Every writer has been given the obvious, but kind of heartbreaking piece of advice, “Don’t quit your day job.” As in, don’t ever expect to be able to live off of your passion. Some callings are always meant to be side hustles, not real, pay the bills, careers. As always, we can look at the exceptions to this rule—J.K. Rowling the billionaire, Stephen King, James Patterson. Even Amanda Hawking ended up making a prettier penny than I ever expect to see through self-publishing. We convince ourselves that we could be the next big thing, and we might be. But does that mean having an end-goal of being a full-time writer is a reasonable goal?
I would say both yes and no. And my yes or my no are dependent on your answer to this question: what kind of full-time writer do you want to be?
Let’s say you write one book every couple of years, like myself. You self-publish. You blog each week. You market to your heart’s content. But the fact is you have a smaller pool of work to bring in a profit. So if you’re expecting to make a full-time living off of a small pool of work, no matter how brilliant that work is, I would say that goal is very near unreasonable. Let me also point out that I don’t think that means you should start cranking out books that haven’t been well written or don’t mean anything to you just to make your body of work larger. I fully believe in taking a precious amount of time to write the absolute best book possible. Yes, your bank account might not grow as quickly that way, but at least you’ll be proud of the work you’re putting out into your reader’s hands.
Now, let’s say you write a book every few months to publish. You have multiple series going, make your readers hungry to come back for more to see how your story ends, you give out free e-book once in awhile and you have such a large body of work you can hardly remember them all. Now the goal of writing full-time looks a little more reasonable. If you’re writing enough and getting enough people (not a ton of people) to purchase each book you put out, you keep your publishing costs low, and you keep at it for years, you just might be able to gather enough income to keep you afloat. But chances are, the profit you make still won’t be able to compare to your full-time job with benefits. Plus, once you decide to go for writing full-time at this stage, there will be an added stress to your writing life that wasn’t there before. This isn’t a fun hobby of yours anymore, a creative calling you love to pursue. This is what pays your bills and provides for your family—there can be no waiting for the muse to show up. You have to keep up with your work no matter what happens.
Personally, I think the most reasonable way to make writing full-time a reality in your life is to become a freelance writer on top of writing your creative projects. I know many people who make their living this way. They write articles for paying magazines and blogs, conduct interviews for websites, copywrite for brands people searching for their voices and brands. Half of their days are spent writing for other people, and the other half is spent on their creative projects. You might not be writing what you want to write full-time, but freelancing gives you so much more freedom than you would with a typical 9-5. There will still be hardships. There still won’t be a company offering you benefits and vacation time. But you’ll be devoting yourself to your passion, getting better at it each and every day.
So no, most of the time writing as a full-time career is not a reasonable goal to keep in mind unless you have unlimited resources, or are retired (let me tell you, being retired is the best thing that happened for my writing life!) But if you have the drive and are willing to do whatever it takes, unreasonable doesn’t have to be a word you care about. The only thing that matter is that you’re going to go for it.