Maintaining your emotional and mental health when you switch to writing full time may become more of a challenge than you expect. I assumed I'd be far happier writing full time than when I worked full time at other jobs, and overall that's so.
But unexpected issues cropped up.
Spending most of your work life writing almost always means spending a lot of time alone.
If you're used to working a day job with other people around, this change can be difficult even if, like me, you're an introvert. Granted, I'm an introvert who also likes public speaking and interacting with others, but I need a fair amount of alone/quiet time to recharge after doing either.
When I worked 40-60 hours a week as a lawyer, one of the aspects I didn't like was that I constantly had to be “on.”
Despite that much of my practice involved writing legal briefs to file in court, it was rare to have more than 15 minutes when I didn't need to answer client inquiries, make presentations, question witnesses, or debate points in person or by phone. I figured switching to writing for hours at a time would be nothing but wonderful.
And in some ways, yes, it is. I'm far more relaxed than when I worked so many hours in law. In ways I didn't expect, though, I miss interacting with people.
Some things to consider before you make the switch, especially if you plan to write from home most of the time:
- When you stop for a glass of water or cup of coffee, you may miss the chance to say hello to someone else or talk about the weather or traffic.
Those mundane interactions are low stress and add a little variety to a day.
- Even if you like being alone, you may feel a bit blue if you spend full days without talking to anyone in person.
Most of us need some amount of interaction for balance.
- If you aren't talking to anyone else, it's easier to get stuck in unproductive loops of thought.
For instance, if you're stuck on a scene or you're upset about a bad review and you work somewhere with other people, they can help you take your mind off it for a while. Someone else's joke or story about the trip to work might distract you long enough to give your conscious mind a break and let your unconscious solve your issue or put it into perspective.
- You may find fewer ideas for your fiction or non-fiction.
Interacting with other people gives us things to write about that are outside our own experience. It also can prompt us to research topics that wouldn't otherwise have occurred to us, revamp our dialogue, or add to a character's backstory.
How you address these concerns will vary depending on your circumstances and your needs. Here are a few things I've found helpful:
- Writing one or more times a week in a local coffeeshop or library
- Choosing options that require interacting with people rather than automation, such as depositing checks in person at the bank rather than via ATM or buying vitamins at the local pharmacy rather than online
- Contacting 1 or 2 people per week to meet with the next week for coffee, a drink, or a meal
- If meeting people in person is difficult, scheduling telephone calls (or video calls) rather than relying only on text and email. Hearing someone else's voice can make a huge difference in how connected you feel.
Depending upon what you do now for a living and how much income you need from your writing, you may be on a tighter budget if you write full time.
In 6 Things To Figure Out Before You Start Writing Full time (Part 1 – Income) I addressed the practical sides of this issue, including creating a spending plan, tracking your money, and planning for the future.
But money also is emotional.
In a literal sense, it's nothing more than a medium of exchange. I earn X amount doing whatever it is I do and I trade with you for money you earned doing whatever it is you do.
But for many of us it symbolizes one or more of these things:
- safety and security
- love (for example, if we equate giving or receiving gifts with love)
- moral goodness
If you've made a choice to write and that choice includes changing your standard of living or watching your money more carefully, give a little thought in advance to what money means to you.
For instance, if earning a lot makes you feel successful, and you may earn less for a while, you may want to think about what else equals success for you.
It could be having more control over your work schedule, being your own boss, or devoting your hours to something you love. If you have all of those alternates in mind, you can remind yourself of them if you start feeling you're not successful if you don't match your previous income.
A New Type Of Fun
The most unexpected side effect of writing full time for me was needing to find other things to do for fun.
When I worked a ton of hours at other jobs, writing was like my vacation. In fact, my favorite thing on vacation was to spend hours of uninterrupted time a day writing. (Read more on planning writing vacations here.)
When I began spending most of my days writing, I still enjoyed it, but after dinner I'd think, okay, what do I do now if I want to relax by myself? I still did the same things out with friends or family, but my wind down quiet time now seemed empty.
After a while I rediscovered how much I love reading for an hour at a time. I haven't been able to do that for decades, since before I went to law school. I also love reading at a Starbucks or in a park, something else I had little time for when I worked 40-60 hours at law and wrote on the side.
I've also start watching more movies again.
None of these activities probably surprised to you. But I pretty much forgot about them when I couldn't fit them in for so many years. I love enjoying them again, but it took me a few months to “remember” what I enjoyed.
Consider making your own list of everything you want to do and never have time for before you switch to full time writing.
That's all for today.
Until next Friday, when I'll talk more about choosing where to write—
P.S. If you write full time, what are some of the issues you've run into and how have you solved them?