Monday, August 03, 2009


So it's now been about two months since I had a day job. Let me step back a moment and see how being a "full-time writer" has affected my life.

  • I have more moment-to-moment stress. This is because I actually care about what I'm doing on a regular basis. If I get up and screw around for a few hours and accomplish nothing, I'm wasting time that I could've spent working on a novel or article or screenplay. Previously, I went to work and did meaningless things for eight hours, things involving Excel spreadsheets and emails, and that was a normal day. And I got paid for it. I did my job but I didn't care if my job got done or not, and I didn't care how well it was done. Fortunately the job was so easy that any monkey could do it, so this was never really an issue until capacity so outgrew need that half the department got laid off. Now the hours of my day are much more valuable, but this means I feel a lot more pressure to make use of them.

  • My anxiety about "writing career"-related issues is much more of a live wire, much more acute. Before, it wasn't something that I had to think about constantly. After all, I made a living doing something else. But now that's no longer the case. I can only live on savings for a limited amount of time. I don't particularly want to go back to having a day job, although I'll probably have to. But obviously, what I'd really like to do is sell a screenplay or sell a novel for good money. This is the single most exasperating part of being a writer, in my experience: You produce material that you're very happy with and proud of, and then people in the publishing industry--agents, in particular--hate it or seem to have read an entirely different manuscript. I've had--let me see--I guess four different agents over the years. Not one ever earned me a single cent. Some have worked hard for me and others haven't; some I think of fondly and others with loathing; but not one sold anything of mine. The calculus of this is baffling. Now that I'm dealing with it on a daily basis, much more actively, I find it profoundly stressful.
  • My productivity has increased dramatically. I used to write in fits and spurts. Earlier this spring I wrote a huge amount, while I still had the day job at D. E. Shaw (and yes, I often wrote in my office, but sometimes I got so wrapped up in it that this meant staying there late at night and sleeping on the floor of my office). But in 2008, I wrote very little, and what I did write was garbage. In the last two months I've written a bunch of freelance articles, which I enjoy although it's not particularly lucrative. I've also co-written much of a screenplay, done revisions on a novel, and begun a new novel. There is no excuse for not being productive now.

  • I'm more excited to be human. The mere act of spending 8-10 hours a day working for a company that exists to make rich people richer is not a good feeling. I feel happier to be a human being now. I have a lot less money and I'm less "comfortable" but everything is more exciting. I don't experience "malaise" as much. I do have sudden swings between excitement and depression. But that isn't always a bad thing.


Jonathan said...

Very well-observed. I really wish I'd gotten to talk to you more than one time before they laid you off....

Hrm...doesn't seem like I can use my usual signature here, so I'll improvise.

-Jon Cann

The ACTUAL God said...


can't wait to join the ranks of the human

N A said...

Jon, thanks. I'm about to be out of town for a little bit, Maryland and Dominican Republic, but we should get a drink sometime when I'm back.

Ilan, be a man and quit while you still have some summer left.