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Quit Your Day Job

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Jan. 11th, 2013 | 10:58 am

I’m back at “work.” After taking a three-month sabbatical, October, November, December, which I spent in the UK, India and South Africa, respectively, focusing on writing. No—not “focusing on writing,” writing. Working on a novel and a memoir and essays and submitting work every week and doing open mics and reading literary magazines and discovering what kind of writing I want to publish. Now I’m in Tennessee and doing a school residency program. Which I love. At least, I love working on circus acts with students, I love collaborating with them and with my fellow coaches on ideas for the show (it’s going to be steampunk-themed), I love how we eat family dinner each night, with all of us chipping in money and one of my friends cooking great food.

What I don’t love is that right now I’m drifting in an ocean of fear and worry.

Last summer’s tour was pretty average. My main partner and I performed at festivals, mostly as a twosome. And the show was great, we had a great time, we love performing together, but the money was pretty bad. Bad economy, bad weather, bad festival scheduling over which we had no control. Dumbass stuff like the festival that gave us five shows and other acts had 15-30 shows. (The same festival put my indoor show in a venue 20 minutes away from the main festival site—it killed my attendance to the point where I gave away 100 free tickets a day just to have some people in the audience). So, it’s understandable that my partner would want to focus on her new solo show, in another country, where she can live with her foreign-national husband.

I’ve been trying to put together good work for the summer, which is a Catch-22. If I book good shows, maybe my partner will work with me again, but if I book good shows, I have to have a good partner or I’ll ruin our reputation. If I can’t get last year’s partner, then I need to start scrambling for someone good. Except I can’t promise that the work will be good, based on last year, and who wants to throw their summer in for something that might only be average?

I have a few options.

1) Do the summer tour, with a new partner. Maybe find out if my other partner, who is also on sabbatical, wants to come back and do another summer. Maybe get that intern who was so promising, or the newest girl in the company, who I like a lot and is easy to lift.

2) Do the summer tour as a solo show (not having to divide the tips in half means I can make less and still do OK). This does not sound appealing. Yes, I can get audience members to help me set up the rig, but it's not exciting to me to have to be funny and acrobatic all by myself.

3) Do what I’ve always advised to other people when they wanted to become an artist: Quit Your Day Job.

That’s always been my take—Quit Your Day Job. You want to really perform? Well, your day job is screwing up your schedule and making it hard to do that. Your day job is the safety net that’s letting you half-ass your art. You get funny when funny pays the bills. You get good when being good at your art equals food on the table.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost. And I, a full-time artist, have had my art become my day job. And I love my day job, but it’s interfering with my ability to be another kind of artist. It’s filling me with worry and fear and heartache. As I line up summer work and spring work and lay out the schedule like an offering, I do not feel like a powerful self-employed trapeze artist and company owner, I feel like I’m begging.

I’m in the princess room at my host family’s house, the pink-and-lime temple to their adopted seven-year-old daughter, dollhouse, stuffed animals, pink crosses on the walls, an actual banner emblazoned ‘Princess’. I’ve been sleeping with the light on. I’ve been tireder than I can measure, with acrobatics and aerials and lifting children in the afternoons. I haven’t written in six days, my longest dry stretch since September. And I’m weeping, ugly wet tears rolling into my ears while I write this.

Maybe it's time.

Seven years ago, I gave up teaching with my previous partner to do circus. It also ended our marriage.

What am I ready to give up now?

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Comments {18}

Kizzy

(no subject)

from: xo_kizzy_xo
date: Jan. 11th, 2013 05:06 pm (UTC)
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Your day job is the safety net that’s letting you half-ass your art. You get funny when funny pays the bills.

That's why artists in the days of old had patrons ;)

On a more serious note, this is exactly the issue most artists face. Precious few like you are incredibly lucky enough to be able to make a living from it. Most don't because we all need that financial safety net, and it's difficult trying to combine the two in a way that lets you maintain the day job AND developing your art into your day job.

You can make your art your priority, but you pay a price for it. SO, for instance, would kill to write FT. He does write for several blogs, but he seldom is paid for it. Yes, it gets his name out there, but at what price? If I didn't have my FT job, our lifestyle would be drastically different, and I'm not sure it would be for the better.

