Should you quit your job to write full time?

The following is a guest post by WD Contributing Editor Linda Formichelli, from her new book, Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race … And Step Into a Career You Love.

You want to ditch the rat race to become a freelance writer—or do you? If you’re on the brink of making the leap but need some motivation to cut ties from the 9–5, here’s a kick in the pants for you.

Your Writing Dream
You’ve always had a thing for writing, or maybe you grew into it after years of experimenting with other hobbies and professions. It doesn’t matter. If it’s your dream, whether it’s from your childhood or a more recent phenomenon, it deserves a chance.

Too many of us don’t go after our dreams because the status quo is comfortable and, after all, it’s what people expect of us. Our boss expects us to do our work, our friends like us just the way we are (aw), and our families have this annoying habit of needing to be fed and clothed.

But what if I told you that you can have it all? I know dozens of writers (like me) who left the rat race to pursue writing as a profession—and they manage to pay their bills, feed their families and even match (and exceed) their previous 9–5 incomes.

It’s not easy. But if a dream is too easy, is it worth going after? (Then your dream would be something like, “I dream of working from 9–5 in a cubicle and then coming home and watching TV until bedtime.”)

Is Your Job Your Passion?
If you don’t love what you do every day, you’re just killing time until you hit the grave.

Imagine you’re on your deathbed and you’re looking back over your life. Are you happy that you spent X number of years working away at a job that didn’t light your fire? Or do you wish you had had a career you were so passionate about that you leapt out of bed every morning all psyched up about what the day would bring?

Don’t get me wrong—writers experience burnout too. I know I do at times! But the fun thing is that when you work for yourself, you’re perfectly free to change the parameters of your job to fit your ever-evolving passion. So if you’d rather drive red-hot spikes through your forehead than write another case study, you can move some or all of your work to blogging, magazine writing, or whatever else turns you on.

Everyone deserves to have a job they love. I hate when ads say, “You deserve [this new mascara/a sinful dessert/a fancy vacation]!” I always want to reply, “How do you know? Maybe on the way home today I knocked over an old lady and kicked a puppy.” But yes, you do deserve to enjoy your career.

Job Security, Schmob Security
OK, no more talk about dreams and passion and all that mushy stuff that doesn’t pay the bills. Let’s talk about job security.

Your friends and family may think you’re nuts to quit a steady job to go freelance. “You’re losing your security!” they say. And perhaps that’s what’s keeping you from making the commitment to finally take the leap.

Maybe that was true 50 years ago, but it’s not true today. Now, you actually have more job security as a freelancer than you do working for someone else.

If you’re employed by a company, your boss can literally stop your income—all of it—at any time. One minute you’re earning some nice bucks, and the next minute you’re earning zero.

As a freelancer, you’ll eventually have many clients. If you lose one client, you won’t lose all your income. You’ll take a hit, to be sure, but you can make it back by doing more marketing to land another client or by getting more work from one of your current clients.

Problem solved.

The Money Factor
If you’re like me, you bristle at the idea of grinding away at a job to fill someone else’s pockets while they oh-so-generously pay you a fraction of what you’ve earned for the company.

I had more than 25 jobs before I became a freelance writer. Some people would say I had a bad attitude. I prefer to say I refused to settle.

There’s honor to be had in working any job to pay your bills and feed your family. I salute you! But there’s even more honor in striking out on your own so you can keep all the money you earn—so you can do an even better job at paying your bills and feeding your family (not to mention having enough money for fun and frolic).

Another money point: As an employee, how much you earn is necessarily limited. If you make $40,000, that’s what you make. Period. You can probably get a small raise here and there, but if you suddenly decide you want to earn six figures, you’re outta luck.

As a freelancer, you control how much money you make. Once you know what your return is on your marketing—for example, how many pitches you need to send out to make X amount of dollars—you can earn more just by doing more. And if your schedule gets overloaded with work, that’s a sign you need to raise your prices or go after better-paying clients.

There’s no middleman siphoning away your value and no boss putting a ceiling on your income.

Your Talents + Your Business Savvy + Your Hard Work = Your Income. 

If you’re almost-but-not-quite ready to write your way out of the rat race, I hope these points help you finally make the decision that can change your life—for the better.

Linda Formichelli has written for close to 150 magazines since 1997—including Redbook, USA Weekend, Writer’s Digest, Inc. and Fitness—and more than two dozen copywriting, blogging and content marketing clients. Her new e-book, Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race…And Step Into a Career You Love, has just launched. Check it out here for a special limited-time low price. 

