Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hello, Day Job!

Writer and friend Alan Gratz is this week's guest blogger.

I quit my day job as an eighth-grade English teacher nine years ago, shortly after my daughter Jo was born. The idea was that I would be a part-time writer and a part-time stay-at-home dad, even though I had never sold anything more than a couple of short stories and a few community theater plays. To be fair, I had been going to SCBWI conferences for a while and did have two finished novels for young readers I was already submitting to editors, while on the other hand I had zero experience being a dad. Looking back on it now, jumping unprepared into fatherhood was definitely the crazier leap to make, but quitting my day job gave me lots of time to practice both, and nine years on I can safely say I’ve done pretty well. (Though Jo isn’t a teenager yet, so the jury’s still out on that one, I guess.)

Quitting my day job and staying home to work on novels that hadn’t sold yet (with a newborn baby in the house, no less!) meant making a lot of hard financial decisions, but others have talked here about the financial side of quitting your day job, and besides, my personal experiences with making ends meet may be very different from your own situation. What I’d rather talk about is a problem that plagued me from day one, and still rears its ugly head nine years on: making time to write.

I hear you scoffing now. “Scoff, scoff, scoff, Alan. You don’t have a day job. That means you have all day to write.”  True, I don’t have to get up in the morning and drive to a soul-crushing office job where I daydream about writing a Newbery-winning novel, only to come home so exhausted that all I want to do is crash in front of the television. But I still have lots of other things that demand my attention at home. To illustrate, I’ll type up the hand-written “To Do” list sitting beside my computer right now:

Order firewood
Seal cracks in the siding
Cut down the weeds in the yard
Send Barry my 5-year plan
Create a reader guide for The Brooklyn Nine
Create a reader guide for Fantasy Baseball
Scan, PDF, and e-mail contract for Boiling Springs school visit
Respond to fan letters
Subscribe to Weird Tales magazine
Spray foam into cracks around windows before ladybug season
Call Amerigas to come move our gas tank
Call Bellsouth to come move our phone line to a different pole
Write a review of Toby’s book and post it online
Write a blog post for Goodbye, Day Job!

How many of those things are writing-related? Barry’s my agent, so sending him my 5-year plan counts. So does responding to fan letters and writing reader guides for my last two books. (The Brooklyn Nine one is WAY overdue.) The school visit contract needs to get sent out. That’s writing-related too. (And pays.)

Now—how many of them are actual writing? Yeah. None of them. I’m working on a middle-grade novel right now, and I know it’s my primary concern every day. That’s why I don’t bother to put it on the list. But that list sits there and stares at me all day long, begging me to get something checked off. And that doesn’t even include the 38 non-spam e-mails that came in today, and it’s just now 5 p.m.

There is always something else to do besides write. Always. And when you work from home, it’s hard not to take time out of your writing time to do those things. Heck, when I had a day job I still did some of those things during work hours. Call for a wood delivery, call the gas company or the phone company. I just slipped them in surreptitiously, always with one ear open for the boss coming down the hall. But when you work for yourself, there is no boss. There’s no one to catch you out. So why not take the first couple of hours of the day to make some calls? Answer some e-mails? Run some errands? Clean the house?

But you can’t do that. Because here’s a stunner for you: you DO have a day job.

It’s writing books.

You may not have a meddling boss, or a company lunch room, or faculty meetings, or, Seuss preserve us, a bi-weekly paycheck, but you do still have a full-time job. That’s what you have to realize about quitting your “real” job to stay home and write. If you want to be successful, if you want to make money at this (at least some portion of that salary you gave up), you have to work at it just as much as—if not more than—you worked at that soul-crushing cubicle job. You can’t afford to spend half your day knocking things off your “To Do” list. Not unless that list looks like this:

Brainstorm novel
Outline novel
Write novel
Revise novel
Submit novel

I still fall into the trap of just doing one or two things off my list before I get started writing—and then I look up and it’s noon. And I still catch myself telling people I don’t have a day job, nine years and five books later. “You need somebody to come over tomorrow and help knock that wall down? Sure I’ll do it! I don’t have a day job!” But I do. Every hour I’m not writing is an hour I’m not doing my job.

It’s easy to say, “Goodbye, day job!” What’s hard to remember is to say, “Hello, new day job!”

Alan’s first novel, Samurai Shortstop, was named one of the ALA’s 2007 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults. His teen mystery Something Rotten was a 2008 ALA Quick Pick for Young Adult Readers, and a sequel, Something Wicked, hit shelves in October 2008. His first true middle-grade novel, The Brooklyn Nine, was among Booklist’s 2009 Top Ten Sports Books and Top Ten Historical Books for Youth, and was followed in 2011 by the fantasy/sports mash-up Fantasy Baseball. A Knoxville, Tennessee native, Alan is now a full-time writer living in Western North Carolina with his wife and daughter. Look for him online.


  1. GREAT post Alan! And I love the hat... :) e

  2. Thanks! Wendi made the hat for me, of course. :-)