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[Making The Leap] Simplifying the Writing Life
Written by
Julie Luek
November 2013
Written by
Julie Luek
November 2013

It’s been two years since I made this leap into the writing world. Two years since I left a semi-lucrative career to follow this heart-dream. But the decision wasn't made without considerable deliberation. Before I quit, my husband and I sat down and looked at our budget. It would be tight, but if we made a few adjustments, we could make this dream happen. It was going to be a tougher adjustment for my children, who as a teen and college student, liked the little extras my job provided.

Of course, I think all writers hope that eventually our writing will make us money--that our time is an investment in a future offering us payment for what we love. For many writers, quitting a day job isn’t an option. They squeeze in their writing in the early mornings or late into the night or over a lunch break. I salute their dedication to the dream. They’ve chosen to incorporate their passion rather than sacrifice it.

But, for me, learning to simplify my life, eliminate the clutter—both materially and mentally—has been a huge gift. More than just a gift to my psyche, I believe it’s been a gift to my writing. Not being so focused on all the things I think I need or want—less concerned with a new car, nice things for my home, new techy toys—has uncluttered my heart and relieved me of pressure to make my writing strictly into a product I can sell. 

But I’m not completely altruistic; I’d still love to see my work pay eventually and open doors for other opportunities in my life. But removing the immediate fiscal need, and instead viewing money as a reward for the journey, has allowed me to focus much more purely on my writing and developing the skill.

To make change work work, however, we had to make a few adjustments--many of them reaping an unexpected benefit of stepping off the world's expectations and pace and slowing down enough to appreciate and savor life.

A few of our intentional changes include:

  1. I shop mostly in second hand stores. Not only can I still find cute clothing at low prices, but I feel a sense of satisfaction that I’m helping recycle clothing or support a charity through a sponsored shop.
  2. I go without fancy electronics. This one is easier for me than my kids. I don’t have a need or, really, a desire for a “smart phone”. (Although I think the phone companies are going to force that choice on me soon.) I need a functional laptop with minimal memory. My guilty pleasure is the Kindle my mom bought me, and I may have to replace that when it dies.
  3. I don’t go out to eat much. Not only is dining out not budget-friendly, it’s often not a health-friendly option either. Besides I can make margaritas and lattes cheaper at home.
  4. We take budget-minded family vacations. I have a new passion for finding a cute, clean Mom & Pop hotel with character rather than staying in the swanky chain kind. I pack healthy lunches and breakfasts and we dine out sparingly, savoring special meals in a restaurant. (My waistline thanks me too.)
  5. When I feel a need to treat myself, I take gleeful pleasure in the small things: cheap notebooks and a new pack of pens, a new pair of socks, a coffee out with my daughter, a pretty nail polish.
  6. We eliminated satellite television. This was a bit of an adjustment; without satellite we only get the free stations as our mountain reception allows. That’s all right. We subscribed to one of those online television and movie options, a much cheaper alternative sans any commercials, and I don't watch near as much mindless TV.
  7. I let the gym membership go. I already own a bike, kayak, x-country skis, a pair of jogging shoes and elliptical. Rather than dish out a monthly expense, I dusted off the toys I owned and use them.
  8. I take advantage of the quiet mornings for daily mini-retreats. Now that my mornings aren’t dictated by a time clock, I’m free to meditate, read a craft book and focus my mind on my writing for the day. Sometimes I even soak in a hot bath. (Who needs a fancy spa for a retreat?)
  9. If I need a writing get-away, I need look no further than the lake, mountains or rivers practically in my back yard. If I lived in an urban area, I would take advantage of large museums or libraries for inspiration and a change of scenery. Besides, nature fuels my sense of peace and creativity.
  10. I let the vanity go. I no longer get my hair colored and have let it grow, reducing the frequency of haircuts. I like the long hair and am having fun seeing what color nature intended on my head. Never mind the streaks of silver here and there. It adds character, right? And everyone expects writers to have character.


What about you? Have you had to make adjustments for the writing life? Do you find simplifying your life peaceful and satisfying? What changes have you made for your passion?

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  • Danyelle C. Overbo

    Thanks Julie!  I hope you can make it back to Denver sometime, we still have to get together!

  • Julie Luek

    Hey Danyelle-- It is the little things-- bless their hearts. ;)  I know you are working hard to make a change in your life-- cheering you on at whatever level you are making progress!