One of the things kathrynrose and I touched upon during our Goal Setting conversation was how "security", one of my "Winning Words", topped every list we made except for one. I never quite realized how important it is to me, and it's probably the reason why I never took the plunge to be a FT writer.

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Andrea Blythe

(no subject)

from: blythe025
date: Jan. 11th, 2013 05:30 pm (UTC)
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I can't tell you how many authors have said, "Don't quit your day job." They have a point, of course, because earning money as a writer can be hard.

However, your point is also really compelling. Survival is a great and powerful motivator. It sounds like this is a good time for you to do that, to make the switch.

I personally don't know if I could do it. I've been on the down and outs with money and it wasn't enough of a push for me to be able to start earning money from writing. I don't know, maybe it was just my inability to believe that my writing was good enough to earn money from. I know I'm not writing as much as I should, but I don't write as much as I should when I'm not working either. It takes a lot of personal determination and a set schedule to get me to write regularly.

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Tom Ramcigam

(no subject)

from: magicmarmot
date: Jan. 11th, 2013 05:41 pm (UTC)
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I've tried a couple of times to have my own business. I'm bad at it, and learned that the whole business side of things is not in my wheelhouse.

I hate working for other people.

I love working with other people.

Marriages end. Relationships end. That happens regardless of other things: permanence is an illusion, a crutch that we grasp to feel safe, sometimes a sandpile in which we stick our heads while screaming "I'M NOT LISTENING TO JEFFERY, LA LA LA".

You write. It's in you, part of you, a thing necessary as breathing. You will write whether it is your prime anschluss or not.

This is not a right or wrong decision. It is a choice, different paths to different journeys.

However you choose, you will be awesome.

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Donna

(no subject)

from: dabhug
date: Jan. 11th, 2013 07:19 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for this post. Your Quit Your Day Job quotes are very compelling and are exactly why I half-ass my art. And let's not even get started on the fact that Is My Art really art or is it just playing around? Am I really going to take it seriously, expect others to take it seriously? Not sure that has a thing to do with My Art and everything to do with Me.

Echoing kizzy a lot here, there's an awful lot of security wrapped up in this day job. I worked hard for a long time to get here, to get it, and to keep it. A very nice salary, health insurance to someone who will never, ever get any unless we get serious about healthcare reform in this country, etc. Back then, I thought this was what I wanted, but in all respects, I was chasing security. And I am very externally motivated. I'm not sure I could do it.

Sorry for the rambly. Thanks again for posting and sharing this. It's a tough question to ask and answer.

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Kizzy

(no subject)

from: xo_kizzy_xo
date: Jan. 11th, 2013 09:53 pm (UTC)
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:nodding: There's part of me that doesn't even question all the years, toil, sweat, and tears it took me to be where I am now. Then there's INSURANCE. I'm incredibly lucky in that regard.

But yeah, I've always chased security. I left teaching because I couldn't continue being on that per-diem no-benefit tightrope of long-term substitute-hood while looking for a permanent position. It killed me because I thought I was stronger than that. Ditto restaurant work. There are some people who are more hardwired to that kind of lifestyle. I'm not one of them.

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(Deleted comment)

whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jan. 15th, 2013 09:53 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. And I think I'm also ten years (or so) older than you, and bravery came with time :)

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theafaye

(no subject)

from: theafaye
date: Jan. 11th, 2013 10:02 pm (UTC)
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In case you missed it:

http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/drastically-changed-job-162900775.html

I walked out a job with £30,000 worth of debt when I was in the process of divorce and had no family to fall back on. Although I didn't end up as a full time musician in the end (turns out, doing that kind of thing while you're getting divorced is actually quite hard because of the emotional drain of the divorce thing), it *did* change my life for the better, I *have* made money from creative endeavours ever since and I don't regret it for the slightest. If I hadn't had babies, I most definitely would be making a lot more money from artistic work than I do because I could have pursued a few other things that were potential opportunities as well, such as storytelling (which might make a nice halfway house for you as well).

I'm an absolute believer in the fact that money comes and if you throw yourself out for the Universe to catch you, it will. Even if full time writing doesn't work out, something else will come along when you follow your bliss. Being all woo there for a moment, but in my experience, it really does work.

