The resounding thud of reality, by Deb Katie

The writing myth I’m going to debunk is a biggie. It’s big enough, in fact, to stop the faint-hearted in their tracks. (Although I’ve found that we don’t have a lot of faint-hearted readers here at the Ball, so you’re probably safe.)

I remember vividly the day I read this in a magazine–probably “Writer’s Digest.” I was already subscribing to “Writer’s Digest,” which in some way meant that I was considering a future as an author. There were probably several early drafts of “Bad Girls Don’t Die” stacked up in a closet somewhere, and, if I place the incident correctly in my memory, I was working the job from hell.

I can’t recall the exact phrasing, but it was basically, “Even if you sell a book, chances are better than good that you won’t be able to quit your day job.”

Like, sorry, what?

In all of my romantic notions about what it meant to be a writer, one aspect was high on the list: I could finally quit my day job!

And by including a few figures indicating the realities of advances, agency commissions, etc., the article effectively skewered my dream (which is sad… every writer wants to reach and educate his or her readers, but I’m pretty sure nobody sets out to skewer).

So, if I couldn’t quit my job, how was I going to have time to spend all day at my giant Cape Cod house, typing away, in my silky pajamas?

It hit me hard–not devastatingly, but hard. It could have been a deal-breaker, as if you were at a car dealership looking at a pretty decent car for $20,000, and then the sales guy comes out and tells you it’s actually $40,000. What do you do? You walk away. You don’t cry–it’s not your car yet. You didn’t actually lose anything. But the deal is broken. You’re not going to go after that particular car.

I can’t remember what it was that made me decide to keep writing. Probably because I’d already spent so much time writing in the early morning and late at night, across lonely weekends and during solitary work lunches, that I figured I was in for a penny, might as well be in for a pound.

It probably had something to do with the fact that I happen to enjoy writing, and I had long before bonded with my characters: Alexis, Carter, Megan, Kasey.

And it probably had something to do with the vague idea that, well, yeah, maybe you can’t quit your day job when you sell your first book, but what about the books after that? Or the one after that? Eventually, you’ll get there, if you keep trying… right?

Turns out, uh, the one after the first one and the one after that aren’t necessarily enough to get you out of a day job entirely. They may be enough to give you a few months off if your day job, ahem, dissolves, but I haven’t bought those silky pajamas yet.

But you know, I like the work, and I’m in for a penny. Besides, call me crazy, but I kind of like my goofy cotton pajama pants from Target.

~ Katie Alender

10 Replies to “The resounding thud of reality, by Deb Katie”

  1. I don’t remember the exact moment that dream popped for me, either. I think in my case it was a gradual awakening to reality… This isn’t the kind of job you do for the money, that’s for sure! Not that I have a full-time day job, but that was more of a kid-related decision than anything related to the writing…

  2. I DID quit my day job (against my agent’s advice, mind you) – but I had to. That day job was killing me and I’d never have found the time to finish my book had I not quit. Now as I ponder that second book and what the economic downturn has done to the publishing industry … I have to admit, I am wondering if it’s time to consider a new day job!

  3. What, quit my day job? If I quit my day job, I’d have plenty of time for sitting around the house in my sweat pants and holy tee-shirts, but nothing to whine about. And nothing to whine about means nothing to write about. (That in itself is a problem, isn’t it…?)

    I’m just glad I’ve still got my day job!

  4. Kris, absolutely! I’ve always said I could have worked part-time at Bed Bath and Beyond instead of writing books and made a lot more money. Hopefully that will change as the career moves on, right?

    Eve, the nice thing about a day job is that you get to meet all sorts of interesting people to secretly use in your books!

    Eve’s Mom, spoken like a mom!

    Larramie, it’s funny, isn’t it? I guess writing is the night job, but people don’t like to call it a “job”.

    Mary, you need to keep your job! The world cannot survive without your blog posts.

  5. I figured that after I had quit my day job to become a stay-at-home-dad, I would have ample time to devote to my craft. Umm, yeah… Now I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that instead of writing my first novel in two years, it may take five or six. But, hey, I’ve read some books that took 12+ years to complete, so I’ve got plenty of time. 😀

  6. Hi Katie–

    Great post!

    When my boss found out I was a writer her face curled back in horror as she said “YOU’RE GOING TO LEAVE US ONE DAY?”

    She still does not believe what I told her; that every published author I know needs to hang onto a job, and if I do leave, it will be so far in the future, she may be gone herself.

    What I do get out of my job is that it frees me from obsessing about my career all day. It’s almost freeing to my mind. If I was home “writing” I’d spend at least 4 hours a day having an anxiety attack over why I’m not a better writer, who’s more successful than me, does my husband love me etc….

    I look forward to the day I can go part time. That’s my dream.

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