Families come in all kinds, but no matter what kind yours happens to be, they are probably going to think that quitting a nice, stable job to go haring off into the woolly world of full-time writing is a dumbass thing to do.
And from the point of view of nice sane people everywhere, they are probably right.
If you were one of the nice sane people everywhere, though, you wouldn’t even have made it this far in the article, so I feel safe in addressing you, the wild and woolly fellow writer. Here are the rules when dealing with family.
- Do not expect them to understand.
They won’t. They will not get what you are doing until and unless you are as successful as Stephen King or John Grisham, and I’ll bet even those two writers occasionally get calls from their mothers asking when they’re going to get real jobs.
You can hope your husband or wife (if you’re married) will understand, but don’t bet the farm on it. The spouse will perhaps be laid back about it all while there’s a fair amount of cash in the bank and you’re at the keyboard every day, (though he or she is likely to complain about feeling neglected) but when things get hairy, expect cold looks and newspapers at the breakfast table open to the Help Wanted section.
If you know money’s coming, stand firm. If you aren’t currently writing (because of a block or whatever) and there aren’t any pending contracts and things are hard, get a job that will bring in money without killing your desire to write, and pitch in.
(Blue-collar work is better than a career-type job if you don’t want to watch your dream die forever. You get another career-type job and try to walk away from it and your marriage will not be happy, and your family will side with your spouse.) Write on the side the way you did before.
- Do not expect emotional support.
When things get rough, the response you can count on getting is not ‘hang in, you’ll make it, I believe in you,’ but ‘I told you so before you quit your job. Maybe if you’re lucky they’ll take you back.’
Hang in anyway. You believe in you.
You cannot expect everyone else to see your dream; you can only hope they’ll see the reality. Grit your teeth and make it a reality.
- Do not expect consideration.
You have a job, right? You’re going to be sitting at a keyboard stretching your brain for God knows how many hours. Your family (and friends) will keep this in mind, right?
Wrong. Your family and friends will figure as long as you’re home all day, you might as well be doing something useful, like laundry, or running the kids everywhere, or going out to breakfast or lunch or shopping or….
The list of things other people will find for you to do is endless, and destructive beyond belief. Given the opportunity, they will kill your writing, then shake their heads when you fail and say they always knew it wouldn’t work. Guard your time fanatically.
I know I make the people you love sound like the enemy, like conspirators against your dreams and aspirations. I write from experience. I got all the above responses the first time I quit my day job to write full time.
I didn’t mention earlier that I had one miserably failed attempt at this way back in 1985. But I did.
When I tell you what you need to have and do in order to quit and win, I’m telling you from experience I got the hard way.
The first time I quit, I wasn’t ready, and my then-husband was looking at writing as:
- a quick road to millions of dollars, and
- something that was going to make us rich beyond his wildest dreams of avarice overnight.
It didn’t, he got very caustic, and a year almost to the week from the day I quit, I had to get another nursing job. When I had to go back to nursing, my family was right there with the I-told-you-so’s, and my now-ex husband was first in line.
The second time I quit, I was prepared. And the second time, it stuck.
Incidentally, there are spouses and family members and friends who won’t act like the folks described above. They will support, encourage, and believe in you. If you have them, hang on to them forever. They are worth more than gold. I have such a family now, and they are my pleasure and my anchor in rough times.
And for the other people who will believe in you and your dreams…