Before I decided to focus exclusively on my writing, I had a number of jobs. Some were just those jobs you get when you’re in school and then I had a series of professional jobs.
I started my career in one location with a company and then transferred to another location and position with that same company. I then left that company for a new role related to the same industry. And then left that company with the idea I’d start my own completely unrelated business. Until I fell in love with New Zealand at which point starting my own business in the same field was the better choice. I did that for a while but then added the writing during my downtime between projects until I finally decided to just do the writing.
Each of those pivots was just a normal part of the process of having a career. You work in a role for a while and then move on (hopefully upward) to a new role.
Never once when I was thinking of changing to a new position did I think that I had failed at the prior position, even when I was thinking of going into a completely different field.
Maybe because I hadn’t. Each time I moved in my professional career it was my choice to do so. I was giving notice to that employer or client that it was time for me to move on to the next opportunity.
For the most part I enjoyed what I did, but I always wanted growth and new challenges. I’m not a person who settles into a good-enough job for forty years. (Bless those who do, they’re smarter than I am in many ways.)
But with writing, every time I think of moving on from it, it feels like doing so would be a failure. I think maybe because writing can be anything you want to make it. There is no outgrowing being a writer. It’s always going to have unexplored directions to take.
And so not finding a direction to take that’s financially rewarding enough to stick with it, feels like failure. At this point in time I have accomplished a tremendous amount with my writing. I have a six-foot bookcase with all of my books on it and have written more books than most people who aspire to be writers will write in a lifetime.
Setting aside money and profitability, all the ebooks, print books, video courses, and audiobooks that I’ve created is something to be proud of.
But because writing (at least when you decide to publish) is also entrepreneurship, there’s always also that profitability side to it.
Is this business a going concern? Does it pay its bills? And if the answer to that is “no” then it feels like failure. Because other people pay their bills with it, why aren’t you?
And to be fair, I have chosen to live somewhere more expensive than necessary in order to be near family. If I had chosen two years ago when I sold my house to move to Omaha, something I considered, I’d easily be earning enough from my writing right now to pay all my bills.
But I didn’t.
Also, I don’t know that I’d be happy with my writing right now even if I’d done that. Because the other big difference between a career and entrepreneurship is that–in general, assuming you don’t have a setback–in a corporate-type career you steadily increase your income over time. You either get raises or promotions or move to newer jobs that pay more.
But with most entrepreneurship, including writing, you have up years and down years. It is not a steady progression.
Jim C. Hines has been sharing his annual writing income for years. And you can see that it’s not some nice, steady thing.
For a while there it was a steady upward progression. Which let me pretend that this isn’t a highly uncertain business with unforeseen pitfalls.
And if that plateau that you see there were high enough, I’d say, well, that’s okay. You have good years and bad years. As long as it stays above the support level you need, it’s fine.
I have a writer friend, for example, who had a 25% drop in revenues last year. But I’m pretty sure that friend was dropping from somewhere in the $300K range of revenue, so had plenty of remaining income.
Yeah, it sucks to lose $75K in revenue in a year, but when you still have $225K to live on, you can probably make that work, you know.
But when you are still trying to build to a good support level and you level out…And you look at trends in the market and they aren’t favorable…
If it were a simple job, you’d walk away. Hey, my employer is probably going to start cutting staff soon, good time to jump somewhere new. Yeah, sure, you miss the work or the co-workers. Or you regret that the company didn’t succeed. But you make the smart choice.
Writing, though…Even though the very large majority of writers never make much money from it, there’s still this relentless message that you need to stick with it. Even when you can’t think of new ideas, like another writer friend of mine. It’s like it becomes an identity that you can only claim if you’re actively pursuing it.
Skydiving is that way, too. Get past a fun tandem or two and you’re not just someone who occasionally likes to jump out of planes, you’re a skydiver. And if you stop jumping, you sacrifice that identity. And that community.
I don’t know. It’s weird. And something I probably should stop thinking so much about because I’d be better off writing. Or, in the case of what I need to do today, creating six paperbacks that will release sometime in the next week to accompany the two I hit publish on yesterday. But more on that in a day or two when all the sites shake out.
Until then. Enjoy your weekend.