Rules for Becoming a Full-Time Writer

For my blog post today, I’m stealing something Kasey Michaels wrote on the Novelists, Inc authors’ loop–with her permission of course. This was in response to a writer who is about to quit her day job to write full time. So much of what Kasey says resonates with me. Some of it makes me nod my head in sober agreement and some of it makes me laugh out loud.  It’s good advice for anyone thinking about self-employment. Welcome to my world!

Here’s Kasey’s advice for becoming a full-time writer:

1. Health care insurance is horribly expensive for the self-employed. But eat generic peanut butter sandwiches on store-brand bread three meals a day before you give it up. Murphy’s Law applies double for the self-employed, I swear it.

2. All those nifty disability promises/programs for credit cards — you’re hurt, we’ll pay…if you pay us X amount of dollars a month now — don’t apply to the self-employed in many states. These people truly believe you can continue working if you have to do it with a pencil stuck between your teeth. Check the fine print before you put out bucks for that sort of promise.

3. Pay your quarterlies, local, state, federal. Even if you can’t pay it all, pay something.

4. Get a good CPA to do your tax returns.

5. Check your local township, borough, whatever, to be sure they don’t now require a license — even though you may be working in a converted bedroom and have no ‘impact’ on the neighborhood. Many insist on the license (and license fee), and that you now begin paying business taxes on top of everything else you’re paying.

6. Listen with a straight face and profound nods when other people tell you that you must build firm boundaries around your writing time and be willing to enforce them. They never met your family.

7. If you ever thought you were an ‘artist,’ slap yourself repeatedly until the notion leaves you. You are now a worker with more responsibility than any three people should have; you can’t afford to be an artist. Kick your muse to the curb, replace it with a weekly look at your checkbook balance.

8. Know and accept that everyone else in the world thinks you can put down and pick up your chapter-in-progress at any time without missing a beat, as if our books were knitting projects.

9. Know that everyone in your family and circle of friends firmly believes he/she is the ONLY one who understands you need to work, and that he/she is the ONLY one who doesn’t pest you. The truth is, they ALL pest you, but saying this makes them feel better.

10. Build extra time into any writing project because of 8 and 9. You’ll need it. You’re the one who can pick up a sick nephew or grandson from nursery school. You’re the one who can take Dad to the ER because he fell. You’re the one who, yes, can be summoned to see ‘this thing you’ve really got to see’ on tv by one of the Everybody who thinks he’s the only one who doesn’t disturb your writing time.

11. Buy only half the ‘goodies’ you used to keep around the house, because you’ll eat all of them anyway. Hide your scale, you’ve got enough to worry about.

12. Never feel guilty that you can’t maintain the strict schedule of another writer. That person is either the luckiest person in the history of the world…or he/she lies like a rug.

13. Buy pajamas that can be seen by the mailman.

14. Stay in said pajamas as much as possible, as people are less prone to beg you to join them to go somewhere when they know it’s going to take you an hour or more to be ready to go. This does not always work, especially when the grandson gets sick at nursery school.

15. Remember, you do not have a wife. Male writers ‘create.’ Female writers with husbands and families and dirty laundry and dusty tables accomplish five times as much as male writers, and in half the time. No, this doesn’t make you feel better when you are scrubbing a bathroom at midnight and muttering under your breath, “And now, students, observe the famous writer in her natural habitat…”

16. You will long to clean closets while on deadline, yearn to be at the computer when finished and now facing that disorganized closet. You will almost constantly want to be wherever it is you can’t be, doing whatever it is that sounds better than what you’re doing at the time.

17. Open the front door once in a while. Don’t be frightened –it’s just fresh air. Full seasons can pass otherwise, without your notice.

18. Don’t give up your health insurance, never give up your health insurance. That bears repeating.

Thanks for sharing, Kasey!


  1. Pam Callow on February 27, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Thanks for sharing Kasey’s post, Diane! Sooo true.

  2. Ruth Crone on April 29, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Brilliant. So glad I’m not the only one who resents cleaning when it won’t get done by itself, and answers the door (albeit reluctantly – why can’t it answer itself?!) in my best PJs. There is hope for me yet.

    Thank you Diane and Kasey.

  3. Deborah Anderson on September 3, 2012 at 12:06 am

    Excellent article. I love the part about getting a CPA! Yes, some of us writers are capable of doing our own tax forms (and may actually have experience doing it professionally), but, why not do what we love (writing) and leave the financials to those who love that and do it well. Also, it is always helpful to have a CPA who is up on the current laws, take that extra look, at the least, at the tax forms.

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