When to go full-time writing? (Answer: Get yourself a plan.)

Quick note: I started writing this blog post last week, and then this week exploded on me, like even today. So rather than shoehorn everything into this post, just follow me on Twitter and you’ll get more up to date stuff that happens to me.

Or continue to follow me here…looks like I’m gonna have to start updating the blog more.

Also, if you look over to the right, you’ll see a new button called “Buy me a coffee!” I do talk about that in the post below, so read on, 🙂


A couple of weeks ago, the SFF community was going off on this article about a writer who had gotten a huge advance on her trilogy, quit her job, moved to New York, then was startled when her advances for subsequent books shrunk, which meant cranking out more books, and why hadn’t anyone told her something like this would happen? 

I don’t have time to dive too much into it, and anyway, other writers broke the post down better than I could

But I wanted to zero in on what happened when this writer received her first, then her second advance, because I’m pretty sure that, had if I sold my novel series and had gotten the same advances like that, I would’ve done the same thing. Not so much move to New York, or buy $15 drinks (I usually don’t do drinks at cons all that much anymore, and sorry NY, but I’m a south side Chicagoan through and thorugh), but quit my job? Absolutely. That’s the dream of all of us writers, right? That once we hit the big-time, we can say bye-bye to that nastything dayjob.  That’s why I got so excited when I finished my novel earlier this year. I was getting closer to reaching my dream. That’s means that one day, I could quit the dayjob and making this a full-time gig, right?  

But then, I started talking to my writer friends who have books out and are way more experienced in these matters than I am.  A whole lot of them told me the same thing: don’t quit the dayjob unless you have a plan. 

I also follow a lot of writers who write about the struggle of balancing writing with dayjobs, and post their yearly writing incomes to show what they’ve earned, because if there’s one thing we writers love to do, it’s talking about whether or not you should go full-time. And basically, what I got from those conversations were don’t quit the dayjob unless you have a plan.

And then, well, there was this article which talks about the decline in authors’ earnings, or even if I search “reality of becoming a full-time writer” in Google. Even the ones who are gung-ho about it say the same freakin thing: DON’T QUIT THE DAYJOB UNLESS YOU HAVE A PLAN HOLY COW IT’S ALL RIGHT THERE ALL SHE HAD TO DO WAS GOOGLE BECOMING A FULL TIME WRITER HOW COULD SHE NOT KNOW IT’S ALL RIGHT THERE AUUUGHHHHHH

Er, hm. 

It looks discouraging, true. It got me to wondering: is it even possible to make a living from writing? After talking to my friends and doing some research, the answer I came up with is: well, it depends.

Different writers have different ways to get income. For most, it involves having a dayjob. For others, it means freelancing. For even others, they have saved enough money to live on while they write, then do contract or freelance work when times are slim. There are several writers I know who do all three. There are some who do, like some who publish independently, but they have a whole lot of books under their belt and are constantly hustling to get their name out there. And then there are some full-time writers who had to go back to work due to circumstances that was no fault of their own. Being a full-time writer doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll stay a full-time writer. 

The point is, there are a lot of writers who do make a living from writing. But no one I knew was getting money from just fiction. They had learned to diversify their income streams. Some from teaching and doing speaking events. Some got their money from freelancing. Others got theirs from dayjobs. Which got me to thinking–what’s wrong with having a dayjob? What exactly am I thinking of when I say I want to be a full-time writer? 

So the real question I should be asking is not should I quit the dayjob, but am I ready to step into freelance writing full-time?

At this point, no. I haven’t sold a novel yet. I know that at this point in my life, I’m not making anything off my writing that I can quit the dayjob. I sold a couple of stories and a bunch of articles last year that netted me a whopping thousand bucks. Which…actually, is pretty darn good for someone who has a full-time job. But it’s not paying bills right now, nor does it account for other things like benefits or retirement. I still need the dayjob for that.

But it gives me a goal to work towards now. I can start planning on how to do that. I can make a business plan (shout out to Monica Valentinelli for talking to me about that). It means researching on what it meant to be a freelancer. Joining freelancing groups. Even taking a business class.  I’m blessed in that I have a partner who also works full-time and my kid is old enough that he does homework while I do writing. But we’ll have to do a lot of planning if I decide to move into full-time freelance.

