Dave Duncan

"Eat Well, Stay Fit, Die Anyway"

Am I a Writer, or Just Someone Who Writes?

Here at my office, I’m a ‘budget guy’.  I spend most of my day with my nose in binders of invoices, or my eyes glued to insanely complex Excel spreadsheets with an occasional break spent modifying a Powerpoint presentation.  It’s a glorious life… for a CA or an Actuary, but is it the life for me?

To clarify, I don’t hate my job.  I find it quite rewarding and I work on a great team in a remarkably creative office (given that I work in the financial services industry), so it’s not like I’m playing Russian Roulette at my desk every morning praying for the sweet smell of cordite as the lights go out.   Still, when I think about the classic question asked by high school guidance counselors, “What would you do if you were rich and didn’t have to work for money?”, the answer most likely would not be to be a ‘budget guy’.

I guess that not being rich and having to work for money is the hook that keeps us all employed (or many of us at least) and as I get older, the talons of a career sink themselves deeper as financial commitments pile on.  So is there a good time to get out?

For years now, effectively since shortly before I started working full-time in a “real” job, I’ve been wondering what it would be like to just step out for a bit and focus on writing, to see if I’ve got what it takes to make a go of it writing fiction, magazine articles or TV scripts.  So, do I?  The fact that I still entertain the idea leads me to believe that I think I can, but the adult in me always weighs in with the classic list of pros and cons.


  • A sense of fulfillment that comes from being creative and using my inherent and learned skills in a job I enjoy.
  • Can have the following conversation:

“So, what do you do?”
“I’m a writer”
“Oh yeah!  Have I read anything you’ve written?”  (This is as far as I’ve ever gotten in this conversation before I have to explain that not all professional writers work for MacLeans or Penguin Books)
“Why yes, I’m sure you have!

  •  Get to hang out in coffee shops and libraries frantically writing notes, character sketches and generally procrastinating while looking brooding and serious.
  • Can wear jeans and t-shirts every day.  EVERY… DAY!!!


  •  Financial instability.  As two words, this seems a gross understatement.  Writers tend not to know when (or if) their next paycheque will show up, how large (or small) it will be and have few financial backup plans short of tending bar or serving tables.
  • Professional isolation.  I like water-cooler talk and having meetings. I like interacting socially and professionally with my peers and giving and receiving feedback regularly, and not just with editing.
  • Becoming one of those writers.  Every profession has their own snobs, and writers can be some of the worst.  They insulate themselves in an ‘us vs. them’ world where they think no one else understands what their craft requires and as someone who is already a snob when it comes to music, literature (don’t get me started on Oprah’s Book Club) and politics, I could easily become one of these people… and I don’t like these people.

That’s just a shortlist made up from notes in my writing journals going back a few years.  Every time I find myself considering making the jump, I tend to come up with roughly the same list, regardless of changes to my life.  So, what does it take to make ‘the jump’?  Has anyone out there done a big one like this?  Is it like jumping off a cliff into a cold lake, where it’s best to just close your eyes and leap?  Am I overthinking this WAY too much (which could be true regardless of the answer)?


7 Comments so far

  1. Dan August 15th, 2008 2:20 pm

    I’ve read something you’ve written!

  2. Dave August 15th, 2008 2:37 pm

    Would you be interested in paying me for it? 🙂

  3. Joel August 18th, 2008 11:16 am

    Some guy made the jump from real job to writing a blog as a profession about budgeting. Too bad you didn’t think of it first, eh?


  4. andrew August 18th, 2008 4:39 pm

    So an Ignatian approach to discernment goes something like this. It’s all about really weighing the choices, and it’s been important to me in making some recent decisions in regards to my own life, employment, etc…But watch out, those Catholics are the devil, and they might lead you astray. Be sure to protect yourself from their wiles.

    1. Write down the decision to be made.
    2. Write down the decision not to be made.
    3. Make two columns for each decision. Write down the pros and cons for both decisions.
    4. Evaluate the weight of those things you have written down. Are both decisions about choosing something good? Does one weigh more heavily than the other?
    5. Choose one of the decisions. Live with it for a week. Talk to friends about it, listen to your own feelings, thoughts, dreams, sleeping and walking patterns.
    6. Wear the other decisions for a week. What are your feelings now? How has your prayer been during this week?
    7. Make a choice. Live with the decision.

  5. Danielle August 19th, 2008 1:45 pm

    Surely your Catholic wife isn’t one of those devils to which Andrew was referring!

  6. Dave August 19th, 2008 2:29 pm

    Catholic!? I thought you were a Presbyterian now!! Man, this decision gets more complicated at every turn. 😉
    Surely we can all agree that everything will work out fine so long as neither of us turns to the evil of all evils, Anglicanism.

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