The fantasy author Terry Brooks worked as a lawyer for many years before becoming a fulltime writer. Typically, writers don’t begin their careers earning as much money as lawyers, and this was certainly the case with Brooks. In fact, some professional writers never earn as much as a third-year associate. Nevertheless, Brooks’ ambition was to write fulltime, and so he set a goal: if he could publish three books, he’d allow himself to quit the law.
By now he’s published a lot more than three books, and I assume he’s earned as much as your average lawyer, but of course he didn’t know any of that when he set his goal. All he knew was that he wanted to write fantasy novels for a living, whatever that living might be. It’s a subject that often comes up in my conversations with writers of all stripes – that leap from teacher or lawyer or journalist to writer. The first career almost always includes a regular paycheck; the latter, almost never.
I too had to make this leap. At the time I was a waiter. My wife and I had come in to some money, enough that we could conceivably live off of it for a couple years. What I was writing wasn’t selling at that time, and I had no real prospects to replace what I was earning as a waiter. But I did know this: waiting tables occupied a lot of space in my mind and in my life. I knew that if I quit I would find something to replace it. I just didn’t know what that something would be. I needed the blank page, so to speak, of joblessness to find out.
However, my wife’s and my marriage is such that leaving my job is not a decision I would make without her. I had attempted this conversation with her before, but in past attempts I had looked to her as a child would to a parent to grant me permission to leave. She never did. The problem was that my wife was as dependent on my income as I was, but just as no one else could see the stories I’ve imagined but haven’t written, she could not perceive the opportunities I knew my free time would present.
I could not describe those opportunities to her, any more than I could tell her about all the really cool scenes in a story until I’ve written them. But I knew the opportunities would come just as I know cool scenes will come. So I spoke to her that day from what I did know, and that was enough. I realized then that I did not always speak to people from this place of knowing something I couldn’t yet prove. I had become reliant on evidence, which is a byproduct the past; opportunities always exist in the future and the present.
Whenever I worry I am peering over the horizon for evidence of my future wellbeing. A lot of writers worry about the future because no one knows how well the next book will sell. Keep your eyes on the page. That’s where all your opportunities wait, where all your happiness and interest and pleasure waits. Keep your eyes on the page and the future will grow from what you write today.
“A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com