Look at what will break your heart the most if you don't do it, look at how feasible it is to do everything you want to do and take it from there. Whatever you end up doing will be the right thing.

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Jamie McCarthy

Sending good thoughts

from: jamiemccarthy
date: Jan. 11th, 2013 10:40 pm (UTC)
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My gosh. That was powerful. I don't have any good advice. I don't know what you should do. But your words moved me and I feel for you. I'm sending good thoughts your way and I wish you the best.

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whipchick

Re: Sending good thoughts

from: whipchick
date: Jan. 15th, 2013 09:55 pm (UTC)
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Thank you - I'm feeling a lot less dreadful about it the more I think about it. The biggest challenge is getting ready to walk away from something that's still going well, to do something where I'll struggle at the beginning again. On the other hand, starting Aerial Angels was a lot easier after having done Commedia Zuppa with Todd, so perhaps starting a freelance writing job will be easier than that :)

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tigrkittn

(no subject)

from: tigrkittn
date: Jan. 12th, 2013 02:45 am (UTC)
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I tend to agree with Theafaye that support - money, or other kinds - comes to us when we need it... but only if we believe it will. Fear can keep it away and attract the things we're afraid of, since that's where we're putting our attention.

What I was going to say before I saw that comment was that the net also allows us to take risks - and without risk we can't grow, our art becomes stale, and we hem ourselves into safe corners even if we don't like them very much. Living on the edge has its appeal, but only the rarest of us can live there indefinitely.

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writerdoc

(no subject)

from: writerdoc
date: Jan. 13th, 2013 02:42 am (UTC)
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Really inspiring and fantastic post! You're certainly brave and I wish the best of luck to you.

I love both medicine and writing, so I plan to do both by any means possible. It'll be hard, and I'm fully aware of that, but that won't stop me either. And I hope I won't be half-ass at either one. :D

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Adam

(no subject)

from: spike20
date: Jan. 14th, 2013 01:59 am (UTC)
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Seven or eight years seems to be the max limit for me to shift careers and creative outlets. It was nine years ago I gave up my office job forever and take up as a fulltime artisan (and nearly starved myself and my family to death in the process!). It was hard, but I wouldn't have given it up for anything.

In the background to that was developing more contacts and work in film and television, and in the last three years that work has dramatically accelerated, and my film career is exploding with new opportunities and new creative outlets and new challenges to keep me interested.

You're not giving up things. You're peeking around the corners of new doors opening.

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Ellakite

At least you have the option of quitting.

from: ellakite
date: Jan. 14th, 2013 04:23 am (UTC)
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Unless my health woes start resolving themselves, there is no way I will be able to afford appropriate medical and rehab care without the insurance package that comes with my Day Job.

So for me, it may literally be a matter of life and death if I quit my Day Job...

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drwex

I have come late to the party

from: drwex
date: Jan. 15th, 2013 02:36 pm (UTC)
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So I have been under the impression that your day job was writing/teaching. Is that what you're proposing to quit in order to do this? Or quit doing this in order to do that?

Both seem like pretty hard and draining things to do and it seems like it would be even harder to do both at once. But it still feels like you're asking the wrong question. "What am I ready to give up now?" seems like a question whose answer will become obvious to you as you go along, rather than a starting point.

Where do you hesitate? What's within your comfort zone and how far out of that are you able to go? And how does all of this fit with that massive goal

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whipchick

Re: I have come late to the party

from: whipchick
date: Jan. 15th, 2013 10:02 pm (UTC)
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So I totally love that since we've only been LJ friends for a little while, I look like a writer!

I'm a professional trapeze artist (and whip-cracker, hence the name) and I own a small circus company (www.angelsintheair.com). I took a sabbatical - October-November-December - to focus on writing and see if I could start a career doing that instead. I'm already a published playwright, specializing in the high school market, and I've always been a writer, but I'd like to see if it can be my job. I've got February-March and part of April also scheduled as time off.

I think the things I'm most concerned about are, can I stay fit (especially as I get older) and can I make good money. I like the life I have, and I like traveling wherever I want, and I don't want to lose those things.

