Spiking the Boss's Coffee:
My Full-Time Writing Life
Because of the upcoming presidential election, a lot of people have been asking if I'm better off now than I was four years ago. In my case, it's unquestionable. I'm way better off. But it's not the result of a political party's actions (or inactions). It's because I finally stopped thinking of ways to screw over my boss, get back at my employer or dismantle the company from the inside. I came up with the best possible scheme for winning at my job. I walked away.
When you have a job that's just about paying the bills and doesn't have a whole lot of fulfillment behind it, you do a few different things to pass the time while keeping your sanity. Some of us reassert how indispensible we are to the company. "If I wasn't there," we say, "this place would completely fall apart." We also like to talk smack about the job, our boss and our least favorite co-workers. You may even come up with ideas to take down the company. They aren't serious, but what disgruntled employee hasn't thought about bringing a rat to work, deleting a few important files or some other plot that would show the company how much it's mistreating its employees.
The first line of thinking is typically false. In most cases, you aren't indispensible. Even if the company never finds anyone quite like you, they'll usually adapt. Your complaints are likewise pointless, as all they make you do is whine and commiserate with equally miserable comrades. And if you were to actually enact any of your evil plots, you'd end up fired or in jail.
My boss gave me a lot of guff when I told her I was leaving to write full-time. Heck, I gave myself a lot of guff. I didn't exactly know how I was going to make enough money to pay my bills. Most people leave with a plan. I left with a wish. It could have been a total disaster that left me crawling back and begging for my old career. I knew I would need to work hard to make it a reality and I pushed myself to new limits over the next two years. I wrote a ton of pieces that I didn't care about in the slightest to prop myself up while I wrote things I loved on the side. I was a full-time writer but I wasn't that much happier than I was in my old job.
It was after about two years in this line of churning out articles for my freelance career and my blog that two things happened that would change my life. The first thing was that I got better. The second thing was that I got lucky. Two more years removed, I realized that those are the two things everybody needs to happen to succeed in a freelance career.
Because I was writing more than 40 hours a week, I started to improve. I didn't become Faulkner overnight, but bird by bird I started to make minor progress. When you feel like you're improving, you can't help but get a boost of confidence; a voice inside you that says, "Wow, maybe I could actually make a living out of this." Confidence is a great feeling because it makes you work harder and smarter. It makes you feel like you deserve to be earning more money for your writing and it sets you off on a journey to find better opportunities. I stumbled into two, and therein lies the luck.
I found a fantastic freelance gig that paid better than the work I was doing and was much more satisfying. The posting for the job was on a Chicago comedy website I'd frequented for the better part of five years. I happened to be in the right place and the right time to get it. At around the same time, a book I released through this website (and later Amazon) began to sell. When someone buys something that you've written, it's a truly fantastic feeling. Even if it's only a dollar at first, you bask in the warmth of that validation dollar that someone gave you for doing something you love.
I kept getting more work related to the freelance gig and my book kept selling. I wrote more articles and more books and all of a sudden I realized that I was making a living off this stuff. Was it enough to support a family? No, but I didn't have one yet to support. Was it enough to move to a tropical island? No, but I'm pretty happy in Chicago, even during the winter. Have I actually reached the point of doing something I love 100 percent of the time? No, but I spend much more of my time on my creative projects than I ever did in my former career.
Am I better off than I was four years ago? Of course! But it's because I worked my butt off and kept looking for opportunities until I got lucky. I never stopped believing in the dream that I could be a full-time writer. I still believe in a dream that one day, I will only work on projects that I care about with all of my heart. That day isn't here yet, but check back with me in four years.
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