Why work?

Before you quit your job and just write, let’s look at what work actually does for people besides the money.

Because everyone thinks about the money, but when you look at why retired people decide to go back to work, it’s not usually about the money. What else do you get out of a job?

1. Meaning/Sense of Purpose
2. Identity
3. Status / Prestige
4. Sense of Belonging / Camaraderie / Common Purpose
5. Structure (time)
6. Social Connections / Social Capital

1-2. Now, some of these you can fill with becoming a full-time writer easily. “I’m a writer” can become your new identity, to replace “I’m a sales clerk at XYZ Corp.” And your sense of purpose goes from “I’m an accountant. I make the world make sense and run smoothly.” to “I’m a writer. I entertain people.”

3. Prestige… prestige is harder. This helps explain why so many writers in the trad model are stuck on winning awards, even if it meant logrolling and thereby turning the award from a marker of awesome stories into “stories to avoid.” They’re chasing prestige from their jobs, and unlike working in many businesses, there’s no way to get promoted up the chain unless your book goes viral or your publishers really love you.

As an indie, you’re going to have to find satisfaction in being the head of your publishing house, and possibly in hobbies, volunteer missions, or outside activities, because writing is not a high-prestige job. (Even if we’d love the world to think it’s all black turtlenecks, cafes, and hip coolness. The world really isn’t fooled.)

4. Sense of belonging, camaraderie, and common purpose. This is something everyone who spends a large amount of time alone has to struggle with – and it turns out, slowing down is not what kills retirees, it’s social isolation. The critical difference is whether or not you actually get to spend time in the company of other people – even if it’s just sitting in the café typing away and occasionally ordering another coffee. Introverts, it turns out, still tend to need about 5 hours a day of interaction with people, and extroverts need about 6.

And, it turns out, online interaction doesn’t replace this on a one-to-one basis. Spending 5 hours on facebook is not a replacement for spending 5 hours in the company of people. (This is true across all social media, though I have to wonder if it would hold true if they could control for for chatting, skyping, email, and actual conversation vs. tweet-level philosophy and snippiness, memes, “likes”, and flamewars.)

When Peter and I were looking at places to live, our criteria included favourable regulatory structure, low taxes, and the company of friends. We now live in a tiny town in Texas, where three times a week we have a dinner night that rotates between houses – I cook on Tuesdays. And sometimes the company of friends does, indeed, involve LawDog ignoring all of us and typing with furious purpose on a tablet because the muse struck again…

It doesn’t have to be just friends, though: you can get social interaction while also doing research. Take a glassblowing class, participate in meetup hikes or art gallery walks, join a reenactment group, learn to kayak, volunteer to help build a habitat for humanity house… anything where you’re interacting with other people in the flesh will help. And, you can turn a lot of that into fodder for a novel!

5. Structure. When I am between jobs, this is the one I struggle with the most. It’s a little easier down here in the lower 48 than Alaska, because the whole “it gets dark in summer” thing keeps me from starting on a roadtrip at 11pm at night, or sandblasting aircraft parts at 4am. (And the fact that the sun still rises in the winter makes it easier for me to get up, too.) But honestly, I like having a job that gets me out of the house on a predictable schedule, and forces me to fit everything else around it. It regularizes my life, and creates a predictable weekly cycle.

Peter has found that me having a structure also helps him have a structure – because if I’m home all the time, I’m bouncing off the walls and we’re in each other’s hair. When I’m gone for a shift, he can nap without being woken by me moving around, and then get up and write without any interruptions. (Wifely interruptions. The felines are another story, as they always are.) He can also plan around our gym schedule, and shunt major things we’ll do together to my weekend.

6. Social connections / Social capital. When your social life is built around work, then your connections and the social capital is built around it, and losing your job can be extremely isolating. Unlike social isolation, social media can really help with this. Finding and interacting with other writers, cover designers, artists, scientists, horse trainers, or whatever your common ground may be, will help build connections and friendships. Make sure you have a support network before you lose your last one!

On one level, social connections, this is what MGC is: a group blog to pass on what we know, help each other and help our readers. It’s a place where people learn how to publish indie, how to write, and start meeting and talking with other writers. Connections have been made, hookups between writers and beta readers, writers and cover designers, readers and new writers, and so on – usually down in our active comments. (Thanks for being part of the community, commenters!)

On the tiny town level, if we’re gone to a convention, friends will shamelessly spoil the cats while we’re gone, and the tiny town cops will do a close patrol on the house. When I sprained my shoulder, friends made sure I had food, and came over to help lift and move things. Heck, JL Curtis and LawDog just helped move my new computer desk home. (Yay for them!) And Jim knows he can cat-herd me into writing a blurb for him any time he needs one.

