6 Things I Learned From My Sabbatical


I think every writer at some point in his/her lifetime has had the “I wish I could take a year off work to write” dream. Sometimes work becomes too much or you realize you’re not doing what makes you happy or you decide you just don’t have enough time to hit up antique malls for ceramic stripper pigs (I’ve actually found one).

I was fortunate enough to actually take a year sabbatical a couple years ago. Instead of saving for a vacation or a family or whatever, all my money went into my “Sabbatical Fund”. Finally, on December 19th, I was finally ready. I left my job of 13 years and moved to Arizona to spend time with family and to write. The whole idea was pretty terrifying, but I was determined to give it a shot.

And I’m so glad I did.

I didn’t become a world famous author or earn millions from the “not working but please give me money anyway fund”. But I learned so much about the craft of writing and, more importantly, myself. Now that it’s pretty much over, I wanted to share the most important things I learned from my Sabbatical:

Explore Yourself.

Oh man, I can’t tell you how important this is. When people reach that point where they have to take a sabbatical, something isn’t right in their lives. There has to be a certain level of dissatisfaction that leads to such a big, scary step.

When I began my sabbatical, I knew I wasn’t happy with my career and my general contentment with life. Therefore, I set aside time to reflect on my life.

What does this mean?

Take walks. Meditate. Talk to yourself (out loud – it helps!). See a counselor. Whatever it is, explore yourself, what you’re wanting, and what things need to change.

These introspections were crucial in my forging a happier life after the sabbatical ended.

Set specific goals.

One mistake that’s so easy to make is to say something vague like, “I’m going to write every day”. The problem with this logic is writing every day can mean anything. Sitting down and vomiting out one sentence is technically writing.

Once you’re free from work distractions, it’s amazing how many others pop-up. And you can easily slip into the habit of writing fifteen minutes a day, saying, “Goal achieved!” and then running off to play Frisbee golf.

Instead, set very tangible goals (“I’m finishing this novel by so-and-so date”). You’re working for yourself now, so you have to treat you like the boss. The good news is, you’re an amazing boss. Better than any you’ve ever had. You really understand your problems like no one else.

In addition to writing goals, it’s also important to set marketing/platform goals. Most of you are going to be independent authors (at least at first). And part of an indie author’s job is to market yourself. Start blogging, tweeting, attending writers groups, or all of the above. For every hour you spend writing, you need to invest some time in building readers who will actually be interested in that writing.

Don’t be an island.

When I first started my sabbatical, I was like, “I need to ignore everything, put my head down, and crank out this book.” It wasn’t until several months later that I found writers groups and online critiquing resources. That’s when I realized how much faster you grow and improve when working with other writers.

Be realistic.

Most people aren’t going to get rich and famous after one book. And you’re probably not going to find a full-time writing career. It’s very helpful for your emotional state to tell yourself, up front, that, when the sabbatical is over, your life may be similar to the way it was before.

Similar, but not identical.

That’s an important distinction. You do have to get back into some semblance of reality. However, after exploring yourself, you’ll make better decisions about how to avoid past mistakes. For example, I was a full-time web developer before my sabbatical. Now that it’s over, I’m back into web development. However, I realized how important personal time was to me. Therefore, I’ve adjusted my budget and am able to work part time. The difference in my resulting mental health is massive (definitely worth less money).

Accept that your writing life may not go as planned.

Before your sabbatical begins, you may have goals set for the very end. Mine were to transition to a writing career and have something published by a “real” publisher. Neither of these happened. However, what did happen was I improved my craft more than I’d expected, met tons of great people, created a blog with good viewership, and the list goes on and on.
Do you notice something here? Not everything unexpected is bad. While my initial goals weren’t realized, many great things happened. That is just the way it’s going to go. The path to the career you want is going to meander all over the place. You just have to buckle up and accept the ride.

Don’t give up. Ever.

As my sabbatical was ending, I admit I became depressed. I wasn’t rich and famous. I didn’t want to go back to work. I didn’t want to immerse myself in real life. But I did. And, because I’m still dedicated, I’ve learned just as much since then as I did during the sabbatical.

Therefore, if you take nothing else from this, know that, even if things don’t happen as you want, things will happen. I admit it’s much easier to say this than to believe in it. But I believe that, if you put something into the universe, you will get something back. It may not be what you expect. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

About Cody

Me_2aCody is an active writer, singer, and blogger. He is a contributor to The Write Practice, an award-winning blog dedicating to helping writers improve. He is also a member of the Phoenix Writers group. His first novel, Camp NO Where – A Healing Home for Gay Kids, will be available in the fall. Find his updated blog – full of random insights, fun stories, and “amazing” antique mall oddities on his blog. Or get smaller doses of “Codyness” by following him on Twitter @cfjwagner.

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