Day jobs—the good, the bad, the ugly!

About a year and a half ago, I decided to take a part-time day job—to supplement my writing and editing income, yes, but also (more importantly), because I wanted to free up my creative mind.

Nothing kills creativity like wondering how the mortgage will get paid and the freelance life (mine at least) was a bit feast or famine—some months were fantastic. Others—eek, not so much.

I’m not alone in extolling the benefits of working—at least part-time—for someone else when you’re in an artistic field. Over the years I’ve heard many professional authors and writers warn not to quit your day job too soon. Some even advocate never quitting your day job entirely—always keeping a ladle in the stew, so to speak. . . . Sometimes the recommendation’s based on the issue of money. The freelancer or novelist’s income can be irregular, like I mentioned. Sometimes it’s because the speaker feels that having a job in the “real” world gives inspiration to draw from, plus a much needed break (at times) from the solitary, inner realms that writers live in.

I can see both sides.

Most of us understand the comfort (and necessity) of at least a certain amount of dependable income, so I won’t spend much time on that. Ditto, we tend to be able to understand that having co-workers—both the ones easy to get along with and the ones that . . . aren’t—can inspire, perhaps act as sounding boards, etc. . . .

The big lure of going out one’s own is time. After all, what’s more tempting than the idea of business casual (or business professional) equaling pajamas? What could be more ideal than having an uninterrupted 8 hours to write—well, an uninterrupted 8 hours, minus the two hours for a cool lunch with other like-minded, pajama wearing intellectuals, that is. We romanticize (or I should say, I romanticize) the image of the madwomen in the attic a little too much. And there are, of course, days when the daily grind feels, well, like a grind—and we just want to be free from it.

I maintain, however, that if you really want to write a lot, to make your writing be your life’s work (a very separate thing from your primary source of earnings, by the way)—whether or not you have to do other work to pay your mortgage or buy groceries won’t stop you. It might even motivate you (when you have eight hours stretching ahead of you, it’s easy to wile away 6 of ‘em. When you want to get in 1000 words and you only have an hour or two, you tend to get on it).

And less than satisfactory days at work—even the occasional rotten days? Even better. (Just make sure that you’re not in a job you absolutely hate, because that could be muse-killing—though that’s a side tangent.)

If your “day job” is too perfect, too all-absorbing and fascinating, there’s the danger that you will feel, well, fulfilled by it and the desire, the drive, the compulsion to write will diminish.

If your job is creative and calls for imagining and envisioning and brainstorming—it could feed your writing, sure, but it could also easily satiate the part of your psyche that craves all that creating and thinking.

Chaffing a bit at work—whether it’s because the job doesn’t stimulate you mentally or inspire you creatively, or it doesn’t pay enough, or because of personality clashes with other staff members—is a good thing.

If you’re lucky enough to have job to go to that pays the bills, gives you fodder for characters (maybe even villains!), and you have the added benefit of not loving it too much, good on you! You’re in the perfect place to kindle your writing fire and motivate you to get your stories out. (Or that’s what I tell myself anyway. Heh heh.)

8 thoughts on “Day jobs—the good, the bad, the ugly!

  1. This is very timely as I just read an article where a new author, (her 1st book came out in September) just quite her job. In three months, she’s made around 12k and figures that she will be able to live off what she is making and setting aside for an additional six months.

    Of course, that is assuming that her sales keep up. Thanks for the reminder that there is nothing wrong with the day job, as long as we don’t let it consume us instead of our writing. 😀

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  2. Dear Shannon,

    Thanks for coming by. You summed it up perfectly: “There is nothing wrong with the day job, as long as we don’t let it consume us instead of our writing.” (But wow, what wonderful news for that author you mentioned!)

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  3. You’ve couldn’t have written a more timely post for me, Ev. I’ve been really struggling with unhappiness at my day job lately, and now I’m committed to focusing on my novels in the New Year. As I was just telling a friend at lunch, at the beginning of working here, when I LOVED my job and it was super creative, it consumed me and every bit of creative spark I had. My fiance at the time would say, “Holli, you’re a novelist, not a museum worker.”

    Even though my day job was much more enjoyable then, it was death for my writing. So thanks for this. We are definitely on the same page. 🙂

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  4. Dear Holli,

    I’m sorry that your job is less than awesome these days, but happy this post resonated with you–and ecstatic to hear that you’re making your novels your focus again!

    Best of luck and much productivity in the new year! (Is it bad form to also wish that your job continues to suck mildly, so that your writing passion remains high? ;))

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  5. Not bad form at all, and as it involves bureaucracy and people politics–neither of which are my favorite things–you are bound to get your wish.

    I’m looking forward to writing again in the New Year. I’ve missed it. Looking forward to getting back to kickboxing, too. But for now, the break is nice and so needed. 🙂

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  6. Dear Holli,

    Argh, I’m sorry to hear that the satisfaction issues at your day job surround people politics. That stuff is the worst (and, really, is probably the biggest factor in workplace unhappiness). Blech!

    But as ever, your attitude is fantastic. It’s great that you’re looking forward to your new year with lots of excitement about your writing (and your kickboxing!), and yes, revel in your much deserved down time! I hope your holidays are extra wonderful this year.

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  7. I don’t know how I didn’t reply to this post! Food for thought, Ev. And very topical.

    My job seems like it’d come with a bunch of writing perks: access to books, access to great characters. Yet I tend to keep it as separate as possible. Regulars never make it into my stories. I rarely have a library experience and think, “Yes, that’ll go in a book.” It’s like my writing life doesn’t exist while I’m at work.

    I wonder why.

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