Every year, when I do my taxes, I play this game with myself: how much did my writing actually bring me? Last year was fun – a bag of groceries and a latte. This year, it’s more like a decent meal out (hold the fries). Had it not been for a teaching side gig, I would not have been able to pay for editing.
If I have learned one thing from self-publishing, it’s how exhausting the grind is. The five people following my writing have a front-row seat of how that looks like elation, followed by a slow and sure abdication. If I’m still writing this time next year, it would be through sheer stubbornness alone. So tell me – how exactly are people supposed to do this, day in, day out, without some sort of support system in place?
Giving up your job to do what you love is brave, but it’s the sort of risk that you do not take without calculation. Few writers start off without a day job. Few entrepreneurs have enough savings to just drop everything and give their passions a go. The majority of people have to work hard and save hard to create the kind of savings buffer, and by the time they reach their goals, they have other obligations: partners, kids, a group of colleagues that they manage.
Some people might take the leap anyway, not bothering to untangle any work relationships first, burning bridges before they even crossed them fully. From a certain angle, it’s an enviable thing to do – who hasn’t dreamt of telling everyone to fuck off forever? But step away from the fantasy, and you will find a much less palatable thing waiting for you in the real world: the prospect of failure.
Nobody likes to admit that their hard work might not pay off (trust me on this) but most creatives make some version of this bargain with themselves: if I don’t make it by this time, then I will go back to how things used to be.
I will give it my all, and leave a few doors open, a few bridges unburned, to save myself and fight another day.
From time to time, I will encounter people who don’t think like me. Entrepreneurial creatures who really went for it, who made a bonfire of their old lives and rose from the ashes like a phoenix. Those people will lecture me endlessly on how I cannot be expected to make good output if my energies are split between jobs and between commitments. But if I scratch the surface, it’ll turn out that they’re not so alone either – they have supportive friends and family; they have a private fortune; they made enough money to solve all their problems.
God bless the entrepreneurial creatures, they are a great lot and the world would be a lot duller without them. I just wish people understood that they are not the only brand of creative there is. Quitting your job to do something you love is incredibly privileged – and touting this as the only true way to do art is choking the life out of the scene.