Okay – I Quit.

MikeachimThe Everyday53 Comments

I’ve decided this isn’t working out.

So – I quit.

Let’s talk about why.

Two Things They Don’t Tell You About Improving As A Writer

1. It never gets easier.

In fact, it gets more difficult. Luckily, it’s the kind of “difficult” that makes something deep within you roll up its sleeves and shout “YES! Let’s do this!” But it is never, ever easier. The reason is that while you master things you initially found hard, that process of mastering those things leads to the awareness of how you still suck at doing at least 2 other things. As time goes on, the number of things you want to know about grows, and the proportion of things you know vs. things you want to know…well, that slides in a really alarming direction. And this means you’re more demanding of yourself – more self-critical.

This is why the older the writer is, the crankier they get.

2. You probably won’t get any faster.

If your time is limited and you’re trying to tuck your dream job in behind a day at a cash till, your biggest enemy is time and its fickle sibling, energy. Sometimes you’ll have the time and you’ll be too pooped to do anything. Sometimes you’ll be raring to go, but a day at the office awaits. It’s a mess. You hack through it. For a while.

Oh, stop stop stop.

Let’s stop with the sweeping generalisations. Because this isn’t about all writers (for how would I know?) – this is about me.

I’ve been a part-time freelance writer, taxed and stamped, since 2009. I’ve written here, I’ve written there. You might have seen me at Mashable a few months ago. I snuck into the San Francisco Chronicle a while back. I’ve peppered numerous websites with my writing, and I’ve written a few things in here that have been popular enough on social media to force me to change web hosting packages. If you’ve followed my exploits online, you might have an idea of me as the archetypal English Web Writer – tweed mousemat, deerstalker hoodie, Windows desktop photo of the Queen, etc. And you might imagine me tapping away every day, living a carefree, semi-scholarly life.

Here’s one clue that this is a wobbling heap of giblets: the hours you see me online.

Sometimes, like last night, I stay up all night. When I was working for one particular website, I did this once a week. It was the only way I could get the work done, because I was working a full week in my dayjob. Both my writing, and my dayjob, suffered. When the dayjob decided not to renew my 6-month temping contract, citing reasons like “some mornings you could walk into a George A. Romero film and not require makeup” and “are you aware you actually speak in Wingdings?”, well, once the embarrassment and shame wore off…no, wait, they never have. Still makes me cringe. That website I was writing for? I quit writing for them, and a few months later I still burnt out. That was not a fun time.

Since then, I’ve worked part-time in York, across the city at the University. It hasn’t paid a great deal, but it’s allowed me to scrape by. I did this in the hope that I’d build up enough capital to nail my debts and allow me to travel, and I’d do that by building up my writing work. When? In the mornings, and evenings, and weekends. Whenever. The important thing, though, was the Rule That All Writers Should Obey:

Don’t Give Up Your Day Job.

This is a smart rule, on the whole. Let’s not poke holes here – it’s how you’re going to pay your bills. It’s how you’re going to  make ends meet. Because you need to do that first, before engaging in any legacy work, personal development, wild flights of fancy into the magical pink sparkly realm of What If. You need to be practical. Especially if you have dependents, be they people, property, debts, pets…

I’m single, unpropertied and petless – but I do have personal debts. Let’s skip over my student loan debts for a second, they’re too scary. The debts that concern me are credit card overdrafts, and while they’re not monstrous, they’re persistent. They drain my income every month. They are some of the ends I need to meet – added to which there’s food, rent, utility bills, my subscription to Spearmint Rhino (note to self: edit this out, TMI dude). Put them together and get a figure. And my dayjob has just about cleared that figure, every month, for the last 18 months. Just about.

What it hasn’t done is allowed me to write much.

You know – that thing that actual writers do.

