The Smart Person’s Guide To Quitting Your Day Job and Following Your Wildest Dreams: An Interview With Joanna Penn

Hey readers, so today I’m happy to feature an excellent interview with fellow two-time Top Ten Blogger for Writers, Joanna Penn, from The Creative Penn!

In this interview we’ll be talking about a recent change Joanna has made in her life, and how this change has influenced her life and her writing in a positive way.

I wanted to do this interview with Joanna because her recent move so exemplifies the spirit of Courage 2 Create. She has taken the rare, courageous step of creating the kind of work she wants and the kind of life she wants.


much love,


The Interview

Ollin: Last September, you gave up your job as an IT consultant to go full-time as an author-entrepreneur. What led you to making this decision? 

Joanna: I’ve been working as a consultant for the last 13 years across Europe, New Zealand and Australia. It has been a brilliant life for the money and the travel but it never satisfied me.

Over the years, my creative side withered and almost died and I was increasingly angry and frustrated. I’m not an angry person by nature so that was a telling sign that something was really wrong.

I’ve been working at writing and my online business part-time for over three years and it was finally time to take the next step.

Ollin: What is an “author-entrepreneur” for those who don’t know?

Joanna: I make income from my book sales but also from online education e-courses, speaking and consulting. I have 2 novels right now, and 2 non-fiction books, and I have made between $200 – $1500 per month for the last year.

I have an established blog with online multi-media courses selling daily, I am a professional speaker and also a consultant to other indie authors. Altogether this model makes money and, over time, as I write more fiction, I can dial down the rest.

Ollin: What problems have you faced in making this huge life change? 

Joanna: One of the big things for me has been adjusting to the financial change. Consulting is highly paid and so money was never a concern for me. Writing and blogging doesn’t really compare in terms of income.

The other thing was based on a routine of commuting and office life for the last 13 years. I am used to a specific workplace environment and without that structure I felt quite disconnected. So I now commute into the London Library for 3 or 4 days per week in order to work in a more structured environment surrounded by other people who are also working in writing or academia.

Ollin: Can independent authors actually make a living from writing in these changing publishing times? 

Joanna: The simple answer is yes, and there is increasing evidence of this every day with indies being quite candid about their sales figures. Joe Konrath earned over $100,000 in the first 3 weeks of January. Of course, he’s in the top end of the scale but here’s a lovely interview with an author who earned over $5000 in December and was very happy about it. (If you’re interested in indie publishing, both those blogs are worth subscribing to.)

It seems to be clear that you need a number of books to make a decent living either going indie or traditional.

Ollin: Can you compare your quality of life before you become an author-entrepreneur to now? What’s changed? Is it what you dreamed it would be like? Or has reality sinked-in?

Joanna: I have just got back from a research trip for my third novel, Exodus, which will be about the Ark of the Covenant and ancient Egypt. I spent the day at the museum home of an eccentric British architect John Soane, who has the sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I in his basement. I then went to the British Museum to research mummification in their amazing collection. I had lunch with my husband in central London and I wrote reams of ideas in my notebook.

I can’t express how happy I am in this new life.

I am grateful every day I can live like this. I may not be able to go out for expensive meals all the time, or jet off somewhere exotic, but I am living a simpler life of creativity.

I’m so happy, Ollin, and I’m a different person from the angry, frustrated IT consultant I used to be.

I was very good at that job but I was unhappy. Every time I think I should return to IT in order to earn more money, I look at the amazing things that are starting to happen and I know I have to wait and keep creating. This is the life for me. Perhaps I will have to return to work part-time at some point but for now, I’m going to focus on making this life work.

Ollin: I’m curious: where do you think the courage comes from to live so boldly as you do? And do you think this kind of courage can be taught to others?

Joanna: I’m a self-help addict! I have been reading books and listening to empowerment audios for years now.

A book that made a huge difference to me was Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles. The very first chapter says that you need to take responsibility for your life. Everything is a result of your own choices. The next chapter says you must decide where you want to get to, and then decide what you will give up to get there.

It’s not courage so much as determination.

The affirmation on my wall says I am a successful author. I have defined what that means to me and I will keep trying every day to progress towards that. Another great book is The Compound Effect, which teaches that every day you need to take a little step, you need to make small conscious choices in the direction of your goals and dreams, or they will never happen.

Ollin: Do you think taking risks, like the kinds you’ve taken, are worth taking in the end?

Joanna: I’m not a risk-taker by nature and I don’t think this decision is a risk. It might feel like one sometimes but the reality is that, even in this economy, I can go out and get another job if things get too tough. I’m not going to starve.

The bigger risk for me at aged 36 is that I return to IT contracting because it is the easier and more comfortable option and then I look at myself in another 10 years and realize I could have written lots more books in that time and achieved so much creatively.

Life is short; the risk is not to live it to our full potential.

Ollin: Should an author/writer be prepared when taking the kinds of risks you have taken (quitting a day job and following a dream)? Should they have a plan? Or should they just take a giant leap and see where they land?

You definitely have to have a plan and an income strategy. I know because I have tried to make this move before.

