It takes sacrifice to be a writer

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Earlier in the year, I was a steaming hot mess. I despised my job in marketing, suffered migraines every couple of days, forgot what it meant to be happy, and discovered that I could eat a whole pizza on my own and still have room for dessert. And every night I woke up in the wee hours, staring at the ceiling and acknowledging yet another day where I had not worked on my novel.

Now, before you heave a sigh and take off in search of a more upbeat blog on the writerly life, let me tell you what changed.

I decided to be a novelist.

In truth, I’ve been writing since I was twelve. I’ve completed two fantasy manuscripts and have started dozens more that will probably never be finished. I’m a member of various writers associations, spent three years as the editor of a leading industry magazine, have a degree in writing, done numerous writing short courses, have a few published short stories, written countless press releases and articles, and am part of a very healthy monthly writers group.

In spite of all that, a few months ago I had to face the grim truth I was not the writer I ached to be. Why? Because in the span of a year, I had written perhaps 5,000 words on my own projects. The writing I was doing was for my day job—dry articles on vehicle suspension, replacement differentials and engineering developments. It was soul-sucking stuff for someone whose mind wanders the clouds, dreaming of one day being a full-time fantasy novelist.

After months and months of staring at the ceiling, I knew I had to make a choice. Either become a full time novelist or don’t.

I chose to be a novelist.

It meant removing the excuses I had created in order to avoid novel writing—excuses I had created because I was scared. They weren’t the small excuses, either, like not having a comfortable chair to sit on or enough time in the day to show up at the desk. These excuses revolved around a job that sapped my creativity, a worksite that affected my health, the demands of friends and family, financial struggles and my mental wellbeing.

So I quit my job—with no other job to go to. I removed people from my life who did not support my writing goals. And I sat alone in a quiet house for months with nothing but my laptop, a snoring Labrador and my shaky resolve.

It’s been the most important decision of my life so far.

Since quitting my job in August, I’ve written the first draft of my third book, and am now working on the redraft. In the new year I will be taking my dog, my worldly possessions and myself out of Melbourne and up to sunny Queensland, where I will live with family for a while and find some sort of part time job that covers the bills and lets me focus on novel writing. I expect that some people won’t understand why I’ve thrown aside a promising career and a decent life in Melbourne. I suspect some will call me foolish for choosing to be novel writer when I don’t have a single published novel to my name. And I know others will think I’m arrogant and egotistical for proclaiming myself a writer.

But I’m happy. I write novels because there is nothing else I want to do, no other form of writing I want to write, and no other way to live my life.

I know I am fortunate to have been able to quit paid work for a few months in order to write—most people don’t have that luxury. But every writer has to make sacrifices, whether it is time with family and friends, social outings, sleep and sleep-ins, hobbies, TV and housework (though I don’t view giving up the latter as a particularly onerous sacrifice).

It’s a reality writers expect because the alternative is unacceptable.

What have you sacrificed for your writing?

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