And social capital? Friends pull together – right now, the gunblogger community is holding a gun raffle for one of their own. Andi isn’t a gunblogger herself (she’s a metal artist), but her parents & sis-in-law are, and after she had a stroke they put up a gofundme because she makes too much to qualify for Obamacare assistance and too little for her family to afford health insurance. And then there was plotting. And then there was the announcement by JL Curtis that we’re holding a gun raffle, and a bunch of the guys, including Peter, were offering up their guns as the prizes, all of us authors offering signed copies of their books, and Alma Boykin even helped with a ladies’ package of jewelry. It’s snowballed as more and more people started offering a gun they could spare, gunsmiths started to offer trigger jobs or chrome plating, and so on…

And Andi has gone from staring down medical bills, and trying to work out how she can afford the therapist to over $10K donated. (Even after the IRS takes their cut, because it’s taxed as income, that’s still going to really, really help!) Best of all, she’s now gotten enough therapy that she can get back in the shop – not up to full speed and fine motor control work yet, but with help, completing artwork she has commissions for and making new pieces to keep her business above water and family fed.

…on returning/continuing to work, and unexpected attitudes…

If, as a writer, you find that you can support yourself by writing, but you like the structure, the sense of having a common purpose with a group, and the lack of isolation/camaraderie of work – then congratulations, you’re just like many retirees that picked up a job “to get out of the house.” (Even if you didn’t retire or quit first!)

Be aware that the optional nature of this job means you’re going to be much less likely to suffer fools gladly – where your coworkers are likely to bow their shoulders and not make waves because they really need the job, you’re more likely to call out the boss when he does something unwise (I recommend doing so in private), or remonstrate a coworker or customer. This is a double-edged sword, and it can be a strength just as much as a weakness, as long as you’re aware of it and use it well.

On the other hand, you’re more likely to really enjoy the job, too!

And for something really nifty, Margaret Ball’s third Harmony book, Survivors, is now live! You don’t have to read the other two to enjoy this one, either!


17 thoughts on “Why work?

    1. It is indeed! But it’s not structured work like every 9-5 or swing shift job out there. And very few authors start out thinking “I’m going to pick up a freelancing business as a one-author publisher.” Most start out with “I wrote this thing! What do I do now?” And most people don’t think “I’m going to grow my intellectual property licensing business until I don’t have time for additional employment”, they think “I’m going to quit my job and write full time!”

      So, trying to fill in the gaps. And hey, “Why work a job with a set time frame for an employer?” is a really clunky title.

  1. 3. Prestige.

    That’s the one that I don’t think I understand fully. It seems some authors would rather have that than sales, which is odd but I guess it’s all down to how they see themselves. But they also seem not to understand that sales equals readers, so they’d rather have prestige than readers. This coming (most often) from people who believe their writing could (and should) change the world. But how can it change the world if no one reads it? If you release a vituperative diatribe in the woods and the only one who hears it is a squirrel (squirrels love vituperative diatribes but their cheeks are designed to hold nuts and not dollar dollar bills yo) how can it possibly create the kind of change they dream about?

    But I think even successful indie writers are prone to overvaluing prestige. An example (anecdotal but it feels indicative of a pattern of general thought I’ve seen on line and off); I was at a convention and an indie female writer casually mentioned she wasn’t where she wanted to be because she only just crested six figures in the last year (yes, she’s a romance writer) but was working on ways to up that. A dude on the panel then talked about his deal with a trad publisher and proceeded to subtly denigrate her work (there is nothing more patronizing than a male liberal believing he is being magnanimous towards a female colleague). Except I knew his publisher, I knew it was his first book out, I knew the likelihood of his book being uber-successful was low based on genre and size of publisher, I knew he’d have been lucky to crest four figures on his advance. Let’s be generous and give him the max possible for a first novel which is around 5000 bucks (yes, there are cases where it’s higher but if he had inspired a bidding war he’d have been the type to talk about it nonstop) so by any measure the female author had more experience, more books written, more sales, more readers, a better career path, and most importantly – twenty times as much money.

    Yet she spent the rest of the panel deferring to the trad published author’s ‘expertise’, asking for his advice. Letting him talk and appearing to actually listen while he rambled. She, for those forty minutes, seemed to truly bow down and respect an author who by all measures except one (approval from the gatekeepers) was not fit to lick her heels.

    I hope she was gratified later when the questions from the audience came at the end and they were all for her. Personally? I’d rather learn from the one making a better than decent living rather than the one with the good boy stamp on his book.

    Perhaps I’m just weird like that.

    What was it that made her think less of her work? Why could she not realize that she was a giant towering over a twerp? Would she have switched places in that moment? Given up her money, sales, and readers, for a place at the trad table? No, I don’t think so, that’d be insane. But what’s also insane? I think she would have thought about it for a second before saying no rather than just instantly laughing in the face of the person extending that offer.


    1. You know that the traditionally published author likely got a $5000 advance and will never see another penny for his book, but I’m not sure that she did. I suspect that she still had the stars in her eyes, assuming that a traditional publishing contract means that your book is going to be in big displays in bookstores across the country, and that the huge advance is a mere prelude to the massive royalties that will soon roll in.

