Thursday, August 16, 2007


I've heard many writers say they can't wait to quit their day job and write full-time. But what if you like your day job? What if the benefits of keeping your day job outweigh that desire to stay home and write?

That's where I was in 1992 when I joined RWA.

I wanted to write. However, I had full medical coverage and was within ten years of accessing a nice retirement fund with my day job. In addition, I loved the graphic design work I was doing, which later expanded to include Web sites. I also wrote, edited and produced newsletters, helped with event planning, put together presentations -- many things I enjoyed doing.

Fortunately, I couldn't afford to quit my day job and write full time. That worked out to be a very good thing. (And I'm not just talking about the passion I share with many other writers who could spend hours in an office supply store picking out paper clips, binders and a dozen different kinds of paper!)

My day job allowed me to "retire" at age 49 with benefits that let me work part-time, write part-time and pay the bills without starving. In addition, I was fully trained (at no expense to me) as a Web and graphic designer, which allowed me to set up my own business making nice money doing this for others, and I don't have to pay someone else to design my writing Web site, covers and promo materials.

Other day jobs have helped tremendously with the business side of writing:
-- As a secretary, I learned filing, organizing, and typing very quickly, just to name a few.
-- As an office manager, I learned "people" skills; striking a balance between bosses who want everything right now and employees who are already overloaded with work. I also learned how to justify the expense of additional people and equipment; how to look at all sides of an idea and package it; how to stretch budget dollars (at home too!); how to manage multiple jobs with looming deadlines. (Think I'd better dust off some of those skills and make them work harder for me!)

Also, I still have connections with former colleagues who are delighted that I will have books coming out and want to buy copies.

What about you? If you could quit your day job and write full-time, would you? How about you stay-at-home moms? (No, I'm not talking about selling the kids to write full-time!) When your kids are grown, do you plan to write full-time or will something else fill part of your hours?


Paty Jager said...

Well, I sort of quit my day job- at least the one at the extension service which was more full-time than the part-time pay I received. And the stress it lifted is more valuable than the writing time, I think! But my writing time is still split between the editing job and the farm chores. My part time job didn't have any benefits other than stress! LOL But it did help me for the promotion of my books. If I hadn't taken that job and have people forcing me out of my comfort zone talking in front of groups, I don't think I would have been able to do it now to promote my books. On that job, I also learned how to set up events and did lots of advertising (writing up posters and brochures) which will help me with my promotion. So I'm glad I did that job, but, I'm glad to be able to sit here in my home and write stories that entertain people. I'll never get rich, but I'll be happy till I can't type another word!

Thanks for an interesting, blog, Genene!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

What?! I can't put the kids out on the curb with the garbage as a way to quit the day job???

I was a teacher for nine years before I quit to stay home after my 2nd was born. Financially - what I was making was barely covering the full-time daycare costs for two kids. I was working for retirement, basically. Since the DH had great health benefits (and an even more awesome retirement plan than I did at the time - which was before PERS went into the toilet), I decided to quit. I didn't start seriously writing until I was home. At first it was a way to stay sane - because I'd always worked. This may come as a shock (okay, not to some of you), but I am NOT a natural born mother. (Stop snickering, Alice.) I admire women who can stay home and cater to their kids and live their lives FOR their kids. I'm not that woman.

Writing - for me - has always filled the gap I felt when I stopped working. I consider it my "job" even though I'm not published (yet); even though I do it mostly at night or when the kids are napping (WHEN they nap); even though I'm not making money at it (again, yet). Do I plan to go back to teaching when they're all in school full time? Not at this point. I loved working with my teenaged students, but I burned out on teaching. I did too much and was too involved (and got in too much trouble because I was a hardass). And I don't see myself ever being one of those teachers that simply goes to school and comes home and doesn't get involved in anything else (or just doesn't care). It's not my style. I've contemplated other careers when the kids are older (science based mostly because that's my degree and my passion), but you know what? I feel like I'm DOING what I'm destined to do. And that's writing. I can't for certain say what I'll do five years from now when the youngest is in school full time, but hopefully by then I'll be juggling NY contracts and chatting with my agent about the next proposal and working anywhere else will be a non-thought.

Great post, Genene! Looking forward to hearing what everyone else has to say.

Alice Sharpe said...

Well, I never had a "career" besides writing. Could I support myself with my writing? I could now if I scaled way, way, way down and found a way to move faster through projects. And probably, if I had to support myself, I would get tired of Top Ramen and push myself to greater heights. Do I want to do all that? No.

I have had short term jobs here and there and of course they helped with my writing because EVERYTHING helps with your writing. The more experiences, the merrier. I love to know how things work. If I had my life to start over (Ack!) I would take more short term jobs when the kids got older. A couple of months working retail, a couple months slinging hash, a couple months filing, working in a county office, whatever -- obviously not to become proficient but to gather experiences.

Meanwhile, I'm like Eli. This is what I am meant to do in whatever configuration I can do it. I was just smart enough to marry someone who had the salary, benefits and kindness to give me the freedom to do it.

Thanks, Genene for an interesting blog.

Karen Duvall said...

