Ready to Ditch Your Day Job? Author Tracy Barrett Offers Some Advice

photo by Alejandro Escamilla via unsplash

It’s hard to beat the excitement of a book launch party at Parnassus when the author is a member of the Nashville community. While plenty of folks in this town and beyond know her as “Dr. Barrett” — their Italian professor at Vanderbilt — we know Tracy Barrett as an author, and we’re thrilled to be hosting the launch event for her new novel, The Stepsister’s Tale. Barrett (who holds a Ph.D. in Medieval Italian Literature — smartypants) is the author of both contemporary and historical fiction and nonfiction for middle-grade and YA audiences. Here, she talks with Musing about how she made the brave move to leave teaching behind and transition to a full-time writing career.

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It’s been a couple years now since you stopped teaching, right? 

TB: Right! I taught Italian (language, literature, civilization) at Vanderbilt University for 28 years. I loved it — I had great students, great colleagues, a lot of freedom in choosing what and how to teach — but I never felt I was giving everything I could either to my teaching or to my writing. And when I took on a hefty volunteer position with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, I realized that the time had come to commit myself fully to the writing world. My last day at Vanderbilt was May 11, 2012.

What were your biggest concerns before making that transition? 

TB: In the blog that I started a year before my job ended I identified four areas of concern: Financial (obvious), psychological (for years I had identified myself as a college professor — how would it feel to lose that identity?), social (writing is so solitary — how will I keep from becoming a hermit?), and professional (will I actually write less when I don’t have a day job? A lot of people do!).

Barrett's latest book is "The Stepsister's Tale," a contemporary re-telling of the Cinderella story. She'll discuss and sign the book this Tuesday at 6:30.
Barrett’s latest book is “The Stepsister’s Tale,” a contemporary re-telling of the Cinderella story. She’ll discuss and sign it this Tuesday at 6:30.

Now that you’ve done it, is there anything about the full-time writing life that has surprised you? 

TB: The major surprise was that I had to learn to give myself breaks. For a while, every time I relaxed I’d feel guilty, telling myself that if I wasn’t going to write all the time I should have kept on teaching. I’ve learned a new rhythm, and have been able to enjoy time off while still remaining productive.

What advice would you give someone who’s dreaming of leaving their day job behind and writing full-time?

TB: Plan way, way in advance. I started planning for retirement before I even had a job! I can’t give anyone financial advice, but my husband and I always put as much into retirement savings as we could, even though it meant cutting back on discretionary spending for a long time.

I kept a folder called “Retirement” and every time I thought of something that I wished I had the time to do I’d open it and note the activity (it transitioned to being a computer file sometime in the 90s). As soon as I knew I wanted to spend my post-day-job years writing, I started noting money-making endeavors that were related to writing (instruction, copy editing, translation, etc.). So now I have a list of activities that I’d like to do and writing-related tasks to supplement my income. The problem is I still don’t have time for any of them!

Of course, you were well into your career as a published author when you made this change. Some of your most popular titles include the Sherlock Files series, as well as the award-winning Anna of ByzantiumDark of the Moon, and King of Ithaka. How important do you think it is to have the momentum of having published several books already?

TB: I don’t think I would have quit if I hadn’t already published. What if I discovered I couldn’t sell a book? It was too late to start a different second career if writing didn’t work out, and anyway I don’t know what other work I could have done. I’m glad I kept working at my day job until I just plain couldn’t do both anymore.

We love seeing you at Parnassus. What’s your favorite thing about the experience of shopping in a real-live bookstore? 

TB: The people, hands down. I love book people in general, and I love book store people who can help me find just the right book for me or for a gift for someone else.

Meet Tracy Barrett at Parnassus Books on June 24 at 6:30 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. 

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Why we’re glad Tracy Barrett quit her day job:

ISBN-13: 9780373211210
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harlequin Teen, 6/2014

Anna of Byzantium (Mass Market Paperback)

ISBN-13: 9780440415367
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Laurel Leaf, 10/2000

ISBN-13: 9780312602123
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Square Fish, 3/2010

ISBN-13: 9780312563585
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Square Fish, 8/2011

ISBN-13: 9780312659189
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Square Fish, 3/2011

The Missing Heir (Paperback)

ISBN-13: 9781250004802
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Square Fish, 8/2012

King of Ithaka (Paperback)

ISBN-13: 9780312551483
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Square Fish, 3/2014

Dark of the Moon (Paperback)

ISBN-13: 9780547851648
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Graphia, 11/2012