      I suspect also that she’d first tried to publish traditionally and only turned to indie when no one accepted her book–certainly that was my plan before I started reading MGC and started suspecting that few publishers actually add much value in exchange for the large chunk of the money they take. If that was true, and she tried and failed to publish traditionally, its only natural that she would assume that the author who’d succeeded where she failed had something to teach her. Wrong, perhaps, but natural.

    2. Prestige means people knowing who you are. That’s bad. People knowing who my pen name is, that’s good. Let that pen-name guy have all the prestige he can carry.

  2. I grow up in small town West Texas so I identify with your community there. Unfortunately we are stuck in the DFW suck-hole for jobs sakes.

    I also identify with Peters need for a spouse free time period to work. I can’t code at home unless I’m alone or my partner respects the headphone rule. One nice thing is that I’m a mile from a decent quiet library.

  3. “4. Sense of belonging, camaraderie, and common purpose.”

    At work? Never happens. Maybe once, in my life. That was a nice experience, if a short one.

    But then, I’m essentially unemployable. I’m a good -employer- but not so much employee. Too cranky, too inflexible, too weird.

    Writing is much better. 🙂

  4. Put up with people for five hours a day?…It sounds painful. The thought of choosing to go back to work is highly dismaying.

    Two and a half years ago, I retired. I now have the time to do all the projects, such as writing, that I want. I spent my entire life following the precepts in “the Millionaire Next Door” about investing rather than throwing money away…mostly all before I read the book…and I urge you all to read it.

    Having said that, once you have finished a writing project, because you structured your life to finish the project, you might want to do something bizarre like selling the work or publishing it indie. Smashwords.com has done another of their data based analyses (and in title count they are one of the largest publishers in the world) on things to do to sell more copies. You can read it here: https://www.smashwords.com/podcast/7

  5. From what I’ve read, it seems that an hour on Fecesbook is like a day in Hell.
    I don’t DO that

  6. 7. Perks.
    Most notably, medical/dental/prescription/optometric insurance, and life insurance. For cheap. (Relative to your pocketbook, at least.)
    At least, that’s what we’ve found.

  7. Re. #1. I’m a writer. But also a teller of stories. And a teacher. Teaching is my vocation in all senses of the word. I teach through novels, I teach through standing up in front of classes and civic groups [yeah!] and grading [not-so-yeah!], and through how I try to live. And I freely admit that I’m a heck of a lot better with the first two than the last one. 🙂

  8. I’d like to offer a friendly amendment to the discussion of the joys and travails of the writer; and, since the post starts with the person considering quitting their job to write, specifically the BEGINNING writer.
    Not-the-Kansas-one Dorothy presents the employment, then discusses what we may think of as the fringe benefits; and how difficult it is to get those as an author. I am 100% behind the analysis; those six things contribute GREATLY to quality of life, and are difficult to acquire while writing stories and books about (fill in the blank), UNLESS you are the one that wins the publishing lottery; and, as pointed out by dodgethebulletcomics, even if you DO win, the prize is likely to be trivial.

    I think the proposition is something like this:
    “I’ve got something to say;
    How do I get the goodies I need?”

    The missing links are: “Can I say it well? Is anyone interested in what I have to say? Do I have something ELSE to say after I finish saying this?”

    While I’m hearing that conversation, based on a lot of time eyeball-deep in all KINDS of writing, I’m sort of murmuring to myself:
    “…no, you really DON’T have anything to say, you just had a weird dream; you don’t even come close to being able to communicate without showing all the sand in your gears; nobody cares; please, just stop…”

    BUT, I do have an alternative. My alternative provides for ALL of the fringe benefits to become available; it provides an opportunity to find your voice, and learn how to write without alienating the world; and, best of all, you won’t be bothered by all that troublesome cash!

    The alternative is to become a reviewer. It appears to me that reviewers are more in demand than authors, and there will NEVER be a shortage of work to do. True, there is ZERO money in it, BUT since the article is for the person considering quitting their job, the answer to that problem is simple: DON’T QUIT YOUR JOB! Unless your writing is already bringing in an amount roughly equivalent to your regular paycheck, quitting your job to write is likely going to be a mistake (YMMV).

    And that’s why >I< became a reviewer. I have nothing to say, but I write like an angel. The fact that I make no money isn't a problem, since I'm drawing Teacher Retirement as well as Social Security, and if my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, ever gets hired again, it's all gravy.

    So, in all seriousness I suggest: before cutting the line to your paycheck, invest your time into becoming a reviewer. If you can't communicate clearly, that will become evident to all, and you can make the appropriate improvements, without people telling you your novel is an ugly baby.

    It WILL be a good idea to invest $10/month in a Kindle Unlimited membership; no shortage of good reading material there. While it is true that the industry standard practice is for publishers to provide reviewers with a gratis copy of the book, in exchange for a fair review, when you are starting out you don't have any creds, and they may be skittish at first. KU lets you avoid that.

    Do a good job of reviewing, and the six fringe benefits will come your way. Every author on the board, I believe, finds reviews to be a good thing, although someone who has published 100 books is not likely to get as ecstatic over getting five stars as someone who is in their first year.

    Thus endeth the friendly amendment.

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