Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Under Pressure

So you've quit your day job to be a writer. Which means you've either negotiated with your significant author about the terms of your new unemployment, OR you've retired and are collecting social security even as you scribble madly, OR you are a single person with few expenses (no kids and no jigundus mortgage) who has saved your little pennies until you had enough savings to break away from the corporate machine (like me).

Or you've already struck it rich with the ginormous contract we all dream about. Six figures... or numbers that include "point" in the middle. Something just jaw-droppingly disgusting. If that's the case, you don't need to read this. Go back to your pool and sip your mimosa.

Not that anyone needs to read this. I just wanted to talk a little bit about one of the less often discussed side effects of quitting your job. (Or maybe it's discussed all over the place and I just haven't been paying attention.) This one has nothing to do with money (so maybe you mimosa sippers should stick around) and everything to do with state of mind.

When I quit my job in April, I was ecstatic. I was going to fly to Hawaii, visit my family, lounge on the lanai and write brilliant prose whenever I felt like it. A pretty idea, isn't it? But when I got to Hawaii, the reality was somewhat different.

I freaked out.

It was like I had dropped a two ton weight on myself. Suddenly I was under constant pressure to write. I had no more excuses. Why didn't I get five thousand words written each day? I wasn't working at my day job, so there was nothing holding me back. Nothing keeping me from writing a full novel every week, right? I needed to spend every waking hour on writing tasks! No going to the beach! No going to the movies! Drafts, edits, query letters, promo materials. There is work to be done!

I was my own boss and I'd just turned into the boss from hell. Overtime! No weekends! You will work from the second you wake until you fall asleep at your computer! Breaks? We don't need no stinkin' breaks!

I've since calmed down and remembered how to use my time well without turning myself into a basketcase... but that initial pressure to write, when I suddenly removed the Day Job Excuse, was tremendous. I just didn't see it coming. A psychological blindside. All of my inate drive to succeed came back to bite me on the ass. The more I wanted to be a writer, the more pressure I was under, and the harder it was to do.

So maybe when people tell you not to quit your dayjob, they aren't being such bastards after all. Maybe they just know that having all the time in the world to achieve your dreams isn't always as perfect as we imagine it would be.

That said, I'm still gonna avoid going back to the workforce as long as I can. Now that I've wrestled my overachiever-ism into submission, I'm loving having all the time in the world to write and I'm not going to trade it in until I'm reduced to living on ramen noodles and Spam.


Vivant said...

Ew. Ramen noodles are not a hardship, but Spam? Ew.

Glad you've come to grips with your freedom and all the stress it brought. I'm not self-employed, but since I work from home I can definitely relate to the risk of all-work-all-the-time-ness.

Side note: Did you realize that in the first paragraph you referred to one's "signficant author"? Typo or Freudian slip, gotta love that one.

Vivi Andrews said...

LOL. Significant author, significant other. Potato, potahto. :)