REACHing for Success

Catherine Dilts is the author of the amateur sleuth Rock Shop Mystery series, set in the Colorado mountains. Her short story “The Chemistry of Heroes” (May 2016 – Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine) is a Derringer Award finalist. Watch for her story “Unrepentant Sinner” in the AHMM May/June 2017 issue, on sale now. You can learn more about Catherine at

In my early days as a writer, I imagined success as making a living off my fiction writing. And not just a scraping-by living. No, I anticipated fame and fortune. Maybe even buy-an-island monetary reward.

I received a quick dose of reality when I became published. At first, I was frustrated and a little angry that I had to continue juggling the day job with my true love – writing fiction. This sour attitude was poisoning my heart. I had to learn how to deal with the day job blues.

How I went from hating to loving my day job in 5 not-so-easy steps – REACHing for Success.

Real World Training – All the skills I learned in the office prepared me for the business aspects of my fiction writing – records keeping, time management, professionalism, deadlines, financial responsibility. Learning new email software, Word and Excel, and adapting swiftly to technological change in the workplace translated beneficially into my fiction writing world. Maybe you don’t work in an office, but the work habits and skills you learn at any job will improve your chances of success at running your own business as a fiction writer.

Economy – Wanting to escape a day job made me mindful of whether my writing was in a profit or loss situation. Could I afford to quit work when it paid the bills? Was writing a hobby – an expensive one – or was I serious about making it a business? What would be my cross-over point, the moment I earned enough writing fiction to justify quitting the day job, in cold hard numbers? If you are planning your escape, don’t forget to calculate in big benefits like health insurance and paid vacation, and minor perks like free food, or store discounts.

Attitude – I had to accept that I had not been instantly catapulted into the quit-your-day-job category with the sale of my first novel. No NYT bestseller for me. Only then did I start feeling grateful I had a job. I was lucky I earned enough that I could attend an occasional conference or workshop, buy books, and upgrade my computer. Energy spent on despair or bitterness is a drain on creativity. Focus on the ways the day job benefits your writing.

Challenge – Publishing is an industry where you often feel helpless, as you receive rejections, publishers fold, agents close up shop, and sales goals can be difficult to make. I set writing goals for the things I can control – how many hours a month I spend writing fiction, how many short stories and novels I plan to write and submit in a year. Make your goals visible by tracking them on a calendar, spreadsheet, journal, or timesheet. Then do your best to meet the challenge you have set for yourself.

Hope – With a firm foundation of measurable work habits and productive output, I allow myself to dream of a future when my energy and attention will not be divided between making a living, and living a writer’s dream life. In the meantime, I’m writing the best fiction I can in the time I have available. You may face frustration trying to balance your writing with your day (or night) job, but don’t give up trying.

At the rate I’m going, it may well be that I can’t quit the day job until I retire. I’m not going to let that slow me down. Don’t wait for that perfect moment when you have no responsibility in your life other than to create fiction. That moment may never come. The time for you to write is now.

10 thoughts on “REACHing for Success

    • Thank you, Triss. The one thing in life we can control is our attitude. I’ve had to adjust mine many times!


    • Hopefully, those who have agonized while watching the clock slowly ticking until quitting time can relate. I’ve gotten some great story ideas while on the day job.


  1. Thanks for sharing your journey. I don’t feel so alone knowing it’s a long time before I leave my day job.


    • That’s one important piece of advice I received early on. Don’t quit the day job. I’ve seen many writers quit too soon, and then have to go crawling back to the work world. Hang in there, and keep writing!


  2. Reality. It’s a nuisance, but it produces great material to use in fiction. Catherine, you’ve shared a valuable lesson. Some writers threaten that if they can’t make a living with their writing, they’ll quit. I always tell them, if you can quit, do. Those of us who cannot, pursue our writing in spite of other responsibilities: feeding and clothing a family, whatever. My husband clears most obstacles to my writing. When I asked why, he said, because writing makes me happy and he likes me happy.


    • Sharon, you have a wonderful husband! I am fortunate that my husband is also supportive of my writing. I love your line, “it provides great material to use in fiction.” So true.


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