Give Up The Day Job & Don’t Have A Backup Plan

The first mistake we all make is telling people – friends, family, lovers – that we want to be writers.

We all do it. And we all get the same advice…

…don’t give up the day job.

…have a backup plan.

And because those people love us, we listen to the advice.

That’s our second mistake.

Anything you do in life that is a) creative, or b) good for you is also always risky. Writing is a risk. And it only gets riskier the further you go down the path. When you tell someone you love you’re doing something risky, they get scared. We’re human beings, we’re full of empathy, especially for those we love. We want the people we love to be happy and safe, not out on their own doing creative crazy things that might get them hurt.

With writing, or anything creative, there’s a second factor at play. EVERYONE WANTS TO BE CREATIVE. Everyone has a dream of being an artist, or a writer, or an explorer, or an industrial tycoon. Creativity in the big sense is hard wired in to the human soul. When you tell someone about your plan to go and do your harebrained creative thing, it reawakens their long lost plan to go and do their own harebrained creative thing.

When you tell some one who loves you you’re going to do something creative, like write, they get scared for you. Then they remember the fear that stopped them doing their own thing. That adds up to a double dose of fear. And so, quite naturally, they give you cautious advice. Don’t give up the day job. Have a backup plan.

But when it comes to daring feats of creativity, a half-arsed commitment is the most likely thing to get you killed. At such times it’s worth asking yourself, what would Yoda say…


But when it comes to writing, money and fear aren’t you’re best friends, they’re your only friends. Here’s why.

There are only 24 hours in a day, and you need to spend at least 4 of them sleeping. And there are no end of people willing to waste or exploit those 20 something hours of productive time. When it comes down to it, the question “how much do you pay?” is the only really objective way of deciding what to focus your time on. You can spend you’re life writing guest blog posts, publishing stories in small press anthologies and reviewing for the BSFA fanzine. But if they don’t pay, you’re likely wasting your time.

There are any number of things to write. Lots of them are fun. Writing fanfic and Cthulhu mythos stories can be as quick and fun as reading the originals. But where is this taking you? Are these things fun for you? Or do they make your stomach clench when you think about them. Fear is like a compass. It points dead-on at the things you’re supposed to be doing. Because these things matter, and hence can be fucked up. Find whatever scares you the most to write, and write it.

Give up your day job & don’t have a backup plan. I don’t offer this as an easy path. You will probably run out of money and have to get menial jobs to pay the bills. You will likely lose a few boyfriends / girlfriends along the way, but you’ll likely find better ones as well. You’ll certainly have to deal with family dinners and school reunions where you have none of the status symbols that people show off at such things. You might well spend some time feeling scared for the future, but nowhere near as much time as other people spend in misery mourning their unlived life. Seriously, if this is the worst that can happen, what are you waiting for?

Read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, a challenge to everyone who has ever had a creative dream to overcome resistance and live as there creative self.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

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