Posted on 15 August 2013

Last year, I was wishing a coworker good luck as he prepared to leave the company for other pursuits when he looked at me and said, “I’m surprised I’m leaving before you.”

This coworker apparently thought, based on the success I’d managed in my personal writing career, that it was only a matter of time before I left my full-time job. I tried to explain to him that my creative writing doesn’t actually pay the bills. Yes, I’ve been fairly fortunate  — I won grants/prize money, and I’ve cashed checks for freelance articles and stories — but let’s be realistic here. Those windfalls, along with the royalties I receive from Living Arrangements, aren’t exactly enough to allow me to quit my job. (That’s putting it so mildly I can’t even keep a straight face right now.) My job, meanwhile, provided me with financial stability. I also liked the people I worked with, I got to travel, and I had a flexible schedule. Sounds like keeping the job while continuing to write on my own was a win-win situation, right?

And it was, except when it wasn’t — when it held me back from what I really wanted to do, and when I had to use my writing energy at work instead of at my own writing desk. So when I managed to align everything in a way that let me quit the job while taking minimal risks (thank goodness for funded MFA programs), I proved that coworker right by doing exactly what he expected I would have done long before: I quit.

Leaving my job was such a difficult decision exactly because I had it so good. But writer Heather Sharfeddin apparently understands why I’d still walk away. She describes her own experience of turning her back on financial security for the chance of something more in “Who Needs Financial Security, Anyway?

The thing about working for a nice company is that nice companies are the dream-killers. They lull you into believing that your life is fine with their retirement plans, groomed campuses, bonus checks, and employee recognition programs. But for some reason they continue to make the mistake of assuming that the personal dreams of their employees are in any way aligned with the organization’s business objectives. Each year when our “Leadership Summit” invitations arrived I wanted to take the CEO into a room and insist that this exercise in sentimentality and inward reflection would serve only one purpose: to highlight how supremely dissatisfied I was.

Sharfeddin also captures what it can feel like to straddle the writing and the professional worlds:

These other writers eyed me with suspicion because I didn’t share the hardships that bind a group together. I wasn’t drinking Two Buck Chuck because that’s all I could afford.  I was…some weird hybrid. A corporate manager with a dental plan and a late model sedan, just a notch below luxury, who happened to have four novels out in the world … My strange, undefined identity left me on the margin of the literary world. Little did these real writers know, I suffered hardships of my own—hardships that were never so obvious as when I was asked to write down my dreams and share them with a room full of my non-writer colleagues.

I know, realistically, that the kind of writing I love to do most isn’t likely to pay all the bills. After I finish the MFA, I’ll be in the full-time work force again. Maybe I’ll teach, maybe I’ll find another corporate job, or maybe I’ll cobble together a living in some other way. But to have this chance now to leave the day job behind and go all out — that is worth everything to me, financial insecurity and all.

Photo: Toban Black

6 responses to Security

  • Josey says:

    i think that you will make it beyond your wildest dreams. i believe you will one day (soon) earn more than you ever imagined writing novels. it think that making the decisions you are making now for yourself have real power behind them and the universe rewards such swift and decisive movements toward happiness.

    I’m sure of it.

  • “Living Arrangements” was one of the very best short story collections I have ever read. Period.

    I have no doubt at all that you will one day reap great monetary benefits–and everything else that accompanies a successful book.

    So proud of you for making this move.

  • Sarah W says:

    I think, Laura, that you have both the sense, the creativity, and the bravery to do what you have to do, when it’s best to do it, to live the life you want.

    And I can’t wait to read the results!

  • Lyra says:

    Don’t even put the word out there into the universe about the possibility of going back into the corporate world. Do not do it. Run with this chance to write, look around, and see what successful writers are doing for day jobs that don’t suck the writing mojo out of them. Think of that as your third job over the next two years, after writing, and teaching. I’m giving you a research project.
    And when you figure that out, which I know, I just KNOW you will, let me know so I can ride on your coattails.
    I’m so excited for all of the potential, I can’t even see straight. Run towards every single second of it.

  • I once interviewed for an editorial assistant position and the editor asked me whether I would leave publishing to write poetry. I’m afraid I laughed in her face and told her that not even Billy Collins earned a living on writing poetry alone. For some reason I didn’t get that job.

  • Catherine says:

    Mmm money.. Something this writer will never have much of – that’s why I’ve clung to being a children-raising below-the-radar-maintained divorcée for so long. Bills have to be paid, and there’s no way what I receive for writing work is going to help us eat. But we manage. And I’ve published two books. What I would LOVE is some full-time blemish-free writing time but it’s not going to happen. I’ve applied for long-distance mentorships in the UK, that’s all I can hope for. And I keep on trucking.

    Good luck Laura! Ciao cat

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