Why I’d Rather Be Broke

I’m now just a few days shy of a month since I quit working full-time.

I’ve taught for three years. During that first year of teaching, I got my first solid idea for a novel and started writing seriously. It took me several months to figure out how to find time in my day for serious writing, but I worked at it, and I read books on craft, but I mostly ignored whatever might happen after finishing my novel. I simply read and wrote.

The second year of teaching, I started feeling the strain of working full-time and serious writing. I’d hit 50k several times in my novel due to starting over multiple times, cut and rewrote enough pages it would have taken a forest to print them all, and continued to read books on craft. My progress picked up significantly- I had a real novel taking shape, not just a wandering mess of words. I started looking a bit further into the future and made some connections in the book world. I branched out in what I was reading, discovered what a query letter was, used my vacation days to stay home and write, started this blog, and FINISHED my first novel. Yes, it took me two years. I still love it. It’s the first of a series– a huge story with a huge cast, tons of historical detail, and a complicated backstory. I don’t regret taking it on as my first for-real novel (I won’t tell you about my high school and college novels. Oh, the trauma), but I must have been crazy to do so. I sent it off to beta readers and started writing the ever-dreadful synopsis and crying over draft after draft of query letters. My friends and family will tell you, I had very few spare minutes in 2011. (I’m still not fully back to the social butterfly I was in the pre-writer era.)

2012 marked a big change for me. I barely knew anything (still working on that), but I knew how to find out the basics. I revised and revised from my beta notes, sent that first traumatic round of queries (go read the archives here- fun stuff), revised more, sent further rounds of queries, received requests (astonishingly enough)and started reading new books. I’ve always loved classics, and of course I read the big hits. But I as I learned about the book world, I discovered some pretty fantastic writers. Somewhere in between reading THE NAME OF THE WIND and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, subtext, voice, and internal conflict started making a bit more sense to me. In August, I started working for my fabulous boss editor at Entangled Publishing- the same month I wrote my 6-week first draft of MOON RIVER. Two years for the first draft of my first novel, six week for the first draft of my second. The scope is smaller, it’s not the first of a series, and the backstory isn’t nearly so complicated, but I love it just as much. Writing and polishing MOON RIVER kept me distracted while I queried SILENCE- I’d taken a break with it for the summer while I did YET MORE revisions on it.

Thanks for sticking with me here. I promise there’s a point.

The summer of 2012 saw me completely overwhelmed but unable to quit anything I was doing. To be published, I had to write. To live, I had to work full-time. My internship with Entangled was teaching me valuable skills that dramatically increased my knowledge of the industry and writing in general. Reading new, brilliant fiction and books on craft kept me sane and were also necessary for learning to write well. But I simply didn’t have enough time to do it all. Knowing MOON RIVER was a notch above SILENCE in writing quality made me desperate to finish it and get it out in the world; querying and revising SILENCE was incredibly time consuming; reading anything for pleasure made me feel guilty because I needed to be making progress on my internship and adding to MOON RIVER’s word count and sending queries, but it was necessary for staying sharp. My husband and I started talking about what would need to happen for me to work part-time. It was just a dream, but looking at it as an option helped me keep going.

The fall of 2012, all these things I’d buried myself in started snowballing. I finished MOON RIVER. Beta notes on it came back that made me grin instead of cringe. My internship with Entangled was going really well. The writing community on Twitter pulled me in, and every day, I love chatting with the writers, readers, agents, and editors there. I’m learning so much from having them on my Twitter feed. I read, read, read. CODE NAME VERITY, SHADOW AND BONE, and WHAT ALICE FORGOT helped a number of things click for me. Reading made me a better writer and helped me to keep loving books.ย  Teaching forced me to prioritize and value my free time. Interning made me a better writer and querier. Participating in the online writing community made me a better reader and writer. I can’t emphasize enough how much I loved all this work- stressful and demanding as it was (and still is).

But I just didn’t have the time to do justice to the tasks I was undertaking. I was dabbling in six things, mastering none, and needing each day to have 50 hours. Teaching, as much as I loved it, wasn’t making me a better writer. I couldn’t really drop anything but the areas I was investing in were only creeping forward. All my stress and effort for very little return. I’d burn out before I made it.

