The Story So Far, or Lessons Learned on the Writing Life

Writing full time is a dream come true for anyone who’s finished even so much as a short story. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Now that I’ve taken the plunge, there are a few lessons I’d like to pass on. This list is by no means complete:

1. Time management is everything. 

You may have a lot more of it now but it’s still less than you think, especially if working from home means you’re now responsible for, you know, taking care of said home. If you don’t make writing Priority One, I promise you will find enough meaningless distractions to leave you doing what Sarah Hoyt calls “rotating the cat.”

My days start pretty early. I help Better Half get around and see her off to work by 7. I make time for daily devotionals and Bible study (whatever is important to you, but this is something else that will fall by the wayside if I don’t do it first thing), then catch up on email and daily news. I make sure all that is done plus breakfast by 830. I’ll work out afterward if I feel like it. Otherwise, it’s time to plant my butt in the seat.

The exception to all this is when I have a road trip for my contract job. There’s a certain amount of preparation that has to happen ahead of time, and when I’m out on the road that job is the priority. Besides keeping my focus where it needs to be, it makes it easier to wrap up reports while I’m still on the clock and not back at home.

2. Human interaction is also everything.

Let me be clear: I did not leave a crappy job. It wasn’t always the most interesting thing in the world, but it was still a good gig. I miss my old coworkers, and you will too unless they were jerks in which case congratulations on escaping a toxic work environment.

That’s what I like about my contractor gig: besides paying actual money, it gets me away every few weeks to spend a lot of time with new people.

On a related note, I’ve also found it important to get out of the house and “go to the office” just to break up the routine (or maybe establish one). Don’t make fun of the loner at Starbucks pounding away on his laptop because he may not be doing it just for show–in fact, if you’re in the Bellevue, TN, area it might be me! I’ve recently started checking out local coffee shops Not Named Starbucks just to break up the monotony. First time I tried it I knocked out 1500 words in two hours on a story I hadn’t touched in three weeks.

Also, if you don’t have a dog or a cat, get one. Preferably a dog, because there are no good places for a litter box if you don’t have a basement or a decent-sized mudroom. See also that whole “rotating the cat” problem.

3.  The mental engagement of a full-time job may benefit your writing more than you realize.

YMMV, but if you’re like me you used storytelling to escape the mundane. You might be surprised at how much more work it takes to spark the old imagination.

4. Unless you’ve been handed a six-figure advance, be prepared to feel worthless.

My wife and I have swapped roles after twenty years spent raising our sons. She now works full-time in a job with excellent benefits and I work part-time as a contractor in my old industry (business aviation). We made all of the preparations responsible adults are supposed to do ahead of a big life change like this: eliminating debt, setting a budget, and ensuring we had enough savings to cover the gaps while I begin building writing income.

None of that changes the fact that after being the main breadwinner for all those years, I’m now small potatoes. My part-time consulting job brings in about half of what I was making before. While it enables writing full time, any royalties won’t be seen for at least another nine months from now. Baen structures their advances so that you have a good chance of selling through, but I still have no idea how much those royalties might be.

I have other stuff in the works that’s too short for Baen to publish so it’ll go on Kindle Direct where the royalties come a little quicker, but it’s still no less scary. If this doesn’t work out, I’ll have to go back to work full time. Which brings me to…

5. Make certain your significant other is 100% all-in.

It’s not fair to them otherwise, and you’re going to need them on your side for the times when doubt threatens to cripple you. My wife has been absolutely committed to this, and I can tell you with certainty I wouldn’t have been able to go through with it otherwise. She has been an absolute treasure and I hope every one of you reading this has someone like this in your life.

That’s all for now. I still have a lot to learn so there will be more to come in the future. In the meantime, you may recall I have a book coming out in January. Pre-orders mean a lot, so Tap That App and tell your friends!