And maybe that won’t happen. Maybe I’ll find that sweet spot of balancing the dayjob with the freelance job. The trick is finding the right dayjob. I actually really like the dayjob I have now–it gives me the change to move around, which is helpful for me for putting writing brainstorming on the backburner. But my ideal dayjob would be something that is flexible, even have some benefits like retirement and time off pay, and allows me to work from home.

One big thing I’m doing to generate more income is that I finally decided to create a Ko-fi account. I’m not at the point where I can generate content on a consistent schedule, but if you like what I do and if you want to support me in my writing, you can buy me a coffee! It’s not much (and I’m actually a more tea person except I’ve really gotten hooked on Nitro Coffee which is amaaaaaaaaaaazing), but it’s something, and it’s set that if I do find a way to offer content monthly, I can go the subscriber route if I want to. 

Also, I got an agent! I’m now being represented by Kristopher O’Higgins at the Scribe Agency. Looking forward to working with him to get my novel out to publishers.

So, as you can see, I got a plan. We’ll see if it works.

Last week, a woman who was attending a meeting in our building came to me and said, “By the way, I came across your website. Your stories are amazing. Why aren’t you doing this full-time.”

I could’ve just said everything I just wrote above, but what came out was, “I’m…working on it?”

She said, “I’m going to pray that you do.”

Well, alrighty.

2018 Year in Review and Eligibility Works

2018 was a bizarre year for me.

In order to explain this year, I need to back up a bit to the year of 2016. There was a whole bunch of stuff going on that year that I couldn’t really talk about online. The only way I could cope with it was by writing. So I wrote. A whole lot.

One particularly bad day, I was checking the twitters when this thread from Rachael K Jones popped up on my feed. And then, she wrote this:

That tweet stayed with me through the craziness that followed: selling our house, buying a new one, day job insanity, the election of 45. And then 2017, where I continued my push to finish the novel and got back into publishing nonfiction. All the while, the dayjob got busier and busier, and I was coming home more and more exhausted, until in May 2018, I realized that that if I was going to write more, I needed to find another job. Either one that was less intense or less hours.

So I started looking. It took way longer than I thought, considering that I hadn’t really looked for a new job in ten years. But I’m happy to say starting in February 2019, I be starting a new admin position. Same place, still full-time, but I’ll get two afternoons off to write while keeping my benefits.

It’s a start.

Oddly enough, in 2018, as I searched for a job that will allow me to write more, I got a surprising amount of fiction and non-fiction written and published. In April, my short story “One for Sorrow, Two for Joy” was published by Fireside Magazine. In July, my novelette “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good” was published by FIYAH magazine (this was originally the novella I wrote in 2016 before I cut it down to a more readable length). I also wrote a third short story that will be coming out soon, but that hasn’t been officially announced yet, so shhhh! But both the two stories mentioned above are eligible for awards, so read, enjoy, share, etc.

I also wrote a bunch of non-fiction articles, including an exploration of Nisi Shawl’s Filter House on Tor.com, a review of Janelle Monáe’s album Dirty Computer in Apex Magazine, and…heh hehe, another article that remains secret for now, but will be published sometime this year. And all of that while writing cover letters and filling out job applications and updating my resume.

Of course, with all the above, my editing input on the final draft of Willow tanked. As of today, I’ve only managed to complete 68% of the final edits. Which, actually, isn’t so bad, considering that I worked on it on top of all the other things I worked on last year but still. I laughed out loud when I saw the deadline I had originally set for myself, which was March 2018. Yeah, that sooooooo didn’t happen.

But it’s now 2019. I got some time freed up. I don’t have any writing projects pending for the next couple of months. Well, one, but it’s a quick one. And, before 2019 ended, I fixed the last major chapter that needed serious fixing (chapter 27). So all the edits from this point on should technically go fast. I’m resetting the Willow Final Edit clock to March 2019. At 68%, I know I can do it. You can cheer me on at @tbonejenkins on Twitter. And then once I’m done, I can finally tackle the goals I had written for 2018.

