Several months ago my friend Mindy Klasky, author of the paranormal Jane Madison books, left her job as a law librarian to go full-time as a writer. More recently, another friend has gone full-time temporarily. Both of them are loving it. This month I will have been a full-time writer for 18 years. That, and the book I'm reading on LONELINESS (see previous post), started me reflecting on this peculiar state.
It's "peculiar" not because I don't report to an office. Neither does my son, who telecommutes from upstate New York to Silicon Valley each day. And when I wrote for an ad agency (my last "real job" -- just ask my mother), I often worked at home. But those situations still present salaries, deadlines, people to report to, vacation schedules, etc. A full-time writer may have a single novel deadline, months away, plus other commitments (anthology stories, speaking engagements) that are also months away. Nothing says to me each morning "Work!" -- except myself. James Blish once said that he got less written whenever he wrote full-time, because he could put off work -- there was always tomorrow. Then his money would run out and he would get another job and then he would write more fiction.
So what does it take to go full-time as a writer? The standard rule-of-thumb is that you're supposed to be able to replace 2/3 of your day-job income with writing income. I don't think I believe that; you can always, instead, change your life-style to one that spends less. I think the main requirements are psychological. You must be able to (1) structure your own time, (2) work steadily without much outside reinforcement, and (3) be able to arrange enough social contact (family, friends, water polo, whatever) so that you don't go for days talking only to people who don't actually exist, (4) be able to tolerate a certain degree of financial uncertainty, and (5) get cooperation on all of the above from whoever you share your dwelling with.
I haven't always, in 18 years, succeeded at all of these. But I've never for one second regretted becoming a full-time writer.