So, there I was at Christmas, with time to think. I’d just got lucky – securing a regular writing gig for a few months, and winning a runner-up prize in the Amadeus Bolder, Brighter, Better competition. Then the Inland Revenue gave me a tax rebate. I suddenly had some cash to play with. Was it enough to pay my debts? Not by a long shot. And as a sorta-kinda travel blogger, I should be using it to travel. Right?

But I was exhausted.

Then – this happened. My body was saying “look, are you some kind of idiot? You can’t do this any longer. WAKE UP”.  And this time, I listened.

So, I decided to quit.

Firstly, I quit my dayjob. I told them a few weeks ago, and I leave there at the end of March.

Then I quit my rented accomodation. I told my landlords just last week. It’s official. I’m moving out, and leaving York, mid-April.

When I’m in the UK, I’m using my Mum’s house as a base of operations, over on the east coast of Yorkshire – but I intend to be on the move as much as my finances will allow, including trips to Germany, Jordan and hopefully Greece, and also to Italy, where I’m attending TBU Umbria and speaking on the importance of storytelling. (Expect lots of hand-waving. I get hand-wavey on this topic).

How is it all going to work, financially? I’m uncertain. But here’s the thing: that matters a lot less to me these days than it used to. A lot less. Because a far worse thing than uncertainty….is the certainty that you’re not getting anywhere. The rock-solid certainty of merely existing. But this way, I give myself an extra 35 hours a week to invest into my writing projects, to build that income in a way my dayjob would never allow – and thanks to a really great longterm employer, I currently have work to pay my bills (which will also be slashed by a third by moving away from York). No idea how long that will go on for, but it’s a little leeway while I get established.

I can do a lot with 35 hours a week. Just you watch.

Hello. My name’s Mike. And from April, I’m a full-time freelance writer.

(Oh, and I’m also for hire. Say hi).

Image: beatplusmelody and wwarby.

  • Eva

    CONGRATS!!! I’m so excited for you. Can’t wait to see what you can do with that 35 hours per week…

    • Mikeachim

      34 hours of sustained panicking and existential doubt, then an hour of furious, self-recriminating genius. That’s how proper fulltime writers work, isn’t it? It had better be, because that’s my plan, dammit.

  • Well, this is exciting. I think you noted something very important. Those with dependents usually need that day job, but if you aren’t tied down by those obligations, then it’s time to get out and do what you have been wishing for. Best of luck. I wish I could be there in Umbria for your presentation and hand-waving, which I’m also terribly guilty of.

    • Mikeachim

      As Charlie Brooker says, hand gestures are the way to deliver facts

      Yep, we all work within the frameworks of different obligations. But sometimes, obligations can maybe be more illusory than expected – in my experience at least, since I now think my obligation to myself to keep a regular wage coming in by sticking at my dayjob was holding me back from making more money by quitting it and working on my career. Only one way to find out if that’s wishful thinking or not – hence the quitting….

      Hope we can bump into each other somewhere, sometime this year. :)

      • Yes and yes about obligations. And thanks for the link to more hand-waving. I’m off to check it out right now. :-)

  • Am I allowed to squee? I’m, sorry, but I’m going to *have* to squee. All over your nice new blog. (Sorry.)

    • Mikeachim

      Please do. I operate a Squee Freely policy in this blog.

      I also reserve the right to squee back at you, when your writing hits its next Significant Milestone. Because you’re on that, yeah?

  • Wow. This is bold, and inspiring, and scary, and wonderful. I would like to do this, but I am not ready. Yet.

    Also: “Because a far worse thing than uncertainty….is the certainty that you’re not getting anywhere.” What a line.

    • Mikeachim

      Thanks, Cheri. :)

      I’ve been reading a lot of Jonathan Fields recently (this guy) and I think it’s sinking in. Because uncertainty is mixed up with potential, with possibility. It’s the same thing, rebranded in a way designed to make us nervous – rebranded by ourselves, rebranded by others who would benefit from us not exploring that uncertainty. It sounds like one of those pat feelgood generalisms that go viral on Twitter, but really…I’m starting to feel like I’ve been bearing an irrational grudge against something that could turn out to be my best friend.

