My old boss told me that it’s good to have a career path lined up by the time you’re 27. It seemed like an arbitrary number at the time, but as I was 25, I’m pretty sure that she, like many others, was subtly suggesting that I go to law school. My first reaction to the statement didn’t reflect on the age or the implications—I thought, I already know what I want to do. I want to write novels.
I worked in the wine industry for seven years, and then I had a brief flirtation with education—imagining myself as Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, convincing kids to stand on desks and renounce authority (I actually did this when I was working at a boarding school for girls in Oxford—it went terribly—desks are wobbly, and I nearly had a panic attack).
I worked as a supervising coordinator for an after-school program in Los Angeles, and the job ate my soul, bit by bit, every day—until summer came, and I gave it up for good—along with the romantic illusions of teaching.
I was faced with what is a common writer’s predicament—wanting to write full time, but not having the funds. Brandon Sanderson got a job as a night clerk at a hotel, and would write through the nights. J.K. Rowling lived close to poverty, writing and pursuing her writing dream. While the writer’s struggle with both work and writing is romantic, I kept thinking that there must be a way to balance the two—work smarter and have more time off to write (thanks, Tim Ferris).
When working at the school district, I began taking online classes in graphic design in the evenings with Udemy. I read dozens of books on business and marketing. My artistic nature runs deep, and I thought I could monetize my creativity somehow. I decided to pursue graphic design.
All I had was a computer. I fortunately found an online instructor that taught me everything I needed to know about design: Derrick Mitchell. I learned Adobe Creative Suite, and I got a portfolio and website set up for my business, The Vine Design by Gina. I make book covers for indie authors (the only subjects I really know about are books and wine, and I already had book marketing research under my belt from an internship I did with a hippy publishing house in Berkeley).
Starting a freelancing business became much more demanding than previously imagined, but it’s also gratifying. In terms of having more time to write my novel, I was much mistaken. I still write, but I still owe my time and energy to other obligations. There are days when I have to skip writing to go to the grocery store, clean the house, wash the dog, and get out of my hermit shell (I’m extroverted, I swear!).
In the end, here’s what I’ll suggest from my experience, if you are in a similar situation: if you have the ability to push yourself, learn the new skill. You can wake up early and write, listen to Writing Excuses at the gym, and work on plotting in whatever free time you have. Writing is a long process, and you shouldn’t shield yourself from learning new things and experiencing life while pursuing authorship. It means accepting a chaotic lifestyle, but hey, you’ll never be bored.
If you would like to learn about graphic design, I highly recommend starting here.