Check out the latest issue of Writer’s Digest—which features an exclusive dual interview with Anne Rice and Christopher Rice, and a feature package on how to improve your craft in simple, effective ways—in print, or on your favorite tablet.

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21 thoughts on “Should you quit your job to write full time?

  1. Avataraliciarades

    Wow, Linda. I love this advice. I particularly like that you point out how freelancing can actually be MORE secure. I never thought of it that way…Awesome article!

  2. Avatarcatreeves16

    This article explains EXACTLY how I feel!! I haven’t found my niche and I am wondering if writing is what I am looking for. I LOVE to read and would love to edit, but I’ve noticed that writing seems to be a common trait among editors. I do have a BA in English, but no recent experience in writing, and I am not sure how to get started. It would be nice to be able to work for myself, but I know that I am certainly not in a position to quit my job. Any suggestions?

  3. AvatarLAJE

    Thank you Linda! I’m one of those in the “rat race”. Like often mentioned above. A typical 9-5 has its pros and cons. A HUGE con I can no longer ignore is feeling like I am not my own person. You see, I work in an electric utility and make a very handsome living but everything has its price. That said, when emergencies strike, we work 16hr shifts day in and day out, until they say so. I can’t take it any more! I’m looking to gradually make a career in writing. In the meantime, there are a couple of obstacles I need to overcome, rather, a couple of goals I need to accomplish. For example, a college degree. Which brings me to the question I had for you. Can I possibly start building a career in writing while going to college for a degree in English Literature?

    1. AvatarLindaFormichelli

      Thanks for your comment! Well, truthfully, if you want to become a freelance writer, you don’t need a degree in English…or anything else, really. But if you do want to go to college, you can still make time to build your freelance writing business…lots of writers do this.

    1. AvatarLindaFormichelli

      Write while you’re in school! See if you like it and if you can earn income from it. Writing for a living is not for everyone, so it’s good to have a chance to try it out before making any big decisions.

  4. Avatarmmckean

    Live to write, don’t write to live. Take it from Stephen King, the true professional on the topic of writing. Quit your job after you’ve hit it big and are generating a good income, but not a moment before.

    1. AvatarLindaFormichelli

      I guess it depends on your definition of “making it big.” I quit my job with 6 months’ expenses in the bank, and have been freelancing successfully for 17 years. I also interviewed 20 writers who quit their jobs before they made it big, if my “making it big” you mean having a bestseller or a six figure income from writing. They’re all successfully freelancing today.

  5. Avatarplumage

    I think this is a very simplistic article that doesn’t give you any practical information.
    I now write full time but I found my way there gradually.
    Firstly, I would say if you want to make it as a professional writer don’t just give up your day job like that (I did but I learnt my lesson). The secret of finding the money to write what you want (unless you have a generous novel advance) is to first look for ways to move into part-time work. For this you need to be prepared to live on far less money and also give up on the idea of your career outside writing (you can’t consider doing a salaried job that requires you put in more hours than you are contracted for). It might mean doing a part time job you don’t like so much (actually if you are doing something for only a few hours a day or a couple of days a week almost anything is bearable). Tracey Emin the artist suggested the same thing for ambitious fine artists. I wouldn’t recommend trying to be a freelance writer if you are trying to be a novelist because it is hard work for little return- you need to always be trying to think of new ideas, leaving you with less time to think about the creative ideas you care about. You are also always chasing new clients. You need something more stable and less taxing. You would be better using skills like accountacy or book keeping which pay relatively good rates but require little creative effort (ironically). I have worked as a business manager for a poetry magazine and that worked well for me. I then I reduced my outgoings by moving out of my house and letting it and living more simply. Right now, I have a cleaning job (yes a cleaning job) which I can do at 5.30 in the morning and be finished by 8 am. It means I’m free to write all day. My rent income and my cleaning wages mean I can feel secure enough to relax and just write what I want to.
    If you see adverts to train as a copywriter don’t go there- copywriting is soul-destroying. Don’t think that because it is writing then you’ll be doing what you want. Don’t edit, don’t do technical writing, medical writing or turn out advertorial just because somehow that is writing. Most commercial writing is just dreck. When it comes to writing articles- weigh up whether this is really what you want to do or whether you are doing it for money. If you are doing it for the money – how much are you earning per hour? Many articles don’t pay better than the minimum wage. In the end you have to look at how many hours you have left to work on your novels and poetry.
    Get yourself free to write what you want to write other ‘writing’ is a waste of energy and will kill your joy.

