Hemingway’s Kudu and Quitting Your Day Job

Always as a writer there is the question of whether to keep your day job. Successful writers for generations have been telling aspiring writers to keep their jobs and do their writing on the side. Aspiring writers, myself included, have spent generations ignoring this wisdom.

And then there is Hemingway, who found a sneaky way to give new advice on this, then buried it in the pages of an unlikely source: his 1935 safari tale, The Green Hills of Africa. In it, he says…

Now it is pleasant to hunt something that you want very much over a long period of time, being outwitted, outmaneuvered, and failing at the end of each day, but having the hunt and knowing every time you are out that, sooner or later, your luck will change and that you will get the chance that you are seeking. But it is not pleasant to have a time limit by which you must get your kudu or perhaps never get it, nor even see one.

It is not the way hunting should be… The way to hunt is for as long as you live against as long as there is such and such an animal; just as the way to paint is as long as there is you and colors and canvas, and the way to write as long as you can live and there is pencil or paper or ink or any machine to do it with, or anything you care to write about, and you feel a fool, and you are a fool, to do it any other way. But here we were, now, caught by time, by the season, and by the running out of our money so that what should have been as much fun to do each day whether you killed or not was being forced into that most exciting perversion of life; the necessity of accomplishing something in less time than should truly be allowed for its doing.

-Ernest Hemingway, The Green Hills of Africa

It’s tempting to believe that your day job is what’s keeping you from your writing. That quitting it would offer the long open stretches of time you crave to be creative. Depending on your means, it may.

But when you leave a job behind, you turn over an hour-glass. The grains of sand counting down the days before your work needs to begin paying for itself.

It’s impossible to say for certain whether any particular writer should or should not have a day job, or whether they do or don’t stand a chance of making it. But we can comfortably say that no writer should ever do their work in less time than it ought to take.

Most of the time, when we talk about quitting our day jobs in order to pursue writing full-time, the question at hand is “How quickly can I make money at this?”

But another question, the one Hemingway offers, is “How long should this project take, and can I still afford to give it that if I walk away from my paycheck?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s