“Don’t quit your day job.”
It may be a stock insult, but it’s also my sincere advice to people looking to make a career of writing. Don’t quit your day job yet.
“Don’t quit your day job” doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough. It doesn’t mean having faith in your path is naive. It means that from those of us who have been there, it’s a process, and it takes time. It’s perfectly normal (and wise) to spend months or years working full or part time at one job and writing on your off hours. Yes, it is a lot of work, but writing full time is a lot of work, too! Know, at the very least, that becoming a writer when you already have an established career is a bumpy transition for the best of us, and you are not- and will not be- alone.
The simplest explanation of why you will need to put in double time is this: no budding writer has ever quit his day job and the very next day landed on his feet with gigs and money coming his way. Tragically, it doesn’t work like that, and it’s an unfortunate fact of life that we all have to eat and pay the bills; some of us have families to care for as well, which raises the stakes. Quitting your day job is a risk, and when you’re just starting out as a writer, you most likely won’t be able to spend 40 hours a week on productive tasks anyway.
If you want a career in writing, don’t quit your day job. The starving artist trope didn’t arise out of thin air you know!
Consider this: imagine you write an essay and pitch it to a publication. There are dozens of steps to take and hoops to jump through before you see it published or hold the check in your hands! You’ll have to wait for a response, go through the editing process, deal with contracts and payment arrangements, et cetera, and after all that, you’re still going to be at the mercy of that particular publication’s rules and timing with regard to payment, which might be on a lag of up to three months (from the time the contract was signed– not from the time you wrote it!) for quarterly publications. Quite a lot of time can elapse between when you put in the time to write something and when you receive payment for that creative labor. So even if you’re instantly blessed with an enormous response rate and manage to command respectable pay, you can’t control when your clients send the checks or run your work.
And this is just one possible scenario! Chances are, your bread and butter will be writing on demand, and it takes time to develop the client relationships and connections you need to keep money coming in. Even in the best of circumstances, the simple stability of a weekly (or biweekly) check of a predictable dollar amount is very unlikely.
Find time to write, and of equal importance, time to market your writing. Just getting your feet wet is still enough to help you find your niche, understand what writing full time may look like for you, and learn how to market your voice. Maintaining a successful career as a writer is a lot of constant, active work, and its tides ebb and flow. Start small and start slow, and take the time you need to give yourself the best possible chance at success.