Thinking About Quitting Your Day Job To Become A Full-Time Writer? Tips From CJ Lyons And Joanna Penn


CJ: … I started two years ahead of time saving, looking at my expenditures. When I left my day job, I moved 1,000 miles away because I thought, ‘I’m never going to get a mortgage as a writer.’ So I thought I better figure out where I wanted to live and spend, you know, a good chunk of the rest of my life. I basically moved to paradise, so I live at the beach now, and so I did a lot of planning on that avenue.

What I didn’t do a lot of planning on, and it was fortuitous that I actually still have a career, was learning about the actual publishing business. I thought that was the job of the publishers, and you know this story. Maybe other people have already heard it.

When I moved, the book that was due to come out in 2006, which was going to be my dream debut thriller hardcover, you know, the whole nine yards, the publisher canceled it 90 days before publication day because of cover art issues. Something I had no control over.

So suddenly I had quit my day job, I was 1,000 miles away from home with no job, unemployed and no publishing contract. But, I kept writing. I dove into learning everything I could about the business because I refused to be in that position of powerlessness again.

That’s when I realized no matter who I was partnering with as a publisher, I was CEO of me incorporated, although I wasn’t incorporated then of course, but I took that professional attitude. Luckily by the end of the year I had another publishing contract. A wonderful publisher wanted to work with me and I had gotten the rights back, and so I had all my ducks in a row.

And I considered the money that I lived on during those six months of being unemployed and out of contract kind of, you know, taking a loan from that safety net of savings that I had built up. Then the first thing I did when I got the new publishing contract was I paid that back.

That’s been my financial philosophy as, you know, a freelancer creative entrepreneur, is I always pay myself a year ahead of time, so no matter what happens I have at least a year of freedom in the bank to recuperate, to regroup, to re-plan, to do whatever I need. And for me physiologically, that has been so freeing to allow me to focus on the creative aspects.

Joanna: It was great to hear your story and you had a couple of years of preparation there and so did I.

I left my day job in 2011 as I said, but I started thinking about it in 2008. I started writing on the side, building my website on the side.

As you said about financial planning, we downsized. That was the really big thing and I think this is something everyone should think about. We went from a four-bedroom house to one bedroom flat. We sold a lot of stuff just to really clear our debt so I didn’t have the financial overhead because I was a main wage earner at the time.

I was so miserable in my job, and unlike you who loved your job, I was really miserable. I said to my husband, ‘Look, I want to give this a go for a year. If it doesn’t work I’ll go back to my day job.’

I also saved. I had six months’ money saved, so not a couple of years like you did but my husband was working too. I also first started out by going part-time at work. I only went full time as an author-entrepreneur once I had spent three years working four days a week.

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