  • Danyelle C. Overbo

    Wonderfully put, as always, Julie.  Since I'm trying to get business clients for my freelancing, I can't give up the electronics, but I too have stopped getting my hair colored and am making more attempts at cooking (scarier than it sounds, poor hubby).  What's especially fun is having my lovely husband pointing out the silver hairs I'm getting.  It's the little things, lol :)

  • Sure, Julie!  I housesat in London for 8 weeks last summer -- during the Olympics! -- and blogged almost daily at my old site:  http://www.PeacePATHFoundation.org.  I was based in Beirut this summer and blogged at http://www.AreWeReallyOutOfIraq.com.  Feel free to leave a comment....


  • Julie Luek

    Kelly, your book sounds fascinating as does your life and I'm a bit green with envy at your traveling. My time is coming (I think) when I will have more time flexibility as my kids move into adulthood. I may have to get in touch with you and get some how-to advice (and check out your blog). Thanks for your perspective!

  • Julie, great post!  I've "given up" a lot to maintain a full-time writing schedule, but I feel as if I've gained more...

    For income, I rent out my home in Los Angeles to vacationers and live elsewhere by housesitting.  For the past 5 years, I've driven across the US 5 times chasing housesits and have lived in London, Copenhagen and Amsterdam while caring for people's homes and pets.  I now reside in Ajijic, Mexico, every spring and fall, where I've connected with a savvy and supportive writing community, and am looking for a housesit in London for next summer.

    I've pared down my daily essentials to what I can fit into a suitcase (well, really 2 rather large suitcases).  It's not a lifestyle I'll have forever (or will I?), but it sure is a great way to see the world and write!

    Coincidentally, my book is a journalistic memoir about refugees.....

    Kelly Hayes-Raitt


  • Julie Luek

    Hi Jenny :). I enjoy the simpler life too-- much better pace for me. But I do hope the writing pays off monetarily at some point!

  • Julie Luek

    Mark-- Gladwell would be a good choice and probably dig up interesting feedback. I really enjoy TED talks-- thought provoking. Maybe I'll check that one out. 

  • Julie Luek

    Hi Shannon--Sounds like you know exactly what I'm talking about! I love ghost towns too, by the way. They just ignite my imagination. 

  • Mark Hughes

    Julie - you raise a point that's long interested me, which is the social stigma attached to judging people. In this TED Talk, Dr. Rebecca Saxe discusses the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ). It's a structure in our brain whose function is to judge other people's actions. In truth, this ability is one of those that sets us apart from lower animals, and Dr. Saxe shows how it develops as we grow up.

    So, what took me a while to learn is that the trick is not that we try not to judge, as that's an automatic function, but that I take the next developmental step and understand that my judgment is based on my experiences and makeup, not the person's I'm evaluating. As such, my analysis may well not be valid.

    For example, I meet someone who tells me they decided to bypass college and become a fiction writer. I think: wow, that sure wasn't the safe choice, and say that. Oh no, the person says. I wanted to be an astronomer, but my math skills were non-existent.

    Oh. Huh.

    If the study I proposed below was done (what percent of people make a "safe" choice in their career versus what they really wanted to do), the data would have to be based strictly on self assessments. And I'd still love to know the outcome. How about we sic Malcolm Gladwell on it?

  • Shannon Lawrence Revising

    Sounds good! We dumped a paid home phone for Ooma, cable/satellite for free services, etc. We do eat out way too much. I've been working on that one. I love to hike, and my kiddos like to go on what we call "field trips," where we explore new places in Colorado. I'm hoping to take them up to St. Elmo over the summer; I love ghost towns.

  • Julie Luek

    Mark, Interestingly, I'm teaching a college course titled College To Careers and this is exactly the kind of philosophy in life I'm trying to teach them. The problem is, developmentally, at this age, they want safe answers and predictions. So much of this you only learn by living! I would never want to judge someone's "safe" choice-- I realize there are many aspects of these decisions including mortgage, feeding families and paying bills. It does come down a bit to what you're willing and able to live with and without and your personal values. Like you, I'm so glad I took a risky unknown leap.

  • Mark Hughes

    Julie - your post led me to wonder how many people choose "safe" careers over what really calls to them. I certainly did, and some time back, it led me to create something I call the 25/25 question, which is specifically aimed at those entering or immersed in middle-age. It goes like this:

    Which would you rather have - $25 million dollars, OR to be 25 again and know all you know now about life?

    By that, I don't mean you'd know which stocks to invest in or which specific dates to avoid. What I mean is that you'd have knowledge of yourself and of the way the world works. In my very unscientific survey of friends and associates, the results are about 50/50. But I know what I'd do, and it wouldn't be the safe choice...

  • Julie Luek

    Lee, I really enjoy your blog and am following on Bloglovin. We are on very similar writing journeys with similar goals in nonfiction. I'm glad to have the connection. I was going to do the NaNonFiWriMo but with some family issues, it's just not an option, but I'm so glad to have found that site as well. All the very best to you in your goals.

