By Michael Voss and Jennifer Rock
Nearly three years ago, we left our perfectly comfortable jobs in one of Minneapolis’s largest companies to take the ultimate leap: finishing our debut novel.
We’ll pause here and give you a chance to roll your eyes and question our sanity. That’s a fairly typical response. Unless you also happen to have an unfinished manuscript and a lifelong dream to be an author. That’s when you might ask, “How did you do it?”
The answer is that we didn’t actually ditch corporate America. Not the parts that helped us, anyway. Rather, we clung to some solid business principles and applied them to our writing careers.
If you’re thinking of making a similar leap from office spreadsheets to literary masterpiece, here are a few things we learned about how to stick the landing:
Mind your bottom line.
The twice-per-month paychecks stop coming. For real. Maybe you don’t do much around the office to begin with (hey, we’re not judging), but when you officially stop working, your employer will stop paying you. And probably ask you to leave. Few authors get rich off their books, so be sure you have plans to spackle the income gap between your old job and your future book royalties. After all, you’re going to need a kickin’ new outfit for your launch event.
Keep a schedule.
Yes, it’s one of greatest appeals of throwing off the corporate shackles: leaving the tyranny of overbooked daily schedules. But your newfound freedom also comes with a Pandora’s Box of potential distractions, and it can be so easy to waste away hours that should be spent at the keyboard. So it’s critical to retain the self-discipline you developed during your corporate captivity, and attack the completion of your book with all the zeal of a first-year intern trying to impress the new boss.
Be your own, best project manager.
OK, we’re on point three and you’re probably wondering when we get to all the fun and freedom associated with being an author. But we’re here to tell you not to ditch those spreadsheets, charts and obsessive notes just yet. Writing a book and managing your career as an author requires strategy and organization. You’re essentially running a business—sans the daylong budget meetings and restrictive dress code. So, create those to-do lists and track those expenses as if it’s still a job requirement. (Wearing pants, however, is optional.)
Bolster your network.
The sheer relief of no longer having a boss peering over your shoulder has been known to cause bouts of dizzying euphoria. You’ll be so happy chasing your dream full-time—writing what you want, when you want, how you want—you may be tempted to hole up in your writing room until you feel every word is perfect. But your manuscript will require multiple rounds of input and revisions before it ever meets a printing press or electronic bookstore, so it’s good to get input from trusted experts—early and often. Smart people surround themselves with other smart people.
People will surprise you. Close family members and dear friends will support your writing career, or course. But don’t be shocked when some decades-long colleagues no longer return your calls, emails or texts. Yet there are positive surprises, too. That shy guy you greeted in the tower elevator every morning? He might be the first one to pre-order your book. And that long-forgotten classmate, the one now running her own restaurant business? She just bought a copy for each member of her staff. Finding unexpected people in your corner can feel like a mini-miracle—and restore your faith in humanity.
Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss spent the better part of two decades careening through corporate America—and barely lived to write about it. As company journalists, speechwriters, and communication directors, they survived more than their share of boardroom brawls. Both live near Minneapolis where they work as speakers and consultants. They share their best stories during happy hour.