It feels like a "give up" question because I will have to actively stop booking work--which means I'm not just quitting "now" and stopping showing up for work, I'm committing to not having (circus) work six months or a year from now. So if I end up not doing well, it takes a while to get back into the previous job, which is a company I built from scratch and turned into a well-respected group with a global reputation in our field.

Funnily enough, I probably could still write half the year and do circus the other half, but I'm really resenting having lost my writing time right now as I do a gig, much as I love the gig. One foot on sea, one foot on shore :)

But I think your observation about my goals list not actually including any circus goals is very apt - I can keep the business going, and going well, but it's not what I'm excited about right now.

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drwex

Re: I have come late to the party

from: drwex
date: Jan. 15th, 2013 10:15 pm (UTC)
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I totally blame Rowan, and look forward to some confluence of universes where we can actually meet.

That said, I now feel more equipped to answer your previous question, to which I aver, "Don't quit your day job."

Yes, it's not a particularly nice answer but the economics of writing are better than they've ever been and it's still ungodly bad. I'm pretty sure the median is still around $6,000/year. It's also the advice that almost every professional writer I've known (and I know a surprising number) has given.

If you're serious about writing, and it seems you are, then setting aside time to write is important. All the things you've been doing are important. If it works, there will come a point where you don't have to ask the question. You'll be able to look at your numbers and know. The data will speak for themselves. Until they do, your job is to get them to speak and if you're not in a position to have someone else support you then you can quickly get into a position where you aren't able to write because you're working forty'leven part time and temp things that keep you running here and there and leave you too damned wiped out to focus on the writing but are necessary because bills gotta get paid and the lights gotta stay on.

(It may help you to know that I'm generally known as Reality Check Guy. People don't come to me for hopeful starry-eyed dream stuff. They come to me when they want to know if their dog will hunt. Some day I'll tell you the Ugly Hat Test story, if you care. I tell lots of stories.)

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whipchick

Re: I have come late to the party

from: whipchick
date: Jan. 15th, 2013 10:34 pm (UTC)
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Hmmm....I like your advice and I want to argue this further :) I like that you're a great devil's advocate!

I have enough savings to live for two years if nothing else changes. One year if I build a garden apartment (which could then be rented out if I moved back in to my house). I could also rent out everything and move in with my mother.

I'm putting another roommate in my house, and my mortgage will be completely covered as of September. My car is paid ahead for six months right now. I don't owe any other money.

I can still book work for other performers and get a cut of that, even if I'm not performing myself. I booked and carried out three US events while I was in India and South Africa.

Right now I make the median, in royalties on work I wrote ten years ago and haven't lifted a finger on since. If I got my ass in gear and wrote more plays for the high school market, I could make more. That's an If, though :) In three months of writing "full time", I've sold three pieces for money and had a few more also published free. I don't feel like I've been submitting very hard, and am planning to up how much I'm sending out, in February.

I feel like my challenges are not financial, they're getting home exhausted physically and emotionally from my job. When I was temping, I could write between meaningless phone calls and other people's copies. With circus, someone may literally die if I am not giving my full attention, and we work to the job, not the clock. That said, it's lucrative and fun. And I did manage to write every week for a writing contest last year while working full-time, even in the busy season--it was exhausting :) And I didn't do any submitting or researching. In sabbatical time, I submitted every week and researched places to submit, as well as regularly reading the places I wanted to send work.

What say you, Reality Check Guy?

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drwex

Re: I have come late to the party

from: drwex
date: Jan. 15th, 2013 11:11 pm (UTC)
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I say "Can you make the numbers work?" It looks like you have a cushion - are you comfortable eating through that if you continue not to sell a significant quantity?

I can still book work for other performers and get a cut of that, even if I'm not performing myself.

This seems like something of a middle road and worth pursuing (says the guy who knows zip about booking work for other performers).

Do you WANT to be writing more for the high school play market? Do you know enough about your numbers in other markets?

my challenges are not financial, they're getting home exhausted physically and emotionally from my job

That sounds like a problem that needs solving regardless of which career path you take. I'm curious why this doesn't appear within your goal structure? Perhaps you already know the answer - or knew it when you put that goal list together. If you knew you were going to drop the performance portion of things, it would make sense not to list goals there. Though perhaps some goals related to how you want to wind down that set of commitments?

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