      Someone else said “luck is made” – a boiled down version of “opportunities drop in your lap only if you put your lap where opportunities drop”. That’s been bouncing round inside me, too. The idea that you can make yourself luckier. I think there’s something in that, frankly.

      • Hah. I was just about to recommend Jonathan Fields to you. I was also going to send you a big ranty rant about how important it is never to have a day job if you want to be an artist, but you worked that out yourself.

        Any clues about how to make the Kierkegaardian Leap at the age of almost 40 with three small children would be most appreciated. I take Photos. And write Poetry, but lets face it NO-ONE makes money from poetry :) I stayed too long in the day job and now face the prospect of hurling my children into the abyss with me…

        Good Luck with your Leap. Enjoy Umbria for me. Drink wine. Wave your hands. Sit in the sunshine. Maybe take a side trip to Portofino….

  • Pam

    I quit a series of day jobs and I was never sorry, see, you can always get a crappy day job. Well, most always, there ARE some bad economies here and there. Every time I quit a day job, I remembered, oh, yeah, I was going to travel/write/paint/some other crazy ass thing and did I mention, I’ve never been sorry.

    But it took — takes — repeated readjustments and shuffling and figuring it out. I mostly have it, most days, but not always. It’s tricky when you like food AND writing and your career shows the effect of choosing the writing, first.

    But it’s doable, it’s totally doable. And maybe you don’t have nice wine glasses or matching kitchen chairs. Whatever. You have hand waving over story telling instead, and that’s something you only lose when you let it go.

    • Mikeachim

      It’s doable.

      I’m not going to start fawning and sticking you on a pedestal here. You’d only throw cake at me. But you are a good example of how doable it is.

      And practicalities are necessary (it’s really hard to work on your latest Big Project when you starved to death the previous year). But I reckon they make a really, *really* poor compass.

  • Caitlin

    Congratulations and good luck!

    • Mikeachim

      Thanks, Caitlin!

  • I’m in the same boat. I sold nearly all of my personal belongings and my house just 2 weeks ago. The uncertainty is sometimes crippling but we gotta keep going.

    Congratulations and best of luck! I look forward to hearing how it continues to unfold.

    • Mikeachim

      Congratulations, Christina. Sounds like you’re on a mission (I’ve just read your post on the subject). I applaud it, and you. :)

      So, what’s next? What’s your plan?

  • Abi

    Bonne chance!

    • Mikeachim

      Merci!

      [Inner voice] Merdemerdemerdemerde…

  • Hello Mike, full-time freelance writer. Wishing you the best of luck in your journey.

    Sign me, Nancy, full-time mortgage holder. full-time writer of tuition checks to UC Berkeley for full-time student/daughter and part-time travel writer.

  • Ah finally! Done with the wailing and gnashing of teeth (well, maybe not the wailing). And about damned time, I say. Your talent was going to waste in that day job and that’s just not allowed. You won’t forget me when you’re famous, will you?

  • Congrats Mike! Looking forward to seeing what you get up to and happy you’ve decided to specialize in horses.

  • YAY MIKE CONGRATS. Now that the shouting is over. Truly, well done and I can’t wait to see what sort of shenanigans you can get up to with more writing time on your hands :)

  • Rich P

    Good for you sir!

  • I came here to congratulate you and wish you excellent travels, but instead I’m distracted. What’s with all the LADIES commenting here, Mike? I’m sure some dudes out there approve of your decision (scary as is it) too. Interesting, how your post attracted the Two X chromosomes buddy.

  • Woo hoo! If anyone can make a go of this, it’s surely you. I’m eager to read the continuing exploits!

  • Andy Hayes

    Squee!!!!

  • I don’t know if you can hear me from all the way across my country and the ocean and part of your country, but I’m applauding. Loudly. And cheering. If I could whistle, y’know like people do with their fingers in their teeth, I’d do that, too.