Butt in chair, eyes on the prize. Let’s go.

Update on Willow (or Running the race as slow as I can…)

My friend Nicole recently ran the Chicago marathon. You can read her story, "Chasing Garbage Trucks (a marathon story)" at her blog, Five Penny Nicole. It’s really moving. Nicole is a fellow Chicagoan who also moved to Madison, so a lot of what she wrote resonated with me.

I mention this because as you can see, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this month. Just putting all my energies into my current short story and Willow.  And even those have been going slow. With work and Daniel’s school, I just haven’t had any decent writing time. And I also admit, I’ve been slacking in writing in the evenings. We’ve been watching Babylon 5, and while it’s an awesome show, I haven’t been able to dedicate my usual hours of work in the evening. Sometimes I do write, but it’s hard to concentrate when I’m engrossed in the workings of the Sintari. So it’s getting to be that it takes me two, maybe three weeks to finish a chapter of Willow. And at this snail pace, it would be a miracle if I finish at all next year.

In Nicole’s blog, she talks about running when most of all the sprinters and experienced runners had taken off, leaving the slow runners behind. She talks about running on the sidewalk because the police had open the streets to cars again. She talks about passing empty water stations because the helpers had packed up to go home. And she talks about how despite that, she kept on running. She had made it her goal to finish the course, no matter what place she came in.

It’s not like I have writer’s block that keeps me from working on Willow. While it feels like I’m chipping away at each chapter, paragraph by paragraph, what emerges from all that chipping is some real good storytelling. I’m taking time to think through the logistics: atmosphere, description, believable action. It helps that I’m not in a hurry. Yes, there are times when I get frustrated. I feel that I should be further along.  Here it is getting into November and I only just now finished introducing all the players and starting the dive into the story itself…

But wait…I lie. That last line didn’t feel me with frustration at all. It filled me with glee. It’s got me rubbing my hands in anticipation. I want to see the book to the end, and the thing is, I’m enjoying what I’m writing. It’s not like it’s turned into a thing I have to slog into. This week, I’m putting in the details of a palace that’s based on African architecture. Do you know how much fun it is doing that?

So yes, I’m going slow. But it’s okay. My goal is not to write fast. My goal is to write Willow and finish, so that’s what I’m going to do. And for all you NaNoWriMo writers out there who feel like you’re flagging, like you can’t keep up with the daily word count, ask yourself this: did I sign up for this just to write anything, or did I promise myself to write and finish a novel?

If it’s the latter, then congratulations. You got yourself a goal. Now just keep writing until you reach it. Oh, and thanks Nicole for re-inspiring me. Now if you don’t mind, I got some writing to do!

Rambling Thoughts on a Rainy Cold Night…

I’m sitting here in my chair, a mug of decaf hot Lipton tea next to me (my third one), and an episode of Babylon 5 playing on the TV.

Rainy nights always make me moody.

Our cable went out a couple of months ago. I haven’t missed it at all. Been too busy working on Willow and other short stories. I’m starting to watch movies again. Last night, I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Brilliant movie. Absolutely brilliant. The storyline and editing was wonderful. I want to watch it again, pick it apart bit by bit.

What makes a good story? Is it plot? Is it in the writing itself? Language? Is it the ability to empathize with the characters? Is it turning a twist on a cliché?

I’ve thought about it for a long time, and I realized that one of the ways to learn is to become a slushreader. A couple of weeks ago, Fantasy Magazine put out a call for new slushreaders, and I was lucky to be chosen as one. So far, it’s been good. I’ve read stories where the ideas were so-so. And I read stories where it pulled me in, but something about the story was off…not quite right.

I’m trying to figure out how that applies in my own writing. I’ve been making good on my goal of releasing a story a week out to markets, though this week might be a little hard because of this cold. But for the most part, it’s been fun fore me, mainly because I’m not agonizing over every little word. And these stories have sat on my hard drive long enough. They deserve to get a chance, though it’s more likely they’ll get rejections. But still, better than just sitting there, unread by anyone.