  • Julie Luek

    Hi Juliet-- Mostly mine still bleach out in the summer into blonde, but when I pull it back into a pony tail, all bets are off. I think it makes us look sophisticated (sticking to that). And yes, amazing how little you really need

    Carolyn, go us! I feel so supported just reading your response. I had a great career for a long time, but just needed to give this dream a full-time go. It's hard, especially if the support isn't there, but worth the risk. I hope it pays off for both of us. 

    Hi Lori, thanks for sharing your story too. I realize it's not a step everyone can or wants to take, but for me, it's been a great leap and infuses me with peace and purpose. 

  • Lifan Writing

    hi Julie
    I still have to juggle my time between my work, reading and writing. I have started working on a novel and it is taking forever. I also signed up for the writing nonfiction challenge in the spirit of writing as I also want to share some of my thoughts about how life is not just about winning and getting on top of the game. I have started writing a few short chapters. I write essays and post them on my blog something I enjoy doing tremendously. Thank you for dropping by my blog and your kind comments Happy writing :-)

  • Lori A. May

    Great post, Julie. One of the tips I share with others, when asked how to make a life/living as a writer, is that’s it not only about earning money, but also cutting back: on our expenses and on expectations/lifestyle. We writers ‘need’ so little to get the job done comfortably and while it’s not possible to trim every living expense from our budgets, some things are definitely discretionary or flexible. You’ve demonstrated that and shared it beautifully and honestly with us in this post. Thank you.

  • Carolyn Heneghan

    Hi Julie! Really love your post. I've been a member of She Writes for a few months now and also love everything else I've written, but this post is the first that compelled me to comment as it really touches the heart of what I've been experiencing this past year and a half. I quit a well-paying but mind-numbing full-time job to open my writing business full-time, and no matter what kind of struggles I've had (and the encouragement from family members to return to the 9-5 world), I've never looked back.

    I can relate to your #s 3, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10 especially. I've also stopped driving into the nearby city (New Orleans) for single trips to see family or friends and instead have combined those trips to once and awhile and seeing both friends and family and even getting some grocery shopping done at the stores we don't have around here, all in the same trip over. Instead of 8:00-4:30, I work about 6:30-6 or later on some nights, but I still wouldn't trade it for the world. I think one of my favorite changes has been being able to take a bath in the middle of the day and preferably read something non-work related just to get a break from all the writing. :) Thanks again for this post, it really reminded me how grateful I am to have made this choice and how good I feel about making the changes I have in my life as a result!

  • Juliet Wilson

    Excellent article. It's amazing how many of the so called essentials of life turn out not to be so essential when you have less money.

    I've got long hair with silver running through it, too

  • Julie Luek

    Hey Tyrean:) You put it perfect: it is a wonderful gift my family has given me. 

  • Julie Luek

    Hi TOH Lee, I love nonfiction and am hoping to be working on a larger project soon. In the meantime I have lots of essay type posts and freelance articles going. I hope there's a payoff in a monetary sense eventually, but in the meantime, yes, it has a high heart value! Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comment. What are you writing?

  • Tyrean Martinson

    Writers should definitely have character! :) I am at a point in my life where writing definitely intertwines with everything, but I think it is a wonderful gift that your family has given you. Happy Writing!

  • Lifan Writing

    Hi Julie

    Again I love your post.I cannot agree more that if you want something to happen you have to take steps to make it happen.It is evident that you are passionate about what you love doing i.e. writing as you have made some adjustments in your lifestyle. Kudos to you. The compromises your family members have to make will see that you are feeling good about it . I look forward to reading what you are working on. Is it fiction or non-fiction? Cheers:)

  • Julie Luek

    Olga-- that's how I feel. For me, it's not even close to being a sacrifice.  I think for my kids, though, there's a bit of a trade off they didn't have much of a say in. Hopefully they see me a bit more content and fulfilled and learn from that. 

  • Olga Godim

    Well said, Julie. I also left a well-paid career to become a writer, but it doesn't feel like a sacrifice. It feels like a liberation. It's been almost ten years, and I still feel that way. Writing freed me. Before, my spirit was in a box, with the lid closed, and now, it's out and soaring. Even my kids remark on how much my writing changed me. And because I'm so much happier than before, my health is better too.

    As for the budget - of course it suffered. From your list, the ## 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 10 apply to me. The others don't - maybe because I never had a gym membership. :)) But it's not as much a sacrifice as a shift in priorities. We choose what is important and let the rest go, right?