What, exactly, does it take to survive a leave of absence from working, as a writer?
Budgeting, planning, saving, scrimping, and trimming off the extras.
That is to say, you've decided to stop working a regular job and take up writing full time. You want to be an author, and you know that a few months without distractions will get your first manuscript finished and ready for sale. Now, you're planning what you need in order to do this. You want to know how long you can expect to need to survive before making an income off your writing (hint: self-supporting writers quit the other job after their writing begins to make money!)
MONEY, that rare and possibly imaginary thing that writers dream about, doesn't come pouring in on day one. If you plan on quitting your day job, you need a plan. And by plan, I mean a big savings account.
Personally, I recommend saving for a minimum of six months worth of bills, plus two. You'll need - and I do mean need - to have plans for reimployment after your money runs out. But, if you are serious about writing without distractions, six months is a reasonable period of time to devote to nothing but writing, editing, and learning about the writing process. If you're a quick writer, you might even complete more than one manuscript in this time period.
Let's say you're on the traditional publishing path. It could take another two to ten years to get published - and even if you're lucky enough to get picked up on your first query, it'll still be over a year before you're in print.
Now let's say you're self-publishing. You'll be out on the 'shelves' (so to speak - more likely, you'll be on the eReaders) much more quickly, but you'll need to plan for buying your own editor and your own good coverart. Your print run will probably be much smaller, and even though you'll keeping a higher percentage of your returns per book, you'll be selling a lot fewer books (excepting a few lucky instant millionaires. Don't count on that kind of luck.)
What does that mean for the rent? It means that if you haven't saved up for two to ten years of unemployment and don't have a spouse/partner/trust fund to support you, you'll be picking back up your day job (or a new one, for that matter - it's not like you won't have six months to look for the perfect fit!) It also means you should be planning to hold down a part time job while you're writing to extend your finances, because today's job market might turn six months into ten.
And then there's the extras: you'll want to join a writers' association. You'll want to attend professional conferences. You'll need to be ready for sudden emergencies, like car problems or sick pets. That's the "plus two" I mentioned earlier.
In my next post, I'll be discussing how to figure out how much you spend each month - that means, uncovering those hidden expenses besides the bills in the mail.
As a side note, most writers have regular jobs as they get started. The whole 'quit your day job' thing? As I've said before, I'm currently young, single, and childless - if that wasn't the case, quitting my job would have never been an option. But, even without a family relying on me to bring home the bacon, I've still been working: first part-time, and now making provisions to return to full-time.
For those published authors out there - how long did it take between your first completed manuscript and the first income?