    Bravo, sir. I can’t wait to see what you do with those 35 hours a week. :)

  • By way of Jessica at your blog. Just wrote a post on mine yesterday about taking the leap without a safety net. This must be what they call synchronicity. I applaud you for the courage to follow your passion. The bigger the risk, the greater the reward!!

  • Mike, welcome to misery and poverty! We are a cheerful club who darn socks to avoid buying new ones and reuse plastic bags as floor mats.

    Seriously, congratulations!!!!!! You can now reach the full potential I always knew was lurking inside you.

    I’ll be hobbling to Europe this summer, dare we meet?

  • Congrats & good luck! Looking forward to seeing you at TBU in Umbria.

  • Hooray! I like you so much more as a quitter!

  • Soooooo exciting!!!!!

  • good things will come! i know it – you’re overflowing with talent and drive. :) yippee!

  • Best of luck to you. I recently moved abroad and have been making my way around Central America. It is really reassuring when tourists tell me how much they envy my endeavor. I think that you get to now enjoy life’s freedom of making yourself happy. As for luck falling in your lap, sure sometimes people get lucky, other times people make lemons out of lemonade…personally I think the latter shows more potential. :)

  • this just makes me full on giggle in excitement for you: “Hello. My name’s Mike. And from April, I’m a full-time freelance writer.”

    well. done. you.

    and even though it will not always be easy, it will also be the good kind of hard! yes, there is such a thing :)

  • 0r1

    That’s great Mike, congratulations. A big step towards the accomplishment of your dream-job and dream-lifestyle, more good writing for all of us to enjoy.

    It might seem that keeping a day-job is the sensible thing to do, but really the only sensible thing to do is to follow your heart and put all your time and efforts in what you really love doing. Merely existing would be such a waste.

    Best of luck and… don’t you worry about the hand-waving, that’s what you’re supposed to do in Italy ;)

  • This is an exciting and (I’m sure) also intimidating step for you to take. All the best!

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  • Ahh! I was so excited reading this! What an inspirational post – I hope I quit it all one day, but for now I’m alright as I am :). Good luck with it all and have fun!

  • Gutsy move. Hope it proves to be a wise one.

  • Wait … rewind. I’m going to get even CRANKIER?

    Congrats on the big leap! From someone who quit her day job to write about 2, 3, 4 years ago (I can’t remember anymore), I’ll give you two tips:

    1. Wine silences the inner-cranky bitch. Develop a drinking problem. *NEWLY ADDED* Increase drinking over time as cranky bitch becomes more persistent.

    2. Write letters to your family and friends NOW while you’re still vivid and aware: Dear family and friends, I’m about to permanently disappear into my own imagination and neurosis. I love you, and goodbye.

  • Congratulations!! This absolutely warms my heart! Super excited for you and looking forward to your new path. Made the same transition in 2009 and could’nt be more grateful. Wishing you the very best.

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  • I just did the same thing, only instead of writing full time (did that already, many years ago), I’m starting my own trip company. I feel equally insane, but so far, so good. Hang in there, take a deep breath, and know that nervous breakdowns are just part of the process.

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  • Oh maaaannnn!!!

    Congratulations!

    My personal favorite line of yours in this blog post?

    “Because a far worse thing than uncertainty….is the certainty that you’re not getting anywhere.”

    Thank you for your honesty. Super inspirational. Keep it going and don’t let anyone stop you!

    Cathy Trails

  • Hooray! I’m completely with you there. A bit of uncertainty can be a really good thing. I quit my job in London to write and travel a few years back, and it was the best decision of my life. I’m from Scarborough originally, so looks like we are from the same neck of the woods!

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  • meethu`

    Now THAT is inspiration :)

  • You are super brave! I did it several years ago and until now I hear from almost everyone it is a mistake! People can hardly imagine you can chose some other way in life!