Make Writing Your Main Priority, Even if it’s Not Your Main Job

The struggle to make money writing is real, but so is the payoff.

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

Janitor, car cleaner, shoe salesman, bingo runner, page — these are just some of the odd jobs I held while building my writing career. None of these jobs paid more than $10/hr, but they were exactly the jobs I needed to get my writing career to where it is today.

I say these jobs were exactly what I needed at the time for a couple of reasons:

  1. Time — these were all shift jobs, meaning I didn’t work every day and didn’t usually work more than eight hours in a single day. That gave me the time I needed to write blog posts, meet with clients to discuss writing projects, and work on what was then my first manuscript.
  2. Stress — or I should say lack of stress. These weren’t career jobs. I wasn’t looking to move up the ladder in any of these organizations. That meant once work was over it was over. I didn’t carry any of it home with me which left my mind free to create the best work possible.

Don’t underestimate how important it is for your mind and your energy to be right. Writing isn’t an easy thing to do. Especially with so many other writers looking to make their mark, you need to differentiate yourself. One way to do that is quality. You have to be better, and that takes practice.

A Full-Time Job Is No Excuse

I remember when my first book came out and I was booking readings at different high schools across the city. I was on a contract that had me in an office for two months which obviously conflicted with being able to read at these schools during the day. But that didn’t stop me.

I borrowed my mom’s car on days I knew I had readings. Then I’d take my “lunch break” at whatever time my reading was scheduled for. I’d drive to the school (which was never close by), do the reading, drive back to work (never on time) and sit back at my desk like I wasn’t just gone for two hours.

Was it the smartest thing to do? Probably not. But I always put my writing first. Always. It’s a difficult but necessary sacrifice I knew I had to make if I wanted to build my writing career. No work was more important, and so I gave my energy to the work that was. Again, pointing your energy in the right direction matters, especially when you’re just starting out.

Even if you have a full-time job right now that has nothing to do with writing, it’s important to continue working on your craft. Take courses, read books (a lot of them), find your voice. Find time during your day to make that happen.

It Won’t Always Be Easy

The amount you’re willing to sacrifice will determine the amount you’ll eventually gain. It’s like this mystical formula that’s not so mystical once you think about it. But mystical or not, it won’t be easy. Not always. It wasn’t for me.

I’m assuming you’ve read at least a few of my blog posts. You know I was a teenage parent and so my responsibilities were heavy very early on in my life. Money was always an issue. I lived in a one bedroom apartment with my girlfriend so rent was an issue. We struggled, and even though I was a university graduate who could’ve applied and likely secured a number of higher paying jobs, I made writing my priority. That was my sacrifice.

That meant no big Christmas presents for my daughter or none at all for anyone else. It meant rarely ever eating out and a lot of time spent at home watching movies. It meant saying no to my friends a lot even when I really wanted to say yes. But I couldn’t. Not if I wanted to succeed at writing as badly as I said I did. My actions had to reflect my intentions. I discovered that truth very early on.

I’m telling you this because I’d never ask you to do something I haven’t done myself. I’ve been through it. Trust me. It wasn’t easy enduring all the ridicule I received from my daughter’s mother or the concern from my own mother. It was hard being in my early and mid-twenties and not partying it up every weekend. But I had a goal of making a living as a writer and anything not in line with that goal I considered a distraction.

Bet On Yourself

I bet on me. I tell myself this all the time. I bet on myself that all of the sacrifices will eventually pay off. I bet that I’ll be able to achieve the kind of career and lifestyle I want if I remain consistent in my beliefs and practices. Is it a gamble? Yes it is, that’s why I refer to it as a bet. But if there’s someone I’ll be willing to bet can get this done, there’s no one else I’d rather put my money on than me. You should have the same confidence.

Because really, what’s failure? I love writing. All the time I spent on my laptop searching for the right set of words, the time I spent writing my novels or in an editing class or the time I’m about to spend in this graduate course that’s just started, all of it is worth it. Even if it doesn’t amount to me being the most well-known writer in the world, I’ve genuinely enjoyed every moment of the journey that I’ve spent creating content and making myself a better writer. There’s no failure in that, only lessons.