When to stop

It is my goal to be a professional writer some day. By way of definition, this means that I can support myself and my family solely by writing. It can mean (though it doesn’t have to) that I’ve been published by a traditional publisher. I don’t expect this day to come soon, but it’s what I’m shooting for in the back of my mind with every project.

This is a tough goal and one that requires a lot of discipline, sacrifice, and creative energy. And time.

One question I hear asked is when do I stop? Or, to put it more accurately, at what age do I consider the goal of financially supporting myself with writing unattainable?

I will NEVER stop writing. Not while my brain functions and man can build an interface to it.

But at some point I may have to consider that it won’t be my day job either.

I think at 28 I’m still too young to really consider this question. I certainly have a target for when I hope to achieve this goal, but its fuzzy at best. I can’t really pursue writing with the same zest if I thought failure was an option or a possibility.

And not being able to support myself with writing, but still having enough time to do it well might be just fine. Plenty of authors have day jobs, even ones with bigger followings. This is not failure, but it’s also not what I’m shooting for.

I’m young. I’m arrogant (you have to be a little bit to think that people want to read what you write). And I’m willful (I prefer to say disciplined). Ultimately, one or all of these will have to change before I change my mind.

That said, reading Wil Wheaton’s Just a Geek did get me to thinking about one set of conditions under which I might stop. My family, which right now is just me and the little red haired girl (and a couple of pets), is the most important thing in my life. I’ll do whatever I have to to support us. My wife is a great support to the writing, both in the help she gives, and the sacrifices she’s willing to make.

But, if I ever reach a point of diminishing returns, where the sacrifices are too great and the benefits too small, I might consider stopping trying to write professionally. I only pray that if I ever do reach that point, I’ll have the strength to know it, and be able to change my plans without resentment.

Because marriage is sacrifice, and my marriage is more important than my writing. That’s why I’m lucky I’m with who I’m with.

But for the record, she’s not going to let me stop.

Incidentally, I am encouraged by the community of people in there 30s and 40s on WordPress who are still actively pursuing this dream. I’m okay if this takes a long time, and you guys prove day in and day out that passions are always worth pursuing. Kudos.

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8 Comments

Filed under Writing, Writing Goals

8 responses to “When to stop

  1. I’m one of those 30-somethings still pursuing the dream. Although, truly, I only really started pursuing it in earnest a couple of years ago. But it’s amazing how much progress you can make just by setting yourself a clear-cut goal and working toward it day after day (well, with a few vacations in there, too). All the best to you!

    • Thanks. I’m actually pretty good in the discipline standpoint, especially once I’ve kickstarted a project. I try to set concrete but simple goals (x words a day, or a couple of big year goals). All the best to you as well.

  2. Chuck

    I like what I read in this post – but I also want to advise caution. Writing can be a reward in itself. True – it is nice to have others read and show appreciation, especially if that appreciation is in the form of the coin of the realm. But making a living with your writing – I’m not convinced this is a worthy goal. If it happens, consider that event a bonus.

    I urge you to learn by doing, learn to write well, learn to write such that others enjoy reading your work.

    The rest will come as a result of your hard work and effort.

    • The thing is, I’d rather earn a reader than a dollar, that’s certainly true. But, in a lot of cases, getting readers and getting dollars kind of goes hand in hand. I could be the best writer in the world, but if I had no sense of how to market myself, who would know?

      The thing I really want is time, and to get time you kinda need money too. I’d like to get to a point in my life where writing is all I do professionally (and all the other associated activities). That time’s a long way off and that’s fine. And it’s not like every project I undertake is chosen with the specific motive of furthering that goal (I think the fractal book proves I’m all for passion projects).

      I’m not complaining. Life’s pretty good right now, and I have a feeling no matter how it goes I’ll be happy enough. It’s just a matter of how to adjust expectations.

  3. I am one of those 40 some-things and really didn’t even think about realistically doing it till I hit forty no one ever turns round on their death bed and says damn I wish I hadn’t followed my dreams 😀

    • Absolutely true. And the one thing I want to convey pretty clearly is the distinction I’m making between writing and writing professionally. Professionally in my definition means all I do to earn money is write. That may or may not be a realistic long term goal. But either way I’m writing, no matter how old I get. The only thing that might adjust that thinking is if the writing was having a negative sustained impact on my marriage. I don’t think that’s a crazy priority 😉

  4. Without passion, there is no life.

    You can quote me on that if you like. Imagine who you would be without pursuing your dream. Now imagine if,being that person would make you a better or worse husband? A better or worse (potential) father? A better or worse son / friend/ colleague / strange on the street?

    I’m going to ‘fess up and say I tried to put this whole crazy dream behind me when I had to make sure I was earning enough money to support a family. it made me miserable. And nobody like a miserable Jo.

    There are no time limits on achieving your dreams. (Unless your dream is to compete in gymnastics at the Olympics. Then, your ship may have sailed.) Having a family may slow down your dream for a while, or it may not. But there are plenty of authors writing in their 80s. So chill all out with the “people in their 30s and 40s are old” schtick.

    …what do you mean that’s not what you said? Are you sure? Whatever.

    • You’re absolutely right about no time limits. It gets a little crazy sometimes in corporate culture though, if you’re standing still then you’re falling behind. At the moment I have to do something else besides write to make money. There may be times in my life where I’ll have to prioritize maintaining or advancing that career so that the writing can still happen. Now if any of my blog readers want to nominate me for a MacArthur genius grant… 🙂

      In all seriousness, as I was telling Paula, writing is gonna happen either way, and it waxes and wanes with the seasons of life. Truthfully, I’m reflecting on when to stop, secretly knowing I never will. But I allow for the possibility that age and experience might temper those views, though they haven’t so far, and this has kind of been a life long thing. And I can’t have writing be a destructive influence on my life. It hasn’t so far, but there are authors that has happened to. I’d be truly arrogant if I didn’t at least consider the possibility. But I’m lucky to have the partner I do, and I get a great deal of joy and a sense of accomplishment from writing. So no plans to stop.

      And no, wasn’t calling anybody old 😉

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