So here’s a little hard reality about the writing life – sometimes there ain’t much money in it. On March 30, 2012, I walked away from a 17+ year career in the entertainment lighting industry to try this writing thing full-time. I cleared out my 401(k), had zero balance on any of my credit cards, and was making about $3,000 each month from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other book sales outlets. My monthly expenses, to live the way my wife and I have grown accustomed to, totaled about $4,000 each month. I had about $15,000 in savings. That meant that if I didn’t spend anything frivolously that I could live for about a year without any change in circumstances, but I was optimistic that my book sales would increase, and that I had turned my back on the 9 to 5 for good.
Monday I start my new day job.
At the end of a little more than ten months of writing full time, I have zero savings, about $8,000 in credit card debt, and well more than a year’s worth of education and self-realization. There was a lot of learning going on in the past year, and not a lot of earning, and that’s one of the reasons that I’m re-entering the work force.
But not the only reason. Not by a long shot.
The ugly truth is that I’m not wired to work from home. If I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that I need some structure imposed on my life. Before quitting my job, I was a very prolific writer. When I had nothing better to do than write all day, most months I spent my time doing nothing, rather than writing all day. Don’t get me wrong, I filled the days. Just not with writing. And not with anything revenue-generating. A few months ago, I realized that I need a “day job” to keep me writing. I love to write. It’s an awesome hobby for me. And it’s a hobby that generates a pretty penny income-wise. But when I transitioned from a part-time writer to a full-time writer, I found I actually wrote less. For me, writing is best done in spurts of manic productivity, squeezed in between all the other things I have going on in my life. It’s not something that I do well in a disciplined, regimented fashion, and that’s what it takes to do this full-time.
We won’t go into the fact that there isn’t anything that I do well in a disciplined, regimented fashion. You aren’t here to analyze my particular reckless lifestyle, after all. You’re here to read about writing, and the writing life.
There were certainly other factors contributing to my decision. For one thing, health insurance is friggin’ expensive! That line in my actual budget cost double what I expected it to. Pro tip to the young writers out there – don’t get fat, it makes health insurance cost more. So spending nearly a grand each month on health insurance drained my surplus faster than I expected. And attending nearly a dozen cons last year put a bunch of money on credit cards that I didn’t have revenue to pay off. And then Amazon did one of their infamous algorithm changes, this time dropping a bunch of self-published titles off the “also-bought” radar, and I watched my sales get cut in half. So things got a little rough.
Now I’m not saying I couldn’t have survived this rough patch financially without taking the drastic step of getting a job. I could have. I’m working as a freelance editor now, enjoying it quite a bit and am building a decent client list. My lighting design work is picking up, and I still love making theatre happen. And I have an acting agent now, and I’m looking forward to going out on auditions for commercials and film work.
But I need a job. I need a modicum of stability, a little bit of outside structure, and a steady paycheck. There’s enough Ward Cleaver in the way I way raised to need those things. I’m a child of the seventies, raised in a two-parent home where my dad was the sole breadwinner. For all that it seems that I’ve grown up completely differently from my family, the old Protestant work ethic is deeply rooted in me, and I need to go out and have a job.
But this one will be a little different than the last one. I’m back in the entertainment lighting industry, but this time I’m coming into a new company as the General Manager, not a mid-level manager. I’ve cut a deal to work four days most weeks, so I can still make my convention appearances, and for the foreseeable future I won’t be burning up the roads between Charlotte and Atlanta, unless it’s for Dragon*Con. I’m excited about going back to work. I’m excited about meeting my new employees. I’m excited about getting up and putting on pants everyday!
Okay, don’t visualize. It’ll be all right.
Do I look at this year as a failure? Not at all. It was time for me to leave my last job. I probably stayed there several years too long anyway. It was time for me to give this writing life a shot and see if it was for me. It’s not. I’m still a professional writer. I still have contracts to fulfill, fans to attempt to satisfy, and stories inside me that are dying to get out. So it’s not like I’m going to stop writing. Like I said, I’ll probably be more productive now that I’m returning to the dreaded “day job” than I was for the past year. I learned a lot this year. I learned a lot about writing, about myself, about my wife, about our interactions, about the way people view “writers,” all kinds of stuff.
And I still live by the words tattooed on my right forearm – “Sometimes when you fall, you fly.”