    1. AvatarLAJE

      Thank you so much plumage! I found your article to be very honest and true to what I look for in a writing career. I currently work 7-3:30 (my 9-5) and although I make handsome living, I’m miserable. I’ve always enjoyed writing but never even once considered it as a career choice. Recently I’ve been giving it much thought and decided I can’t let my life slip away eventually ending up with many regrets. I’m looking to gradually make a career in writing.

      That was the easy part. The hard part is; I don’t have a college degree. I’ve been seriously considering going back to school (online) to pursue an AA degree in English Literature and eventually going for a bachelors. Is this necessary? I’m proceeding with caution but I feel I MUST follow this dream.

      Thank you once more,

      1. Avatarjsharbour

        You do not need a college degree to write, but it depends on the field you want to go into. It is helpful if you have developed some skills in a hobby that could be shared, or if you can transfer your day job experiences into print in some way. But even if you’re going into fiction/poetry, no degree is needed. Editors look at the writing first, credentials are only of interest for marketing.

  6. Avatarmsrobin

    You make this sound so magical; reality is the bills come due at the end of the month!! It would be better to moonlight and slowly build your freelance business than to be out in the cold, best advice don’t quit your day job until you have a steady stream of income from your efforts. This bit of advice is coming from an entrepreneur who’s been there done that with a train wreck ending.

    1. AvatarLindaFormichelli

      Yes, DEFINITELY! I just wrote on one aspect of the whole idea — should you consider quitting to go freelance? This is an excerpt from my book, where I do get into the nitty gritty details of saving money, getting clients, building a support system, deciding whether to tell your boss you’re freelancing on the side, finding the time and motivation to build your freelance business when working the 9-5, etc.

      Thanks for your comment!

  7. AvatarJoshua Rigsby

    Great article. Totally true, especially about job security. Until you step out on your own you don’t realize just how much you’re missing. One thing that’s particularly relevant for working parents is the issue of childcare. While it may not be the ideal working environment, staying home with the kids and writing during naptime is a great way to a) further your writing career, b) spend more time with your kids, and c) save a boatload of money on childcare. It’s a win/win/win.

    Writing full time may not be for everybody, but for those with the gumption and drive to succeed, I think it can be the “kick in the pants” they need. Again great article Linda.

    1. AvatarLindaFormichelli

      Thanks, Joshua! Though I think too many parents overestimate how much writing they’ll get done with young kids at home. My husband and I are both freelance writers who homeschool, and we STILL have childcare several hours per week (it’s called “Linda’s Mom”) to get work done.

  8. Avatartheconq

    My experience has been a little bit different. Diagnosed with autism at age 20, I graduated college just when the economy decided to grind to a screeching halt. While I have applied and continue to apply to numerous 9-5 jobs, I’ve mostly worked part-time in the retail and food service industries. The closest I came to the traditional 9-5 was the part-time receptionist position I lost after six months or so. Not that I’m complaining. While I’ve had to carve my own path toward financial stability, I’ve had a lot of freedom to pursue a variety of creative outlets. I now have a novel, a comic strip, a superhero comic book, and a host of other creative projects in the pipeline. Still, I long for that coveted 9-5. Just imagine. Waking up every morning at 6. Going to work. Going home at the end of the day. Weekends off. Not living with my parents. Ah well. Maybe next year!

    1. AvatarLindaFormichelli

      Yes, there are definitely bright sides to being employed, and for some people, working the 9-5 is where it’s at. I hope you find a job you love soon!

  9. AvatarSummerStarr

    Wow! I have been seriously considering and asking myself this question for about a week now. I want out of the rat race so bad, but man it’s scary. Shouldn’t one kind of “get their feet wet” in the world of freelance first before they take such a dramatic step? I am considering my options, but it’s hard to “get your feet wet” when you have no time to write because of the full time day job. *sighs* I don’t know.

    1. AvatarLindaFormichelli

      Hi, Summer! Yes, I didn’t mean you should quit right now! You definitely need to learn about the business and start earning some money so that when you DO make the leap, at least part of your income is covered by freelancing. BUt these are some ways to know if you should consider leaving your job to freelance.


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