Writing isn't an easy field to get into, and unless you write a NYT bestseller, you won't really make a living wage at it.
There is a reason why there is the idea of the Starving Artist.
Most pulp fiction writers who live off of their writing, and aren't dependent on a spouses income put out a book between every two years and six books a year. "Literary" novelist have jobs teaching, or make money lecturing.
One of my favorite professors wrote a book every two or three years. He received $87 in royalty checks every quarter. Between his royalties and his wages as a tenured professor of 20 years - he made more money as a construction worker in the 70s.
If you love writing - if you need to get the characters out of your head - if you feel inspired by dreams and have to get it out there - if you ideas are brilliant, and you don't care if they every make you money - Write. Write a bit every day.
But don't quit your day job.
I loooove writing! I've been writing a book for the past four years (it started off as my final project in one of my classes during my last semester of grad school). I was pretty much finished with the novel by the beginning of last year, and started looking for agents (without much success). Around late summer of 2009, I thought to revise it completely. I chopped out half of the book, and I took it in a different direction. My goal is to finish it before summer and then start looking around for literary agents.
I will say--don't look to writing a book as a means of making money. Like Vintage Leather says, NYT Bestseller books are not the norm. For every book (and I'm thinking fiction here since that's my genre) you see on the list, there are countless writers who have books published that don't even scratch the bottom of the list. You have to really have the passion for it and be willing to work at it.
My friend got a mid six-figure advance for his book....and was a first time writer. And since then he sold the manuscript to 9 foreign publishers, each in a separate deal; and on top of that his book has been optioned by a major Producer to be made into a movie.
I definitely wouldn't consider writing a book as an alternative career - most of the working writers I know don't even consider book-writing their main career. Everyone I know that's ever had any success with writing books also does something else - teaching, writing for newspapers/magazines/the web, research at a Tier I university. It is extremely rare that a writer can make a living on writing books.
With that said, if you love to write, then write. Write every day, as much as you can, and work on the craft. But if you do it with the expectation of profit, you'll probably be disappointed - do it because you love to do it, and you never will be. But remember that you're competing for publishing deals with people that have been trying to do this for their entire lives (I've know that I wanted to write since I was five), and the vast majority of people don't make it. It's not a viable career alternative even for most professional writers.
Thank you for all the replies! I love the numerous posts advising to write because you love it and not because you think you'll make money! Great point. I need to just write because I actaully like to write.
I feel like there are many things I'd like to write about so it's tricky. I will also say that I was the type that would start a diary as a kid and then stop 10 days later. Maybe it was the thought of having to write every day that made it difficult. I think writing with no boundaries is more my speed. If I can just write when I can I think it will be easier for me.
I have several friends who are published writers. And I am shopping a children's book to publishers as we speak.
The best thing you could do is find a local writer's club to join. There you will find like-minded folks and learn the tricks of the trade. They normally also have smaller critique groups to help you chapter by chapter. Here is where you see how it is done and gain the courage to do it.
After some time with a club and many hours of writing on your project under your belt...then plan to attend a writers convention or seminar. There you hear speakers, authors, and writers telling you like it is. They often have book agents and editors available for appointments so you can get in front of them.