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
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!