Well, my mug’s empty, and my nose is drippy. I think I’m going to turn in early tonight, read a book. The rain patters against the windows, and I want it to be background noise for Barrick as he travels in the Fae Realm.

Dealing with Fantasy of a Different Sort (or I would reject your reality to substitute my own, except my fantasy is nicer than my reality…)

So last week our dryer broke down. Just stopped working on us. You would think that would sadden me, but it didn’t. For me, No dryer meant that I could actually dry our clothes outside.

Now let me tell you something–I’ve always had this weird desire to do line-drying outside. Call it a idyllic vision from my past: running past flapping bedsheets, hiding in their billowy folds, smelling the sweet fresh scent. Hearing Mrs. Sykes yell at us to get out of her laundry before we yank it down. Yeah, that’s right. It was my babysitter’s line-dry laundry I remember most. I honestly can’t remember if my family did it. Which is odd because I’m sure we did. At least, we had one of those drying racks…didn’t we?

Anyway, line-drying laundry in the sun. I always wanted to do it. When we got a house in Chicago, it was frowned on because it being the suburbs, anything that marred the ‘perfect’ landscape was a no-no. So when we moved to Madison and saw all these houses with laundry flapping in the wind, I knew one day, I’d be doing the same. Except it’s a little difficult to put up a clothesline at a rental apartment?

When our dryer broke down, I wound up putting our much-needed-to-dry washing on our fence, which worked pretty well, provided that I brushed off all the splinters when I collected it. And I had to turn the clothes around so that they would dry evenly. And I had to make sure none of the neighborhoods made off with my underwear (“Hey! Put that down! It’s already stretched enough as it is!”) And just yesterday, I learned the pitfalls of drying laundry when there’s a 40% chance of rain.

I’m learning that my little idyllic fantasy doesn’t come close to matching reality.

I bring this up because there’s a website out there called Where I Write: Fantasy & Science Fiction Authors in their Creative Spaces. Basically, it’s a bunch of F&SF authors in the places where they work.

When I started clicking on pictures, I noticed most of them among nice rooms with lots of books surrounding them, some with art, some with their hobby. And there would be desks and computers. Some even posed with their cats. It all look so nice and idyllic, it actually depressed me a bit. I don’t have a nice looking house. Most of my books are packed away in the garage. My writing desk is currently in my clothes closet, because that’s the best place to put it in our bedroom. And instead of a cat, I have a wild, rambunctious five-year-old who constantly bursts in to demand when dinner will be ready.

It’s not the sort of thing one think of as a writer. Even when I picture myself writing, I see myself at a coffeeshop, settled in an overstuffed chair, my laptop balanced on my lap.

But the appearance of being a writer is vastly different from the actual being a writer. When I write, I don’t see the laundry piled up on my bed or the papers that need to be cleaned off my desk. I see what’s going on in my head. That’s more important than having an office of my own surrounded by books. Having a fancy office doesn’t mean squat if I’m not writing.

And the beauty of being a writer is really, one could write anywhere. Taking a look again at the pictures on the Where I write site, I like the sparseness of Harry Harrison’s writing space. Even better, I love Frederik Pohl’s space—sitting on a couch, writing on a roll up typewriter stand. Now that’s something I can relate to. (What would be even more wonderful was if there were some pictures of writers at the kitchen table with their kids in the background. Or maybe some writers of color. They’re out there…)

And hey, there are times when writing for me does get idyllic. Especially those times I get to take the laptop out to the patio with a tall glass of iced tea. Mmmm…typing in the warm sun…while the birds chirp overhead….

Birds. Birds chirping. Birds flying.

Excuse me. I need to get my laundry in. Then I’m going to place a call to my landlord so we can get this @&*% dryer fixed.

Weeping of the Willows update (actually, it’s more of a non-update…)

So this week is the last week of the boy’s summer school. Can’t believe six weeks went by so quickly. It’s a good thing I used all that time to focus exclusively on Willow…

…oh, wait. No I didn’t. Truth is, I did not work on Willow at all.

