Friday, June 11, 2010

No Visible Means of Support: Guest blog from author Susanne Dunlap

One of the things that always strikes me is how most writers have to do other things besides write to pay the bills. It's a juggling act none of us are expert at. Recently, my friend and colleague, Susanne Dunlap (Anastasia's Secret) quit her job and I'm thrilled she's writing about the experience here.

I did it. About three weeks ago, I left my day job to enter the uncertain world of freelance writing and editing. Do I have a cushion of savings, you ask? No. A spouse who is wealthy and can help me make the transition? No. Limited financial responsibilities so I can pare down and live the simple life while I pursue my dream? If only!

So what possessed me to take such a rash, ill-advised step? Let me try to explain.

First, the day job was becoming increasingly untenable. Since the Internet is a public forum I’m not going to give you the details here, but trust me: it was time for me to leave. Then, I got my first-ever two-book contract. Not just a contract with an option book, but a real, two-book contract (thank you, Bloomsbury!). It wasn’t a huge, life-changing deal, but it meant I had the guarantee of some money coming in. About enough to keep me alive for two months in the short term, with more later.

Two months, and I’m almost halfway through the first of them. That’s two months to figure out how to replace my former income—or most of it, anyway—with projects that will give me the time I need to push my writing career to the next level.

Now you might well ask me how it’s going. It’s amazing. Incredible. Outstanding. Terrifying. And I’m learning a lot about myself and work.

I’ve learned, for instance, that I still need to set my alarm in the morning. I’m a sleeper. That’s my escape. Plus, the alarm going off at 7:30 (that’s enough of a luxury) puts a definite start to the day and reminds me that even though I’m not going to an office, I’m still working.

And I make certain I’m at my computer taking care of the mundane tasks—checking email, Facebook etc.—by 8:30. My goal is to be writing by 9.

I’ve also learned that being at home a lot of the time doesn’t mean my apartment is any cleaner or more organized than it was when I had my full-time job. Dishes pile up in the sink just as quickly—actually more so because I’m eating three meals at home.

As to spending a lot of time in my own company—that’s oddly the easiest part for me. Although I’m a social being, love getting together with friends and colleagues, I don’t get lonely. Perhaps that’s partly because of Betty, my wonderful Coton de Tulear (fancy name for fluffy white lapdog), who demands a certain amount of attention at regular intervals throughout the day.

But here’s the strangest thing: I’ve noticed a curious, turnabout effect in being a full-time writer. On some level, I miss being able to amaze people with my productivity, miss hearing those exclamations of “I don’t know how you do it!” What’s that about? I’m curious whether male writers ever have the same thoughts. Is this one of those “superwoman” myths that my generation grew up with, the idea that you are not only free to but you must juggle work, family, love, recreation, and vocation as easily as if you were serving hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail party? I guess it’s me feeling guilty. I don’t deserve this kind of life. Just because I’ve had four books published and two more on the way doesn’t mean I’ve earned the right to spend the bulk of my productive hours writing. How pathetic is that!

Perhaps the most remarkable thing I’ve learned in my new life of writerly freedom is that there are never, ever enough hours in a day. Now, instead of a day job, I have editing and coaching clients. I love doing that, but it takes up a lot of time and energy. As does the work to get more editing and coaching clients (if you’re interested, by the way, email me at Oh, and I’m supposed to be constructing an online course in writing historical fiction, and I haven’t even started that one. Plus, I’m building two Web sites for local businesses, and finding that takes up a lot of time too. In addition, I’m getting involved in a friend’s business, a very exciting opportunity that attracts my commercial instincts and keeps me in touch with that world.

I know, poor me! Seriously. If I can make this work financially, I will feel as if I have died and gone to heaven. Make no mistake: despite everything I’ve said here, it really is an amazing feeling to know that I am in charge of structuring my day. It’s hard work too. There’s no excuse for doing nothing at any moment. Sometimes I don’t effectively prioritize what I have to accomplish in a day. And I can’t blame anyone but myself.

So wish me luck. Envy me if you must. And please take one thing away from this post: life is short. The time to live it is today.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to work!


Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Oh Susanne, what a wonderful post. I left my day job over six years ago (with no published books to my name then) to do the exact same thing and have never looked back or regretted my choice.

Since my son was born 2 years ago I've had to redefine how I do it all...

Unknown said...

Heartfelt wishes for the very best of luck to you, Susanne!

Gina Sorell said...

Best of luck Susanne!! I too am self employed and it is terrifying, and exhilarating, and wonderful. I laughed at the dirty dishes from 3 meals at home...I am always cooking and cleaning, when not in my home office!

Jessica Brilliant Keener said...

Welcome to the freelancing world, Susanne. I also left a full-time job (12 years ago). It has its risks and great rewards.

I wish you the best with your book deal. Congratulations!


Susanne said...

Thank you for all the kind wishes! It's always great to know you have heartfelt support.