And then MOON RIVER was all but ready to query and the Carol Mann Agency offered me an internship.

To jump, or not to jump?

I couldn’t add two more things to my day. Literally could not. One serious “will we die of starvation?” talk with my husband later, I gave my notice at work and the school graciously offered me a part-time position similar to a teacher’s assistant. I couldn’t do what I’m doing now without this job, so I’m very thankful for it. I know so many writers who would give their right arm to stop working full-time and devote themselves to writing, and I feel a bit guilty that it’s me doing it and not them.

We’re broke. There’s a real possibility we’ll be living in a cardboard box next month (or showing up on my sister’s porch). But I’m doing what I love. I’ve been working part-time for a month now, and every day is a blessing.ย  Stressful and demanding, filled to the brim with deadlines and to-do lists, but still a blessing. MOON RIVER has ventured out into agents’ inboxes, I’m getting to work with some fabulous writers for Entangled and CMA, and I’ve started my next novel- I can’t wait for it to be living and breathing on the page.

I’m fine with being broke to make that happen. I’ll eat rice for a year, forget what restaurants are, and start pricing gasoline not by the gallon but by the drip, if I have to.

Maybe I jumped off a cliff and I’ll regret it when I hit the bottom. Right now, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Here’s hoping my optimism makes the landing softer.

17 thoughts on “Why I’d Rather Be Broke

  1. @ Kate Brauning – I enjoyed this article on “I’d rather starve.” Interesting that you shared your personal life. I am routing for you luck as a writer.

    Good luck.

  2. This is great to hear! I actually just took the same plunge and quit my full-time job of five years. I was working two internships, plus doing paid editing for a small press, and had zero time to write anymore (or to do anything else, for that matter). My last day is this Friday and it’s very scary to take the plunge, but I’d much rather be broke and following my dreams than stuck in a dead-end job without any time to do what I love. It sounds like you’re doing the same, and I wish you the best of luck!

  3. The best part is you have no regrets and continue to be focused on looking ahead, dreaming, aspiring and most importantly working hard! Very inspiring indeed. All comes from believing in yourself even in the lowest or low moments.

  4. I know you’re an inspiration to all other writers who would like to pursue this gig full time. I took the plunge about 15 months ago and have since published two eBooks and put myself through an extreme internship of self-learning the new world of publishing and marketing. I’ve never looked back and now I can’t imagine going to work anywhere else but my office. I’m not making much money but the more I do, the more hopeful I am that one day I’ll be a significant contributor to the family income. Keep at it – it’s miraculous what passion fuels.

  5. Hi Katie and wow it was great to read this. We want to know that we support and encourage you in this endeavor….even if we worry about you guys financially. Just last night after reading about an author that writes about Haiti, I thought to myself that I should write something about the DR. And just a few minutes ago I had a talk with a young guy here that self-published a book, which got me on that subject again. Who knows, you may be advising me soon about whether to quit my job and write!!!! (Not very soon, though, believe me).
    Love you!
    Dad B.

  6. It’s one thing to be broke working at a minimum wage job, hating it and struggling with being demeaned and having no purpose or sense of place. It’s another thing to be broke doing what you love, feeling that you have purpose and that your life is filled with meaning. The romantic notions of artist lives on. I have been living in an apartment my entire teaching life…have taught but never made enough money to buy in the NYC area…which is incredibly expensive. I could have stayed working and not retired; I could be tutoring, teaching in a private school, etc., etc., making good money to help pay for the mortgage as I collect a pension. Then I would have no time to devote to writing. Writing is like food to me…it feeds my spirit and soul… many feel the same way and they are sacrificing other things to write. Do you have anything better to do with your life? You only have your writing life, anyway. At least you are living. That’s what I feel about my life, my writing…they are interchangeable, one.

  7. You go, girl! From the tone of your voice, it’s clear you made the right decision, and I’m so glad you have a husband who supports you. You’re going to make a big splash in the publishing world; I’m sure of it!

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