It may happen after the third book in your series. It may happen after your first novel. It may even happen while you’re still deciding whether to become a writer at all.
But sooner or later, every serious author wonders: Why not quit my “regular” job and write for a living?
For one thing, it’s rarely an adequate living. Only a tiny percentage of writers, mostly commercial or nonfiction specialists, make even $25,000 a year from their word processors. J. K. Rowling notwithstanding, there are few rags-to-riches stories in the fiction field.
But if you insist on considering the full-time option, ask yourself:
1. What is your current writing income? Unless you’re virtually debt-free, with enough savings (or salaried household members) for six to twelve months, the worst thing you can do is quit your job and then start writing. Beginners commonly delude themselves that their talent is so obvious, and publishers so desperate for decent material, that everything will sell immediately. In real life, it takes two or three years to write and publish a high-selling book, or to reach the point of a story a week in major magazines. Wait to go full-time until your monthly writing income reaches at least a few thousand.
2. Are you prepared to write for several hours each day? What was a welcome evening diversion after a day at the office, can become boring when expanded to forty hours a week. Are you willing to give as much time as to any other job?
3. Can you take the isolation? Even if you have no trouble writing all day, you may find yourself going crazy for the sound of another human voice, if only from down the hall. One way to ease the transition is to telecommute, if possible, during the last few months of your current job. (If you hate those few months, at least you’ll know to reconsider quitting!) And after you’re full-time at home, mingle regularly with fellow writers through critique groups and conferences.
4. Are you a good time manager? Some authors, having quit “day jobs” to write full-time, get less done in forty hours than they did in ten. Unstructured time easily turns into wasted time. So before you make writing your regular job, prepare a formal schedule: a specific number of pages (or hours) in the morning; definite limits for lunch and other breaks; a minimum number of submissions a week. And if you don’t have an agent or publisher setting deadlines for you, set some yourself!
5. Are you prepared for a feast-or-famine income—and to put money “in the freezer” for the famine periods? No income flow is completely predictable—even full-time, long-term employees get laid off without warning—but the self-employed are particularly vulnerable to whims of the market. Popular series lose steam. Bestseller markets collapse. New editors remake magazines in new images. If you spend money as fast as it comes in, letting credit bills run up, never putting anything in savings, you may end up looking for a new “regular” job just to avoid bankruptcy. (Incidentally, this can happen even to writers whose work stays on the bestseller lists. The income hasn’t been invented that no one is capable of outspending!)
6. Do you have a business plan? Where do you want to be in a year? Five years? What will be your next three projects? Have you made budgets for travel and publicity?
If you’re still convinced you have what it takes to be a full-time novelist, go for it. May your name always adorn library shelves!