Six years ago I did what they tell you never to do. I quit my day job to pursue a dream.
The recession was in full swing. I had the barest beginnings of a novel, with no great vision other than that I wanted to write one. Ending a decades-long career in journalism and public-relations to try my hand at fiction required a crazy leap of faith. And it was the right decision.
I never would have finished The Leaving Year without that singular focus. Some writers can tap out their debut novels in stolen hours here and there. Karen Thompson Walker, a former book editor at Simon & Schuster, wrote The Age of Miracles in the mornings and during subway rides to work. That’s not me.
While I was able to write short stories around my day job, I couldn’t seem to make any headway on my first novel — maybe because I had no idea how to write a novel. I didn’t know about outlining or story structure or character arcs or what writing process would serve me best. Writing a novel was a vast undiscovered land, and exploring it required long, uninterrupted stretches of time. I’m talking years, not hours.
Thank you, Mark Funk, my hard-working, self-employed husband, for giving me that luxury of time. He paid the bills while I spent five years writing, researching, editing, rewriting, getting help, querying, building a platform, getting more help . . . and basically trial-and-erroring myself through the single hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Now that book is in the publishing pipeline (stay tuned), and I’ve started another, this time with some insight into what’s involved, insight that will hopefully make me more efficient.
(I look back on all the time wasted writing and rewriting my first paragraph and shudder. Truth be told, you lose respect for time when you have seemingly unlimited amounts of it. You lose respect, but you also feel guilty, particularly when someone else is picking up the tab.)
Mark was and continues to be supportive, but after five years, even he was growing weary of being the sole breadwinner. And I hated asking him for money every month to cover my credit-card bill (even though it was mostly for groceries). I wanted to help our household’s bottom line and contribute to the cost of my book.
Plus, I was craving more social stimulation. My life had started to feel too insular, which is great if you’re writing about hermits or castaways, not so great if you’re writing about humans in all their quirky complexities.
The time had come to get an outside, paying job, something part-time and not too awfully stressful that would allow me to continue to focus on my writing.
I admit I was more than a little afraid to get back out there. My fear of job interviews is second only to my fear of public speaking (read my last post), but I must have been feeling brave that day I asked about a “We’re Hiring!” sign I saw while shopping at my neighborhood drug store.
I happen to love this store, so the idea of working for the company appealed to me. I got home and immediately filled out the online application to be a cashier/clerk. Literally seconds after I clicked “submit” I got a call to come in for an interview. (For the record, I got through the interview just fine.)
I didn’t expect my new job to be that challenging even though my retail experience was more than 30 years old. I’d worked at the University of Washington Book Store while a student.
Hello! My first day of training — on-the-job with real live customers — left me three pounds lighter and brain-drained by all the stuff I had to process, including:
- Routine cash, credit and debit sales
- Personal checks
- Coupons and sales
- Gift card purchases
- IDs for cigarettes and alcohol
- Store codes
- Photo orders
- Answering the phone
- Greeting customers
Once I started at my assigned store, I also had to learn how to stock and “face” shelves, which is more complicated than it sounds. Any there’s many more tasks that they haven’t had me do just yet.
Suffice to say, my head’s been too full to get much writing done, but I hope that will change once I get over the learning curve. I like my bosses and co-workers. And the customers have been great, by and large. Some have already given me material for future stories.
My favorite so far is the young man, complaining of a birthday hangover, who bought a bottle of milk and a pain-reliever, opened both at my counter, asked me what dose to take, and then proceeded to wash the pills down with his drink. He left, leaving the box the pills came in as well as his receipt and 3 cents in change.
Yep, no shortage of inspiration here.
What about you? Have you ever quit your day job? Or re-entered the workforce after an absence? Please comment below. I’d love to hear from you!