Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Making the Leap When You Can't See Where to Land

I've seen several people making the leap lately from the dreadful day job to freelancing writing. Some by choice; most due to economy factors. I fear for them, but having done it, I know it can be done. It just takes careful attention to details and a strategic action plan to make it happen. You don't jump in before knowing how deep the water is or what stumps hide beneath the surface. Or before you know how to swim or find your way back to land.

Work part-time first.

Working part-time takes as much planning as full-time. Don't think that eight hours a day will solve your time management issues. Frankly, it makes your problems grow. Work part-time with a set schedule, goals for income, and benchmarks for networking and self-promotion. Once you have a pattern after a year or more, analyze it. Which months are good ones; which are lulls? How much do you earn per month on the average? How many hours did you work to earn that much? What does that convert to in terms of dollars per hour?

Once you have a grip on those statistics, you have a better feel for what to expect. If you work ten hours per week and earn $2,000 in a year, you've earned a full-time salary of $8,000. That's $2 per hour. Put measures on your efforts to determine the possibility of full-time success.

And no, you won't make more per hour because you have more time. You'll be amazed at the administrative tasks of full-time writing that will still consume your time. But it's more than being unemployed, right? Actually, you can flip burgers for more than that, with benefits.

Nail down health insurance.

Freelance health insurance stinks - and it stinks bad. And don't think that government health care will happen in time to take care of your needs. The government moves like a slug in December.

If you don't have access to health insurance, continue to write after hours - after you get home from the day job. One car accident, one broken leg, one serious bout of the flu or strep throat can set you back hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Set your pace and keep it.

When you become full-time, embrace it like you work for the biggest employer in town. Report to work, put in your hours, and clock out. There's nothing wrong with entertaining writing after you've done your duty, but putting bacon on the table has to come first.

On top of that, your family and friends have to understand. I've been writing for ten years, seven years full-time. You'd be amazed at how many of my family members still don't get it. Be adamant about your work hours. Close the door. Refuse to answer the phone. Turn down social activities. These people wouldn't interrupt you at a corporate job, would they?

Those are the three main factors in making the leap to a full-time, freelance writer. Sure there are other details, but if you control these three, the small stuff comes easy. But let me add one more consideration.

Have an exit plan.

Give yourself a year, maybe two. Know in advance the minimum you have to earn to make this choice a long-term commitment. Visit that plan monthly, measuring your time, expenses and income. Extrapolate what you made for three months and see if that will meet your goal. If not, make changes. But . . . when the day comes where you have to decide whether to stick with it or find another job, be realistic.

A friend in my writing group writes in every spare moment. She's a clerk on a cash register. She has down time between customers. She writes while she's standing there, waiting. I used to write during the boss's staff meetings. You can always write. However, you don't recover easily from bankruptcy, foreclosure or repossession.


Stacy S. Jensen said...

Well said, especially the part about insurance. I read you in my inbox and rarely stop over for a comment. Thanks for this one.

Hope Clark said...

Thanks so much for taking the extra time to do so, too, Stacy.

Anonymous said...

Some great advice! I've been looking to jump into writing full-time but right now I am working and paying off all of my loans before I do.

Anonymous said...

Also, are there any books or informational pieces you recommend for people considering the jump into writing for a living?

April D. Byrd said...

Cool. Thanks Hope!

Janet Hartman said...

Not long after IBM released its personal computer, a lot of young programmers quit their jobs and became freelance programmers. Back in my corporate days, I interviewed several of them who were desperate to go back to a regular job. Their desperation showed. Setting criteria for yourself before you leap is key to avoiding desperation. Even if you return to a regular job, you can still keep writing.

MDiskin said...

Judy, my advice is that you don't necessarily "make the jump". in other words, a hard stop and restart isn't necessary. Just start writing while you do what you are doing now. Don't feel you have to stop everything, fully furnish a home office, or ditch your day job. If time is tight, try to take on writing-heavy tasks at work. Use what you know, whether it be your work, your hobbies, your common sense as a wife/mom/grandmother/whatever, and start coming up with ideas. If you're an accountant who loves to quilt, you can turn that into an essay on how your math skills worked to your benefit when quilting (or vice versa). Or figure out how your skills (accounting, if that's it) could benefit some of the groups you are in: mom at home, working mom, retired grandmother, indulgent aunt who tends to overspend at holiday time on her nieces...). I once wrote a small article talking about how clean you really need to be at home with small kids -- bleach everything? use anti-bac soap? etc. I aimed at women like me -- moms of small kids who wanted to get the lowdown on the benefits or risks of using certain things like alcohol gel, clorox wipes, and more. Your season of life can give you lots of ideas!
--that said, I love Hope's book The Shy Writer, and also refer often to the Renegade Writer books and the $2k Queries book at WritersWeekly. Great examples of winning queries, all of which helped me get a start. Kelly James-Enger writes great books too, and I loved Writer Mama by Christina Katz. (Hope, hope you don't mind my pitching others here.)

That said,