Is it time to quit your day job and become a full-time writer?

As the market shifts toward benefiting authors who use open-platform publishing, it’s good to temper expectations and think about how much profit you might realistically make with your book. While it’s easy to get starry-eyed when looking at the profits of prominent self-published writers, it’s also best to consider the average, and even the low end, of the spectrum. This CNN article cites that Do-It-Yourself authors earn an average of $10,000 a year (which means that many self-published authors earn less than that a year.) While $10K is a significant amount to supplement an income, it does not make for a full-time job.

It’s rare to find an author who gets to write for a living, rarer to find one who makes a good living doing it. There’s a long history of writers who have taken jobs to supplement their income while they worked on their writing. MacArthur “Genius” and fabulist George Saunders worked in a slaughterhouse. Nicholas Sparks sold dental supplies by phone. Stephen King was a high school janitor.

Jobs have a way of getting in the way of writing, but they also have a way of providing inspiration. Stephen King thought of the opening scene for Carrie while pushing around a bucket to mop hallways, and T.S. Eliot thought of scenes from The Wasteland on his way to work at a bank.

Writers tend to take advantage of the weekend or late nights to work on their writing outside of the office, and to make sure they don’t put aside their passion in lieu of a living (you can really have both). A great portrayal of this was this season on Mad Men, when Ken Cosgrove, an ad executive, revealed that he stays up late at night, writing, and becoming a successful science fiction author. Watching that scene, I found myself realizing I’ve been in the same position — staying up late, the only time in the day I had time to write.

So what are your day jobs? How has your work inspired you to be a writer? How do you find time in your busy schedule to write, and how do you make sure it doesn’t get put off?

Related Reading:

Setting Realistic Goals for Marketing Your Book: Part 1 – Treat Yourself Like a Business

Setting Realistic Goals for Marketing Your Book: Part 2 – Realistic Expectations

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15 Comments

  1. I stay up late every night about 8-12 writing my epic poem in blank verse about scientists that I call the Hermead. So far the past year I have written about 40,000 lines covering the the lives of 15 Greek philosophers. I plan to write narrative biographical poems about the lives of about 100 scientists.

  2. I stay up late, get up early, record on my voice recorder, write notes on my smart phone. I am constently reading and writing trying to give myself the next big thought or idea. I write non-fiction, but have begun to tamper with the idea of wrting a novel. I have the concepts written down and will begin working on it once I finish my latest non-fiction book about living this life in Christ. I hope that I can be as thoughtful and creative as Stephen King, Dean Koontz, JK Rolings, CS Lewis, and others. The journey is long, but I will survive. By the way I work as a tutor and take odd jobs as I can.

  3. Jodi

    I work at a bank as a secretary. I’m also a student about to graduate with my BA in English. My capstone project is revising a book I wrote. I also keep writing in mind when I’m commuting. I blare music so loud that all thoughts but creativity are blocked. Many a scene was “written” on the way to work. I think that even if I ever became famous with my writing, I would not quit a day job. I need it for ideas!

  4. I’ve done a lot of different jobs while writing over the last 20 years, including nursing, nightclub security, and motorcycle maintenance. In the last few years, I’ve had so many folk ask for help editing and formatting their books for self-publishing that I now do that as my ‘other job’ including setting up author and artist websites and teaching of social media tools. So my ‘other job’ is now part of my overall writing career – and it’s never been as fun as it is now, from a creative viewpoint. I don’t miss the postage, waiting for rejections, and going to an ordinary job in the meantime at all, and I can write my own books at my own pace and for my own enjoyment.

  5. Kim

    It took me 25 years of dissatisfaction and getting caught up in writing assignments done on behalf of my 9-5 to realize that I needed a job that served my inner muse. I needed a job that did not send me home exhausted. I needed a job with shorter hours and less responsibility. As a result I have become a Nanny and Home Manager, working 5 hours a day and alternating weekends. The moment I walked away from my last middle management position I immediately felt a swarm of ideas flooding my creative pool and overflowing so much that I had to rush home in excitement at 2pm in the afternoon to write. 2:00pm and I was not on vacation!!!! I loved it. I will now be home by mid afternoon. All other family responsibilities will be done earlier as well, giving me additional nighttime hours to also write.
    I followed my dream of writing and made sure that from now on any job I worked was able to work around that dream. Any job I worked would not crush that dream with exhaustion and extra work. Anyone who wants to write must consider whether or not their job is blocking their dreams. There is a way to work this, you just have to weigh your dream against your current job. And you have to weigh your materialistic possessions against your dream and see where you can downgrade. Satisfaction lies in exercising your true gifts and perfecting a craft. Will I get rich? probably not. Will I be happier? Oh definitely YES!

  6. In my job I have come across many very stressed and frustrated Parents, Teachers and Support People. They have often gone years trying to manage or modify very challenging behaviour in children or adults with an intellectual disability or autism.

    This is what inspired me to write my book ‘Behaviour Skills for Parents, Teachers, and Support People’, and publish it via Lulu.com. My intention was not really to make any big money, but more to help Parents and others who just need some easy to understand advice, that is based on non-punishing strategies that work and that come from a person who specialises in (and is trained in) behaviour modification.

    There are many others out there who have also published Behavioural type guides, unfortunately the latest trend is in pushing punishment type strategies, which from many years of research usually only have short term effects.

    I am planning on a releasing a new book at the end of February 2013, again which I plan on publishing through Lulu.com and this time, I hope to sell many thousands of copies so I can then be able to afford the time to continue writing books that will help others.

  7. My day jobs are computer related and one of them is graphic design, which really helps with putting together book covers. None of my regular jobs have inspired my novels, which are science-fiction and horror genre – but at least one of my short stories in the collection “Things That Go Bump In My Head” refers to a graphic design job, where the designer is complaining that his boss said a cover didn’t “pop”. I am not going to quit my day job: as I like to say, I earn enough selling books to support my two cats, but not a human being.

  8. I am a university student but spent most of my secondary school years writing works during school holidays. Writing is great hobby of mine and I find find myself writing pieces of freeverse poetry while commuting to university, or inspired by a moment on the road, at school…we need these things to keep creative juices flowing.

  9. Iain Forbes

    hyW not start collecting my Unique poems.

  10. Iain Forbes

    Why not start collecting my Unique poems.

  11. Alex

    I’m a student studying Physics and Math in college, but I’ve been writing for the past 8 years. It’s absolutely my passion and I just jump on every spare moment of time to write. This Thanksgiving I wrote almost 20 pages on a car ride. I wish I could just get a small job to support myself and just write and try to make something of it. I’ve published 3 books but I’m looking for that “break-out” book.

  12. nicola wilson

    I write when I am off from work or if I work that morning then I give 4 to 5 hours in the afternoon to write.

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