Writing, Money, and the Timeless Delimma

No one wants to be “that millennial.” The one who “takes a year to [artistic endeavor].” I bet you rolled your eyes just thinking about that guy/girl who waxes poetic and cliched about artistic freedom and Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.”

Because everyone wants to write a book, or make a movie, or write a song. And very few people actually do. Those are odds you don’t bet on. Especially not out loud. Especially, especially not as an answer to the question “So what do you do these days?”

Saying you quit or took a year or are otherwise un-, under-, or marginally employed to focus on your art makes you sound stupid (or pretentious, or entitled, or a dozen other things depending on who you talk to).

Or do it with your eyes open. Have a plan. Control what you can. Go in with hope but not entitlement. Consider all factors. https://t.co/0QgqFRyez2

— Victoria/V.E. Schwab (@veschwab) April 11, 2017

This was the start of a Twitter thread with V.E. Schwab set off by someone’s comment to “keep your day job.”

This seems like a fairly common story with now full-time writers. In her talk a few years ago Jane Green said she quit her day job to write her first book while living off her savings. A course of action she’d never recommend.

But it turns out “I took a year” gets a totally different response when followed by “and then I got a book deal and now I make real money.” Or if not money at least “and now I’m different, more valid, than all those other people doing the same thing.

And success does differentiate the talented from the delusional–the lucky from the unlucky–because we don’t have another metric. But (monetary) success is hard to achieve. And the odds of failure almost guarantee it.

But here’s the thing…

All the successful freelancers, writers, artists, and so on I know gave themselves “one year” to build that business. Most of my favorite career authors did take the plunge to write full time before they knew it would pay off. I’ve had two friends run away to Disney to get a full-time fairytale job (with a 50% success rate).

So which risk do you take?

The one where you might get your dream but you might actually be kidding yourself?

Or the one where you keep health insurance and sacrifice your dream to the gods of practicality?

(Keeping in mind the rest of the world only cares if you don’t have anything ($$) to show for it.)

So while you’re puzzling out your own difficult answer to that question, keep in mind how hard it is to choose. Memorize that feeling of your mind full of self-doubt or your heart breaking…and summon that the next time you’re ready to respond to someone, situation unknown, who says they’re taking a year.

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