Back in 2000, I quit my London job and went traveling. I vowed never to work in IT again but eventually, the money ran out and I returned to it.

Fast forward to 2004, I had a house in New Zealand and a great job. Then I decided I was going to really write the book this time, so I resigned and sold my house (that’s a much bigger risk!) and sat without any inspiration for three months. I felt awful and I couldn’t write. So I went back to consulting again, my confidence dashed.

This time, I ended up writing my first books and blogging whilst doing a full-time job.

So definitely, definitely, do it in your spare time first. Know how you will pay the rent/mortgage and the bills before you give anything up otherwise you will end up returning to the safe option again.

Ollin: Finally, before we leave, I want to give you a chance to plug your new book. Can you tell us a little bit about the book and where we can go buy it?

I’m passionate about religious history, architecture, art and travel and I also love action movies! So I bring those aspects to my books–they have been described as “Dan Brown meets Lara Croft with a splash of Indiana Jones.”

The latest book is Prophecy, the 2nd in the ARKANE series. If you like an impending apocalypse with a race against time to stop a curse reaching mankind, you’ll enjoy the book. It has 16 reviews averaging 4.5 stars on Amazon right now and is $2.99.

It can be read as a stand-alone novel but the prequel, Pentecost, is only 99 cents on Kindle if you fancy trying it out.

Ollin: Thank you, Joanna. You’re an inspiration to us all.

Joanna: Thanks for having me Ollin!

Joanna Penn is the author of action-adventure thriller novels Pentecost and Prophecy, as well as a non-fiction book on career change. Joanna’s site helps people write, publish and market their books and has been voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers 2 years running. You can follow Joanna on twitter @thecreativepenn

Have you ever thought of making a radical transformation in your life in order to pursue a dream? Or, if you’ve ALREADY made a radical transformation in your life in order to pursue a dream, what was (or is) the experience like? Please share your wisdom with us in the comments below!

>>> C2C’s eBook Fundraiser Update: IMPORTANT: Tomorrow (February 9th) is your last day to contribute to the campaign! To find out more about the campaign and how to contribute please visit C2C’s eBook fundraising page by going here.

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35 comments on “The Smart Person’s Guide To Quitting Your Day Job and Following Your Wildest Dreams: An Interview With Joanna Penn

  1. Wow! What a wonderful testimony to both courage and “determination”. Congrats and good luck on your writing future!


  2. Kaela Morin says:

    Thanks for this, and the links too. So time times a day, I want to leave it all and focus on my writing, and now I have a better idea of what to do when the day come. You’ve provided some sound information for this writer-to-be! Thanks again!

    • Ollin says:

      The thing about this interview that I love is that it doesn’t sugar coat it, or make the process seem mysterious. It shows a smart, practical approach to following your dreams. It’s not romantic, it’s just real and doable. Which is so much better than what you usually get.

    • Joanna Penn says:

      It just takes some planning Kaela, but it’s definitely do-able!

  3. Joanna Penn says:

    Thanks for having me on Ollin! They are great questions.

  4. […] The smart person’s guide to quitting your day job and following your dreams. On Courage to Create. […]

  5. I follow Joanna’s blog and Facebook page but it’s always nice to read more. This is great advice for anyone who dreams about making a career as an author. I’ve been writing full time for several years, using a mix of ghostwriting, freelance writing, publishing and my own fiction. The percentage has been evolving into more and more time for my own writing. If someone has an hour a day to devote to writing, that’s a great start. Just a page a day is a book in around 6 months, depending upon the desired length. You can develop it into a part time income and then hopefully a full time job. I chose to earn a living through various types of paid writing while developing my fiction career, which in turn sharpened my writing skills. There’s so many paths to success (defined by your own terms) and it’s all worth it. Joanna, you’re so right when you say, “the risk is not to live it to our full potential.” Thanks again for sharing your stories with us!

    • Joanna Penn says:

      Thanks Kristen, I appreciate you sharing your story too. I do consider myself an author-entrepreneur, making money through multiple streams of income, of which fiction is just one. I don’t regret the move at all!

  6. It’s been a year and a half since I left my employment to pursue a career in writing. Almost exactly a year after quitting my job, I was signing my book contract for my novel with a small publisher who I met through the referral of an author friend.

    I think one of the biggest things I had to learn in my new creative life was to love writing for its sake and to finally release any self-worth I had attached to a paycheck, because I knew I wasn’t going to get one for a while if I was going to try really hard to write and be published. I had to let that need to make money go for a while, and allow my husband to help float me financially (my pride took a hit, but it was a good thing). I know not everyone is able to have someone support them financially, but this was certainly a blessing for me that made it possible! Before I had the courage to leave my job, I wrote a lot on the side until I couldn’t take it any more. I knew I needed more time, I knew I needed to pursue it full time if I was going to give it a chance.

    I think determination is huge, like you said, Joanna. Courage starts you down that road, but determination keeps you there!

