For someone who’s known the value and importance of having a steady income since age thirteen, I have a fairly spotty day-job resumé. But this is by choice more than circumstance. Since my early twenties, while I was working as a secretary for an insurance adjuster’s firm, I knew I wanted a more interesting and challenging working life.
I thought that a criminology diploma would lead me to a solid career path, but it didn’t. After obtaining that diploma, I left home for a year of travel in Europe to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I started writing short stories during those months. By the time I returned, I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I still need a regular income. So, it was back to secretarial work for four years before I decided to put more effort into writing than a tired half hour every evening. I began to take temporary assignments for a personnel service. That worked well for a while, and then came marriage and kids.
As it turns out, pattern I set in the early 80’s never really changed. It was work for a while, quit, write and publish a novel, then return to work until the next novel was ready. If I had found a work environment and job that I really loved, I probably would have stayed but that didn’t happen.
Along the way, I’ve come to understand that I’m not one of those writers who dreams of writing full time. In fact, I had that opportunity from 2010 to 2013. While it was an incredibly productive time, I began to find myself wondering what the rest of the world was up to. As I reflected on the twenty years I’d spent writing whenever time allowed, it also became quite clear that most of my work has been inspired or based on real-life experiences. It came from jobs, motherhood, and volunteerism. I get inspiration, ideas, and even ambition from leaving the house to see what the rest of the world is up to.
It’s taken time to know myself as a writer, to appreciate how and when I work best. It’s important that every writer ask themselves if full-time is really the dream, or what they think it should be? Are dreams being clearly assessed against real-life needs, aptitude (do you like working alone day after day?), and efficient work habits? The goal is to know yourself as a writer. To come to terms with what’s right for you and, if possible, find ways to make it work.
I’m not alone in this process of discovery. I remember taking a workshop at the Surrey International Writers Conference conducted by Kristine Katheryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith. One of the points they raised was to ask ourselves what kind of people we are when it came to risk? Were we adventurous enough to risk full-time freelancing, or did we need the security of a steady income? At that time, I truly believed that it was every writers goal to write full-time, (once they'd obtain some financial security) and create a large body of work. Obviously, I changed my mind.
I came across a blog by Mary RobinetteKowal who posed the question about whether writers should work full time. Basically, she drew the same conclusion. Know who you are and do what makes you happy.