two later, when the baby woke up with us at 5 a.m.. I took her back to bed and slept until 7 a.m.. But I didn’t give up. I kept at it. Now, I do it. I get up every day, every morning, closer to 5 a.m. than 6 a.m.. Some mornings are harder than others, but I’m always writing by 6 a.m.. That’s progress. That’s getting somewhere. That’s something to build on. The longer I do this, the better I’ll get at simply being awake at 5 a.m.. And then, if I’ve become sufficiently skilled at being asleep by 8 pm the prior night, I’ll move it slightly back to 4:30.

Already, my routine is paying off. I’ve written pages and pages of notes and story searching stuff (that’s what Larry Brooks calls it in Story Physics). I’m well on my way to having my story well-searched and designed and ready for the next step in another few weeks: actually writing the book.

That’s another paradigm shift I’ve come to terms with. I have always believed in the value of story search and story design. Especially because I come from screenwriting–having written five pretty banal full-length scripts, and several shorts (all of which received A’s or B+’s in an undergraduate screenwriting class). I believe in the value of a beat sheet, of the Three Act Structure, and all that. But I never really felt like I was “writing” when I was engaged in the planning/designing/architecting phase.

The silly thing is that I realized today that it’s all nuance and split hairs. When we plan we are writing. We are putting words on a page, all over a page. We are scribbling and typing–creating. In fact, we are writing. We’re just writing in an unstructured way. Is it not writing if it’s unstructured? That’s silly. Writing is simply putting words on a page, anywhere, to tell a story. When we’re doing so as we search and discover and design our story, it’s every bit the same thing. Like I said, a paradigm shift. And I’m happy to report that I now actually feel like I am writing…even when I’m searching for and exploring my story in an unstructured way. It’s an essential part of the process, without which I wouldn’t be able to productively get to the part where I constructively write the structured story down.

The lesson is this: challenge your paradigms. Give it a shot. Do whatever it takes to make the dream a reality. Oh, and remember, if you want to make this your job, you have to really really really work at it. Otherwise you’re just playing the odds that your measly book a year will be the next Harry Potter. The harder you work, the more likely you are to at least make a living. And that is the goal–not the many millions that some might make. Plus, you dramatically increase your odds of getting to that level the harder you work. Make your own luck.

Try something new

Some people get tired at some point in the evening and are driven to bed. Not I. I don’t even attribute it to any sort of natural night owl-ness. My circadian rhythms just aren’t as strong as they are in some people. The plus side of this is that I can adapt to any schedule I please. Though it’s often easier to just stay up late and enjoy some baby-free time with Netflix. But I’ve burned far too many hours that way when I really, ultimately, want to be writing. No matter how good the show is on Netflix, I’m always left with a nagging sense that I want to be telling stories, not merely consuming them.

So I tried being productive after the baby goes to bed, but before I absolutely need to be in bed in order to get some handsome sleep. What I found is that I’d watch a couple episodes of Netflix (or three or four) and then jam in 15 minutes of writing before venturing downstairs to bed at Midnight. The problem being that I was all too often getting maybe 6 hours of sleep and was continually exhausted during the day. Let’s review: not getting enough sleep and not writing enough. But Netflix was loving it.

I read a book a while ago called “Do One Thing Different.” It was a remarkable self-help book which basically revealed its entire premise in its title. Do one thing different. If you feel stuck and like what you’re doing isn’t working, do something different and often you’ll get different, even surprisingly different, results. That’s what I’m testing now. I’m going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. It’s actually past my bedtime as of this writing. My goal is to be in bed by 9 p.m. and get up at 4 a.m. or perhaps 4:30 depending on how well my sleep needs are being met. Then I’ll get in a good solid 2-3 hours of writing time before the baby wakes up. As a bonus, I’m not one to watch Netflix on the morning. Morning time is for productivity, not relaxing. I’m going to take advantage of that inclination to write more.

I hope that as I implement this system for success, I’ll eventually be able to output up to 6,000 words in that time (I know, it’s a lot–but seriously, have you read 2K to 10K? Doubt not.). Even if I came in somewhat under that mark, I’d still be able to write a hell of a lot of books every year while also holding down a day job…until the day comes that I make enough off of my writing that I can quit my day job and write full-time. At which time I’ll still go to bed early and get up early to write.

When that day comes, I’ll get up at 4:00 a.m. or 4:30 a.m. and write until 7 a.m. when the baby wakes up then I’ll make breakfast, shower, spend some time with her, and get ready for the day. Then about 9 a.m. I’ll go into my writing room and spend another several hours working…on writing. And by done by 1 p.m. (lunch time!) each day. My goal over the long haul is to write my heart out for 5-6 hours a day, every day, and spend the rest of my time with my family doing the things we love to do–which is mostly just spend time together. This dream is what fires my determination. I will not be a corporate schmuck for any longer than necessary. The goal is to be able to quit my day job in two years. Watch this blog to see how I do it in 2014 and 2015. The goal is to have my last day at work fall on December 31st, 2015, or earlier. Though, considering where I’m starting from, if it takes me three years, that’s totally okay, too. So two years is the ideal. The inside goal. Three years is on the outside. Stay posted. It’s going to be an exciting ride!