    • Joanna Penn says:

      Attaching self-worth to a pay-check is kind of inevitable and something I also struggle with. However, I make sure I am always working on things that may pay off in the future even if they don’t immediately pay now – basically, what most marketing is!
      I’m determined to make this work!

  7. Andrea Gray says:

    Thank you for this encouraging interview, Joanna and Ollin. It tells me once again to never give up on my dream. And remembering it will help me getting through hard times when working on my novel seems difficult. Thank you!

  8. Hey Joanna! You promoted this post as being “deep and meaningful” but I thought it was more honest and authentic to you. And I liked learning a bit more about you and seeing more of myself and my habits (self-help is the shiz) in you as well! Very great interview. Thanks!

  9. Judy Berman says:

    A truly inspiring interview. I did make an abrupt career move – from radio reporting to newspaper reporting and, now, teaching. For two of the moves, I had a plan. I know I need to follow that model again so that I can achieve my goal of writing creatively. Thanks to you and Joanna Penn for providing such excellent tips.

  10. Jackie Cangro says:

    Ollin, thank you for introducing me to Joanna through this interview. It’s wonderful to see someone who had the courage and determination to make her dream come true.

  11. Sunshine says:

    Thank you Ollin and Joanna! I find both of you very courageous and talented people and it’s always a pleasure and inspiration when you can bring what you do best not only as a way to make a living but as a small way to make the world a better place. Thanks!

  12. RD Meyer says:

    Joanna, you’re living the dream I want to follow one day. I’m not there on the “go for broke” scale yet, but I’m inching my way forward. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Joanna Penn says:

      Inches are really important and I have found that the pace of change speeds up. Initially, you have to overcome inertia and then you start to pick up momentum. It gets easier and then suddenly the opportunities come raining down…

  13. Dan Glover says:

    I haven’t been able to transition to writing full time as of yet… I’m single so I have no one else’s income to fall back on. Instead, beginning last year I cut back the number of hours that I work. Being an independent contractor in the real estate field allows me to set my own hours and though I make less money I have more time for writing and it’s really paid off. I work my ‘day’ job from 3pm until 9pm and then I write, usually until 3am. Writing at night works for me as there are less distractions and I’m a night owl anyway.
    I have good months and I have bad months so far as the income from my writing goes, but the fact that I am making money with my writing allows me to tell people in all honesty that I am a professional writer. Of course I dream of the day when I can quit scratching around in real estate and write for a living but whether (or not) that day comes I keep on writing and creating something new out of nothing. Like all of you… I am an artist first and foremost.
    Thank you all for sharing your journeys and your thoughts… very interesting discussion!

    • Joanna Penn says:

      Hi Dan, as an international business consultant I was always the breadwinner. Always have been. I made sure I had 6 months income saved before I quit the day job and budgeted on how much I need to keep the bills paid. I was also an independent contractor though – it made a big difference as I could take days off when I wanted. All the best.

  14. Lynne Spreen says:

    When I was very young I worked for a woman who was in her mid-40s; she was going to school at night to earn her Masters’ degree. I was considering following her example but it would take so long, going at night for years! She said she was going to be 49 when she finished, but she could be 49 with the MA or 49 without. She chose “with.” Simple, pure logic. Might as well follow your dreams, right? Thanks for this, Ollin and Joanna.

  15. Brooke says:

    I follow Joanna’s everything, she is an inspiration and when I have moments…weeks…of forgetting what my aim is and where my focus needs to be, she helps ground my flighty wings again and get me back on track. I already went through a career change when I left a very well paid job in financial services to become a personal trainer. I earned no money for the first 18months but then within another year I had met my husband and we owned our own studio. I stopped working as a pt temporarily during my very bad pregnancy, but then post birth, it was discovered I had something called Gullian Barre Syndrome and I became paralyzed, and I’m still recovering. I can’t work as a trainer anymore even if I’d wanted to (pssttttt…I don’t!). Throughout all this I realized something, i have a unique opportunity. I can’t physically work, but my brain works and the one thing I always WANTED to be was a writter. I woke up one morning about 6 months ago with this sentence in my head: If I really want to be a writer, all I need to do is write! So that’s what I’m trying to do now. The only problem I have now is the distraction of the other 17 creative hobbies I have. Thanks Joanna for all you give to those of us that are trying to skip down the same path as you.

    • Joanna Penn says:

      Hi Brooke, I’m so glad I have been useful to you on your journey – which sounds like a challenging one. I’d like to encourage you to check out Jon Morrow who writes at Copyblogger but also has a very good online business with his writing.
      He is also paralyzed and yet does amazing things – here’s a great article he wrote for starters

  16. Great interview! Joanna, you’re a huge inspiration to me 🙂

  17. I love the new world of publishing!

  18. Meredith Jaeger says:

    I quit full-time work in 2009 to pursue writing. I’ve completed 2 novels (as yet unpublished) and I work 30 hours a week now at my day job. But this article is SO inspirational, and my next goal is to write full-time. I’m attending the San Francisco writers conference this week (my first). I feel so happy and fulfilled treating my writing as a profession. I cannot wait to begin my new life of self-employment, no matter how scary it is. Thank you for this!

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