You see, back in June, I was working hard to make the June 30th deadline for Writers of the Future contest. Then I learned that another deadline for a rewrite request I’m doing got pushed down to August, which gave me the whole of July to focus on reworking my story. I’m glad it got pushed, because if it hadn’t, I would’ve just done a slap-and-dash rewrite and hope for the best. This gave me time to really contemplate on how to change the story. But yeah, because I was working so hard on these two short stories, Willow fell to the wayside because I didn’t have time to work on it.

Which don’t make sense at first–with the boy at school, I had oodles of time to write, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Except with all that time, I did other things too, like clean and nap and uh…read email…play Bejeweled…

But the other thing was that I was totally wrapped up in these short stories. I couldn’t put them down. I had to finish them to see how they turned out. There were the deadlines, too, but still–I was having fun working on these stories. And I felt that if I switched to Willow, I would lose my momentum in getting them sent out.

Both stories have gone out now. And I got a week left of freedom…of sorts. Except really, it’s only two more days, because I have in-laws visiting on Thursday. Which means we have to get the apartment clean. And I have an essay to wrap up that needs to get done by Saturday, which means I need to finish it tomorrow…

But I miss Willow. I miss working on it. I want to work on it again.

Okay, here’s a promise to myself. Make August Willow month. Sure, the boy will be back to being at home in the afternoons, but to be honest, I miss the structured time I had with him. Actually, there’s a lot more I miss from him not being around, but that will have to be a separate post. Trust me, come next week, I’ll probably be thinking, man, I so wish he was back in summer school…

More thoughts on the closing of Realms of Fantasy & Year’s Best…

So I’ve been doing some thinking. Serious thinking. And I’ve come to a startling revelation.

Realms of Fantasy closing and The Years Best Fantasy & Horror Anthologies no longer being printed? Their ending don’t affect me at all.

It’s startling because I consider them the highest levels a writer can get in writing. When both of them folded, I was devastated, yes, in learning I won’t be getting any more stories from them. Which is sad, because from those venues I learned about Kelly Link, Theodora Goss, Nalo Hopkinson and other writers who inspired me to write.

But the startling part that got me was this: when was the last time I read either of those?

The Year’s Best Anthologies I haven’t picked up for a while because, well, I’ve been pretty busy; not to mention that my local library doesn’t have them on hand (actually, they do, but I’ll probably have to get it on loan from another neighborhood library, which could take a couple of days—not exactly self-gratifying if I have to put in an order for it instead of just taking it off the shelf I used to do in Chicago. Then again, I could always drive to another library that’s better stocked, but geez, that means that I wouldn’t be able to gripe about here…). And the last time I bought a copy of Realms of Fantasy was…ummm…hmmm…

Nowadays, I’m getting my short story fix online. There are a dozen of websites I go to on a monthly basis, and several more that I download to my mp3 player. (I swear, I will update my blog sidebar to show them) And these are all really good stories; perhaps not as the same caliber as what was in Realms of Fantasy, but I would’ve nominated them in a heartbeat for Year’s Best.

Yes, I’m still bummed that these venues are gone. But there are other markets out there. Markets that are easy to access. Markets that you don’t have to pay unless you want to. Markets that allow everyone to read, yet still have editors to filter out the really good stuff from just your average mediocre story.

This got nailed home to me this Sunday when my short story “The Liberation of Roscoe White” got put up at The Town Drunk. (What do you mean you haven’t read it yet? Stop what you’re doing and go read it! Go! Go now!). Some very good stories are on that sight (besides mine, of course). It’s nice that that I can give people a website and they can go and read my story for free, but it’s extra nice when an editor who runs a ezine tells me, “I like your story so much, I’ll pay for it to put it on my site.” That is nice.

The publishing world is changing. What does that mean to me? Well, it just means that I keep on writing and keep on submitting. I keep my eye on what markets are considered the best and send my best stories to them. And then I’ll keep writing. Granted, I’ll have to look to a new market to set my high standard bar to–

Then again, maybe I’ve already done that.

I just finished reading the Writers of the Future XXII Anthology. The first story was so-so, but there were other stories in there that blew me away.

One of these days, I’m going to get a story in there. Just you wait…

Speaking of which, congratulations to all the winners of the 4th quarter contest. You can find the winners on the WOTF website. The next contest deadline is April 1. All you writers better get writing.

