Don’t quit your day job, stupid!

I was lurking at a different author’s blog recently when I found myself becoming profoundly angry. Not because the author’s politics pissed me off — though this does happen a lot — but because the author was whining about how they couldn’t seem to get any grants, now that they’d “committed” to their writing full-time, and suddenly all the bills were due and there was no money to pay them.

Let me just say that if you’re a writer of any description, and you have a spouse and/or children and/or others who depend on you to win bread for the household, it’s near-criminal for you to toss your day job in the toilet before they’re ready. Notice I said before they are ready. Because when you personally think you’re ready is never as important as whether or not the household is, in fact, financially well-off enough for you to gamble the household’s well-being on your freelance ambitions.

Now, the author in question is single — so far as I know — with no children, so you might be saying, hey Brad, how a single person decides to throw their life in the toilet is their business. And you’d be right. What got me was how this person complained about being unable to get grants, and how this person felt severely cheated because somehow they’d come to believe that there was all this government money laying around, just waiting for fledgling authors to swoop in and snatch it up.

Can I just say right now that I don’t think it’s the job of government to be giving tax dollars — money earned by us middle class folk, the people who pay more taxes than any other income bracket — to artists who can’t afford to do their art on their own dime?

If the author in question had simply complained about how tough it was to survive sans day job, with no mention of grants, I’d not have batted an eyelash. But the author in question was seriously upset that getting grants was difficult, that this money wasn’t falling out of the sky on this person’s head, and somehow this amounted to yet another “injustice” against this person by a cruel and imbalanced society.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this author can shove it up their whining, entitled ass.

Very few Americans love their day jobs, author or no. Left to our own devices, I think most of us would do about a hundred other things, every day, besides showing up at work. Work is tedious, boring, often offers little in the way of emotional reward, and very many times we wind up working around or for people we’d rather not have to deal with, even outside of work. The day job leaves many of us in tears, and just about everyone daydreams of that magical future time when, through accident or design, they can quit the day job and spend their time doing what they really enjoy.

So I am not faulting any writer or author for desiring to escape day work. Not even the author I am citing here.

I am going to fault this author — and feel perfectly justified doing it — if this author thinks they are owed tax money so that they can escape their shitty day job, and do it on my dime, well before their actual professional artistic income justifies their quitting. Because that’s just bullshit. Nobody owes this person — nobody owes any artist anything — without their first having produced a product which someone is willing to buy.

Harsh on my part, I know, but I’m kinda sick of the whole entitled and tortured artiste thing right now. There is nothing about being an artist — of any description — which says that we, as creative people, are somehow immune from the realities of the world. Our bills have to get paid just like everyone else’s bills. Those bills ought to be paid from the fruits of our own effort, not from hand-outs taken from a public cash pool towards which all of us are forced to contribute. If you can get a private grant from a private organization which does not rely on taxes, then OK, good for you, and I hope you make the most of it.

But if you can’t get private grants, and you can’t survive on your own creative merit, then how the hell do you get off being angry or feeling like an injustice has been done? Nobody told you to quit your job. You did that of your own free will, and you ought to not be surprised — in this economy especially — when things get rough. My suggestion would be to get a damn job and shut up. Imagine if all of us who are less-than-thrilled with our day work just up and quit, then cried about how the government wasn’t throwing checks in our mailboxes, because, you know, we’re just so freakin’ speshul, like we deserve it.

Again, profoundly angry.

It reminded me of a how I felt after seeing a TV news piece from a few years back, covering a Midwestern family who had been picked up from their comfortable Midwest existence, and dropped into the meatgrinder of New York City because the dad had nursed this Big Dream of being some kind of stage or broadway star, and as he’d entered his midlife crisis, decided it was time for him to just throw everything to the wind and pursue his Big Dream.

I don’t fault the father for having a Big Dream. Not one damned bit.

I do fault him for having the nerve to think that he was entitled to basically destroy the lives of his wife and several children, all for the sake of his creative and artistic ambitions.

And no, I don’t give the mother a pass, either. My wife and I agreed that the first response of the mom — upon learning of her husband’s Big Plan — should have been to say, “OK honey, you go do that! The kids and I will stay here in the house while the lawyer serves you with divorce papers. Have fun paying for us with your sparkling new stage career.”

She didn’t. She went with him, as did the kids, and it was evident that most everyone was miserable to one degree or another. The father had forced several of the children into the entertainment business too — so that, you know, they could help pay the astronomical rent on their tiny little New York apartment because, you know, his plan to become this big star was hitting some laughably predictable road blocks.

Again, if you want to be crazy and throw your life down a toilet, do it on your own time. On your own dime. That’s what having individual liberty is all about.

But you can go to hell if you think you’re entitled to take other people down with you — especially family — or if you think taxpayers owe you anything in the way of a free paycheck.

Please, don’t quit your day job. Because it might not just be you who has to “pay” for that mistake, if you quit too soon. Which most writers tend to do, sadly, because as John Scalzi recently pointed out, most of us — writers, that is — are horrible with our money and are prone to making terrible personal financial decisions.

I’d gladly argue that no writer — who has a spouse and children and is the primary financial component in their home — ought to quit the day job before a) the mortgage has been totally paid off, and b) there is the equivalent of the full mortgage in the bank, as cushion.

Single writers also ought to not quit the day job until they’ve paid off all their debt and have a significant reserve in savings. Because if you’re not financially stable and protected before you go freelance, it’s highly, highly unlikely that you’ll magically become financially stable and protected after you go freelance. The odds are tremendously in your disfavor, in this regard. And no, it’s not someone else’s job to pay your bills or bail you out if you decide to freelance before you’re financially prepared to do so.

OK, soap box session over. Just felt it was worth saying.

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2 thoughts on “Don’t quit your day job, stupid!

  1. Thank you for your blog. I understood your submission section best of all the sites I have seen. I appreciate your take on being financial sound before embarking on the road to financial ruin. It makes a simple kind of sense that most of us artists might tend to ignore.

    If you don’t mind sharing, since you seem to be pretty busy in your day job, how much time do you find per day/week to write? I like hearing how long writers work at it – I once read that Piers Anthony tried to write 10K words a day (!).

    Thanks for your website and the advice. You do us newbies a great service.

  2. In an ideal day, I can do about 2,500 words of fiction. That’s assuming I don’t lose my discipline and spend free time surfing blogs and doing other internet stuff that is related to writing without actually being writing. That’s a big danger for me always, and I think a lot of writers who are trying to write while also having a full-time job and full-time responsibility at home can fall into that trap: surfing about writing, without actually writing. Still feels productive, and is way easier than actually doing fresh prose. This week I set for myself a 15,000 word goal — between all my writing projects. That’s pretty ambitious, but with time use discipline, it can be done. Christopher, good luck with your own work — and I am glad you found the blog useful!

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