Sunday, November 16, 2014

Taking the Plunge

I haven’t been without some sort of regular paid job since I was 16 years old. In the thirty odd years since then, I’ve worked as a groundskeeper at a swim and tennis club until after the summer I graduated high school. After that, I was in the service for eleven years and racked up quite an eclectic collection of job titles and work experience, and then I spent the next eighteen years in the private sector, working for a handful of different companies as a software developer.

I didn’t get serious about writing with an eye toward publication until my late twenties, and even after I sold my first short stories and started writing novels on a consistent basis, it was still something I did “on the side.” Writing was always “the other job,” which I fit around my normal work schedule, and it bent even more once my wife and I had our two kids. There were lots of late nights and early mornings, or weekends squirreled away at the library or some other place of refuge as I worked to meet this or that deadline. If I slept more than four or five hours a night, it was a cause for celebration. Still, I was making it work. I’d reached a point where I was almost always working on a novel and maybe a few other things like short stories or magazine articles, and the money earned from these projects was going toward my kids’ school tuition and college funds, or our retirement nest egg.

Then, earlier this year, I got word that I probably would be laid off from my “real” job.

Naturally, I was at first gripped by uncertainty. I’d been dancing in the layoff minefield for the better part of a decade at this point, surviving IT outsourcing, mergers and workforce reductions of one sort or another across three different companies. I’d known for years that my number, sooner or later, would come up, and that was the major reason that my “day job” had ceased being a career and had instead become just a job. I’d been in IT for almost thirty years, and I was good at what I did, but I didn’t really love it anymore. That wasn’t always the case, of course. As a developer, I relished the challenge of figuring out how to create software to meet a client’s needs, or just to see if something harebrained could be done.

With the ever-present fear of layoffs, that enthusiasm had started to wane, replaced by the need to just hang on by any means necessary. I no longer had any real passion for the work, and it certainly wasn’t creatively fulfilling. Writing had already long since moved in to fill that void, and for years I’d been wondering and dreaming about the idea of writing full time. However, it was hard to walk away from steady employment that paid extremely well, and once our kids came along the idea of abandoning that to chase a dream seemed ludicrous. I was supposed to be an adult with responsibilities, right? The time for running off on some crazy quest had passed, perhaps not to return until after my children were in college, and maybe not even then.

It’s amazing how the prospect of being laid off changes your perspective.

With the decision now at least partially made for me, pondering my options became a lot easier. As I began perusing want ads and job listings and updating my resume, all while less than enthused by the idea of “starting over” at another company with all my seniority a thing of the past, I knew that I was doing it because I “had to” and not because I wanted to. Thankfully, my wife—who is much smarter than I am—saw in my face that if left to my own devices, I would eventually find some other IT job that might pay our bills, and I’d do it because I thought it was what I had to do, and continue on as I’d been doing the last several years. It was she who said to me, “You should just write full time.”

Wait. What?

“You’re happier doing that, anyway. You’ll be able to turn your full energy to it and write more, and faster. You’ll get more sleep, you’ll have more time for me and the kids, and you won’t be so grumpy all the time. Let me emphasize that I’m very much on board with the whole being less grumpy thing.”

After a long conversation one night after dinner, we weighed the pros and cons of this bold idea. Could I do it? Sure. More time to write is more to time to write, right? What about the money? That part would be a little tricky, but the upside to having written professionally for fifteen years is that I’ve had those fifteen years to build something of a reputation and a network of contacts. Reaching out to a few of those contacts was enough to tell me that the opportunities were there. I just had to seize them.

So, with my wife’s backing and support, I’ve cast aside caution, dared to spit into the wind, and taken the plunge into writing full-time. After taking a week off to recharge following my last day of “regular employment,” I hit the ground running and completed a couple of contracted writing assignments while laying out plans for future work. As November approached, I elected to double down and take on National Novel Writing Month, with an eye toward completing at least half of my next contracted novel during these insane thirty days. I've been contracted to write three novels after that, along with a handful of other projects, and things farther down the road are starting to come into focus, too.

It’s early yet, and in many ways I’m still undergoing the transition, but there already have been tangible benefits. Remember what I said about sleeping more (and better), having more free time for the family, and generally being less grumpy? It’s all true. Am I nervous about the future? Absolutely. Then again, I was nervous about the future at the other job, too. At least now I’m doing something I truly love doing, and I feel reenergized and ready to take on all comers.

I guess we’ll see what we’ll see.


Liane Spicer said...

Oh Dayton, congratulations! You're in such a scary and exhilarating place. Based on my own experience and that of others I know, it may not all be smooth sailing but you'll never regret making this move.

Charles Gramlich said...

Good luck, man. I hope everything goes well!

G. B. Miller said...

If anyone can properly pull it off with style and a gung-ho attitude, its you.

KeVin K. said...

Dayton, you may recall that for many years my signature line was Valerie's response when I told her I wanted to be a writer: "It's your dream; make it work." Without her support I would have hung in as a public school teacher, long after I'd burned out, counting the days to retirement (which, now that I think of it, would have been this year).

I didn't go your route, I immersed myself in games where there are no big payouts but relatively constant work. Since going full-time freelance (with Valerie's encouragement) I've had a years where I paid cash for my newest used car ever and fenced in the yard and years where I've done temp work and had yard sales every week. But I wouldn't trade full-time writing for anything.

But there's also no getting around the fact I wouldn't be making it if Valerie didn't have my back. The most important part of your decision - and the reason you're going to make it - is the support of your partner in life.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Congratulations! You are finally following your dream.