Back to Normality and Routine…Hooray!

If you noticed, I hadn’t posted anything last week. There’s a good reason for that–I’ve been playing around with my writing schedule, figuring out when was the best time to do work on which writing projects, now that we’ve settled into a normal routine again.

A normal routine. I never thought it would happen. After all the chaos over the past six months…actually, no, make that eight months…it feels strange to be in a normal routine again. Part of me is somewhat aghast that I need a routine to define my life.

Back before marriage and kids, I used to be more spontaneous–in fact, when I was with the RCA, I took a Gallup Strengths Finder test (similar to Meyer Briggs) and one of my strengths was Adaptability: the ability to change direction when needed. People with an Adaptability strength was very good at multi-tasking, and they were great at changing focus at a drop of a hat. I prided myself with that. I thought that being spontaneous was the best thing for me, the artsy person that I was (never mind that I wasn’t actually creating any art at the time–simply the thought that I was made me happy).

When Daniel was born, I had to build routine into our lives. Suddenly, I didn’t mind doing the same thing over and over each week–routines became familiar to us like a warm blanket, because we knew where we stood in life. It gave us structure, a framework I could build my life on, particularly my writing. A routine forced me to sit in a chair and produce something, not just say, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll write that down someday…” Without routine, I would have never finished The Weeping of the Willows.

So now that we’re in a normal routine again, I feel a little wary that it might be taken away. When my hubby got his job with the school, we thought that we were set for life, if only for a couple of years. When all the life changes took place last October, it shook us up good. Who’s to say that the same thing won’t happen now that we’re up in Madison?

I honestly don’t know. I guess that’s where the trust in God’s leading comes in. He brought us here. He had a reason. So as long as we’re here, I’m going to enjoy it.

So anyway, back to writing. Because our apartment is so tiny, sound travels very easily, which sucks when I want to concentrate on writing. Luckily, I don’t have to concentrate so much in reading through the first draft of Willow. Doing a read-through is easier, and harder, than I thought. Some books say that you only reread the first draft just to get a feel for the story; others say to scrutinize every line in a reread, because you need to get the second draft just right. What complicates things is that there are whole chapters that I want to strip out, and new scenes that I need to write.

Because of the whole moving thing, I did not print out the story, but rather, I’m doing the whole reading on Word 2007, using the Track Changes and Comments feature. It works quite well for me since I’m not constantly printing up paper. I just read the story and make notes to myself on what I would like to change, what needs to be researched, etc. The hard part is not making revisions right away–in some places, it’s very much needed, and I find myself doing some quick corrections. It’s okay, but I don’t want to get bogged down in it. This is not the time to rewrite the whole book. That will come later, when I’ll do the actual revising.

I don’t know how long it will take for me to reread the story, but since I’m not doing the massive 600,000 word count, I’m guessing that it won’t take me as long. Back in January, when we were working on the house, I managed to read through a chapter per week. Now that I have more time to dedicate to it, I would like to bump it up to two, perhaps even three chapters a week. Let’s see, I’m on chapter 9 now, and there are currently 51 chapters in the book, so if I read through 3 chapters a week, I can be done with the reading process by the middle of September. Oy, that’s a lot of work.

In the meantime, there’s also the short story I’m working on, “She’s All Light”. I’m so sick of working on this story, because it’s all I’ve been working on so far this year, other than Willow. I want to start working on new stuff, but SAL is coming to the point that I’m almost ready to send out. That requires much more of my concentration, so the best time for me to work on it is when I come back from work, after Daniel goes down for quiet time (and ever since he started preschool, when he comes home, he’s so exhausted he actually naps. Thank you, Preschool!) Working on Willow works well (hee-hee…alliteration) in the evening, when my hubby watches TV and I can afford to glance up every now and then to see what’s on the screen.

And as for blogging? Well, to my amazement, so far the best time seems to be in the early morning, right before I go to work. And the strangest thing is, I have been getting up early, at least early for me. Go figure.

It’s getting close to 7:30. Time to get ready for work. Looks like it’s going to be a normal, routine-laden day.

Ahhhh. Feels good.