(This will eventually tie into writing. I promise.)
I made my first skydive in November of 2009. Many people think about skydiving for years. They research it, think about it, and put it on their bucket list. Me?
Yeah, not so much.
I was traveling at the time and my guidebook recommended skydiving as an activity to do in the next city on my itinerary. I figured what the hell and went to the visitor’s center and booked my jump for noon the next day.
That jump was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Both because it’s a frickin’ adrenaline rush to jump out of a plane and because I think it, and connections I made because of it, are what put me on the path I’m on now.
And there’s always a but, isn’t there?
If I had known all the facts before I got in that plane I may not have jumped.
What got me thinking about this is a recent tandem accident.
(For those who don’t know. If you jump out of the plane strapped to a professional, it’s a tandem skydive. Individuals can also jump out of a plane with their own chute. A lot of people make their first–and often only–jump as a tandem.)
So, guy was on his first jump ever. Strapped to a professional who does this every single day.
And something went very wrong. They landed HARD.
(And trust me, if you’re ever in this position you will know that a hard landing is coming 99 times out of a 100.)
The passenger survived the accident with some pretty serious injuries. The tandem master (“TM”) didn’t.
Sometimes when things go wrong both the TM and the passenger don’t make it. On rare occasions, the passenger dies, but the TM doesn’t.
(Rare because most TMs will take the brunt of any impact if they can.)
There’ve even been a few cases where something happened to the TM up in the air (broken neck or heart attack on deployment) and suddenly the passenger–this person jumping for the first time and just along for the ride–was forced to take over and land safely.
Think about that for a minute. You’re under a canopy, the ground is coming at you whether you want it to or not, and you have to figure out how to steer and land this thing. Holy shit!
(Props to both of the passengers I read about who actually managed to do that. Me? I would’ve been SCREWED if that had happened to me.)
So, bad shit can happen on a tandem skydive.
Fortunately, I didn’t know any of this when I did my first jump. I was amazingly relaxed about the whole thing. The concept of dying didn’t even flash through my mind.
I didn’t really know it was a possibility.
(And to be clear, the fatality rate for tandem passengers is LOW compared to the number of tandem jumps per year. But it’s not zero. Between 2004 and 2011 there was at least one tandem passenger fatality in every year except for in 2010.)
If I had stepped back and looked at the pros and cons with all the facts available to me, I would’ve probably not jumped. And would’ve missed out on one of the best experiences of my life.
I’m thinking maybe writing is the same.
There’s currently a thread up on reddit asking published fantasy authors about if/when they were able to quit their day jobs. It’s an interesting, illuminating read. Depressing, too, for anyone who thinks they can make a living just writing fiction.
I especially found Michael J Sullivan’s first post interesting. I’ve always viewed him as one of the self-publishing success stories. And he is.
His comments show that even six figure advances don’t equal financial security.
You have to keep producing, keep kicking out new product. And fast enough to keep feeding yourself.
There’s a reason parents want their kids to be doctors or lawyers or engineers and want them to get college degrees. Because if you look at the facts, being an engineer is on average going to be a better choice than being a writer.
At least in terms of putting food on the table for sixty years.
Think about that. Sixty years. Probably more with medical improvements.
And if you make the wrong choice and decide at 55 that you need a different career? Not as easy as changing gears when you’re 25.
It’s a scary thought.
Taking the road less traveled is, if you know the facts and really think about it, a crazy choice.
It’s playing roulette instead of poker. All on black for one spin instead of playing the odds over a long series of hands.
There are no guarantees anywhere in life. I have friends who became lawyers (or got law degrees) who hate being lawyers. I also have a friend who has made six-figures a year in a non-traditional field that they love.
Nothing is certain.
But sometimes it’s easier if you jump before you figure out just how dangerous the decision you’re making really is.
And for anyone looking for a good answer to when you should quit the day job (and other great insights from a top agent), here’s an interview I really liked of John Jarrold by The Sofanauts.
As I recall, his answer was to have six or seven books earning steady money before you quit your day job. (Another reason to not spend ten years on that first book…)