Taking the Leap: On Writing Full Time

04/02/11 9:25 AM

I have a good friend who is struggling in her job. She wants to leave it — she really does — and she would like to write full time (freelance and creative stuff; she’s a novelist). But she’s scared. Scared of the unknown. Scared of being poor in a tough economic climate. Scared she won’t make it. Scared she’ll become depressed. Scared about feeling scared.

I get that. Back in early 2001, I came to a crossroads in my radio “career,” where I’d been since the tender age of 21. I had always planned on it being a short-term gig and that I’d leave to go write the Great American Novel, but the one-year plan turned quickly into three, then five, then close to seven. I used the excuse of money (and without getting into it, I’ll say it was a legit excuse) for my reason to bail (morning show producers get paid squat and I wanted a raise that would put me in line with one of my male colleagues, but it wasn’t going to happen). I really wanted to leave and write, but how could I? I was almost 28 — a grown up — and past the age of ditching it all to follow an elusive dream. I had rent to pay, a cat to feed, and well, I mentioned the grown-up part, right? So I found another job: teaching reading to children. I convinced myself that this was related enough to writing and that it would give me time to write and it did pay more money and I had to do it. Even when I accepted the job and gave my notice at the station, I think I knew I’d never work one day at the other gig. I needed to write. I needed to figure out a way to make that happen. (I imagine many of you are thinking this: why couldn’t I write while I was in radio? Very good question, and trust me, I kick myself now for all the time I wasted in my 20s. My only excuse is lack of sleep — my days started at three in the morning and by the time afternoon hit, my brain was fried. I know, I know. I should have pushed through it, but alas.)

Back to the story. My last day in Radio Land was on a dreary, wet Friday in February. I was supposed to start the new teaching gig on Monday. But my mind was racing. I was a mess. And so I did what I often do when I need to think: I drove. I drove all the way to Nauset Beach on the Cape, one of my favorite places in the world (a good 2.5 hours away) and communed with the ocean (I’m a Pisces baby). And that’s when I decided I was going to give it a go: I was going to write full time.

Oh, gawd, even writing that makes me queasy. Man was I green. Clueless. I was smart to go for it, but just about every other decision I made for the next two years after that was pure idiocy. But I suppose I had to go through that to get to this point.

The short of it: I backed out of the new job (and was told in no uncertain terms that I was “unprofessional” — the only time in my entire life that I’ve ever been called that, at least to my face [or via phone]). I moved back home (yes, at 28, when all my friends were getting married, buying houses, and having babies). I rented a room on the cheap from my brother’s computer company and called it my writing studio. I was pretty green when it came to the Internet (this was before Twitter, Facebook, and Google was in its infancy). I lit candles and played jazz and pretended to be an artiste. And then I ran out of money. My parents didn’t charge me rent, but I’m a proud girl and I had bills to pay and I hated living at home (due to my pride) and then 9/11 happened and then I went back to radio full time for about nine months as the station’s promotions director, a gig that was almost the death of me, but I learned a lot. Then I left radio (again), got serious about my copywriting business, started teaching writing at the grad school level (that’s another story), got serious about my creative writing, did NaNoWriMo, started a writers group, wrote about six top to bottom rewrites of novel #1 over nine years, earned my MFA in creative writing, moved out of the house, wrote a second novel, invented cool programs for my business like The Copy Bitch and Rent My Noggin, and embraced the indie writer revolution. (Aren’t you glad I didn’t give the long version?)

And you know what? I’m not going to say I wouldn’t change a thing. There’s a lot I’d like to change. I wish I had gotten serious with my writing in my 20s. I wish I hadn’t spent close to seven years living back home. I wish, I wish, I wish. But it’s done. It’s over. And all of it has informed the writer I am today, and that I wouldn’t change.

So back to my friend. I can sympathize with her fear. I think I’ve spent the last decade more scared than not. But I’ve also never been freer in thought, in the possibilities, and in the control I have over my own life. Sometimes fear is the biggest motivator out there.

What motivates you as a writer?

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing | 6 Comments »

6 Comments on “Taking the Leap: On Writing Full Time”

  1. Susan Says:

    Wow – ten years of writing!! Congrats. I’m nearing my three year freelance-aversary, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned in those short years. Despite the ups and downs, I’m glad I made the leap.

  2. Robyn Says:

    Congrats to you as well, Susan! (I would have sworn you’d been at it a lot longer…your wisdom and rep precede you!) And I’m glad you’re glad you made the leap (I’m sure they’re out there, but I’ve yet to meet a freelance writer who wasn’t happy with having made the leap…even though it was often an agonizing decision going into it.)

  3. Phil Says:

    Robyn,

    I believe what distinguishes a successful author from an always aspiring writer that never quite makes it is the willingness to take the jump, that leap of faith, and decide that it has to be writing or nothing else. A professor in college once warned our class that if there was anything, anything at all that we wouldn’t mind doing instead of writing, we should go with it, and while at the time I considered that unnecessarily bleak advice, I see what she meant now.

    I’ve been lucky to sort of fall into full time free lance work, and thus far (it’s been five months) it’s working out. I wrote three and a half novels in my 20’s, but there were long, long stretches that I also failed to write much, simply because I didn’t have discipline, didn’t treat writing like a craft. I’m remedying that now with my First Million Words project.

    So what motivates me as a writer? I think it’s the fact that there’s absolutely nothing I’d rather do.

  4. Robyn Says:

    Totally agree, Phil. Joe Konrath has a great saying: “There a word for a writer who never gives up…published.”

    I’m still in awe of your First Million Words project…and you definitely have the drive to do it. When I was working on the first complete draft of my first novel, I committed to writing 1000 words a day. Lots of stuff didn’t happen in between those 1000 words, like showers or exercise or paying bills…but dammit those 1000 words happened. It really trained me as well. I bet you’ll have a few viable projects to work on once you’re done with your 12 months! 🙂

  5. Margo Berendsen Says:

    Wow! I’m so glad you shared your career and writing journey. Personally, I find it inspirational. Way to go after your dreams!

    I don’t regreat my “safe” path, but at times I do wonder how it would have fallen out if I had pursued creative writing… and I do wish, like you, that I had gotten serious about writing in my 20’s. But it’s never too late!

  6. Robyn Says:

    Thanks so much, Margo. With our age comes wisdom, right?

    RIGHT?

    😉