Genene, you and I do the same kind of work. 8^) Though I work for myself, my free time is far more compromised than it ever was when I was employed by someone else. There's a lot of work here in Central Oregon for designers and I frequently have to turn work away due to lack of time, but I obviously don't turn away enough of it. It's hard to say no when someone offers to pay you for doing a job you can practically do in your sleep, lol!

But I didn't get to retire and have only a miniscule retirement fund that might take care of me for a year if I'm lucky. I have no benefits, and neither does my husband with his crappy job, so we work to survive. I write in my spare moments, but it gets awfully discouraging.

So yes, I would write full time if I could. I'm 50 and have worked most of my adult life, raising kids while working full time, so I'd like to pursue my writing passion. My husband would support me if he could, but there's no way that'll happen. So we eke out whatever living we can and just take it day by day.

Alice Sharpe said...

Karen, my husband's old company just announced plans to sell. It won't hurt his retirement, thank heavens, but it will end my insurance coverage and I am quite a few years away from being eligible for medicare or whatever it's called. So, I feel your pain. I've been salting away my earnings for something like this so it looks as though it's all just coming faster than I had expected.

I hope things continue to work out for you and that since you must work, you are doing something that comes easily and that you must enjoy. And frankly, writing as a job is work too, it's not like this is a walk in the park every day (hence the discussion on eyebrow vs eyelash plucking the other day...) Working for yourself (writing is that, too) means never having free time, just as you said. I guess that's life.

Paty Jager said...

That's true, Alice! As much as I love the end result when I finish a book, it is work and that is the one thing people (husband, children, friends, MIL) don't understand. I may be at home, but I am working. So don't call and expect me to be joyful when you've pulled me out of the 1800's and expect me to jump into your conversation with gusto! I try to keep the same hours every day that I write, just like going to an office. It is one of my jobs, my business and I look at it that way all the time. So even when I'm not at the computer the story, a talk, a promotion idea is always swirling in my head. (Which explains why there isn't much space for anything else).

I'm lucky my dh has medical coverage on me through his work. I didn't have any of that when I worked full time it has always had to come from his work. So he had to keep working outside the home while I keep working inside the home. Otherwise, I can't write and I get very grumpy when I can't write!

Eli, I empathize with you and the small ones. When mine were that age, I wrote during naps and after they went to bed, but at that time I wasn't looking for publication, I was just putting down stories and honing my writing. When they were all in school is when I really starting taking my writing seriously. More hours to devote to it. So, where you are now, I applaud you!

Paty Jager said...

OH and Alice, Between one year of college and getting married I was a Jackie of all trades. Worked at a buffet, receptionist in a dr.s office, sandwich mechanic, worked as an aide in a nursing home, then worked in the hospital as an aide(night shift), sold vacuum cleaners, stocked shelves in the toy department during the holidays, worked in the cosmetic department, and stocked greeting cards.

Alice Sharpe said...

Paty -- Yikes!

Karen Duvall said...

Eeks, Paty! What a resume. 8^) I bet you've met some colorful characters in your work.

I totally get what you mean when you say writing is still a job. I realize it's not always so fun and creative. I'm a graphic designer and people think it must be fun to sit at home and make art all day. Heh. Yeah. Sure. 8^) Graphic design is really just another term for problem solving, only the problems are visual ones. I like it okay, but I'm pretty burned out on it after doing it for 30 years. I don't get excited about new projects like I did when I was younger.

wavybrains said...

Interesting post, Genene. This is a complicated topic for me right now. I'm so, so, so lucky to have insurance through DH. Alice's situation and others remind me of that on a near daily basis. It's a shame that health care influences choices for so many Americans. I hope our country does something about it soon.

As for me, I'm just not sure what happens after September--writing wise, teaching wise, law wise, any sort of career stuff just seems very amorphous right now. I'm excited to see what happens though. I'm just not used to having a set answer :)

Barbara said...

Thanks for the topic, Genene! Now I know who to go to for graphics or website needs! My list of odd jobs is even longer than Paty's: retail--sweaters, chocolates & books; college library aid; research aid; organic food grower; fruit picking--apples, cherries and grapes; freelance magazine article writing; self-publisher: one book and one workbook; article writer for freebie newspaper; liquor store clerk (there's the place to meet lots of characters); assistant pharmacy clerk; receptionist; assistant to business manager; accounting clerk; auditor of state agencies; alcohol and drug counselor. I may have missed a few. Then there's all the volunteer work I've done over the years. Anyway, I'm happily retired now and drawing a small pension. Jim would be happily retired, too, if only we had universal health insurance. As it is, he is working for four more years until we qualify for Medicare. Thank goodness for responsible husbands! I still haven't gotten into a regular routine of writing--maybe it's too much like work, and I hope to never have to work again.

MaryF said...

You know, until the last 3 years, I wanted to quit teaching SO BAD. Every rejection was painful, because it meant more time I had to spend in that thankless job.

3 years ago, I changed schools, and I Love My Job. I've never been able to say that. As GREAT as it would be to be a fulltime writer (summer vacation is over in 3 days), I'll stick with my dayjob.

Alice Sharpe said...

Maryf -- WHat grade?

How great that you changed jobs and found contentment! Take it from someone who has time to write, there are downsides. I have a demanding boss! The working conditions are deplorable! It gets lonely!


Genene said...

Interesting discussion, ladies! And what fascinating journeys we are all on. Thank you for sharing!