Taking the Leap: On Writing Full Time
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?