Sunday, May 10, 2009

Is Your Day Job Good for Your Writing?

I read a blog post recently that claimed having a day job is good for your writing career and it made me wonder. She supported the claim with several points, the first being that having a steady income is a good thing. No argument there. If your novels are not paying the mortgage, something has to. But putting aside the money/necessity issue, I’m not sure most day jobs are good for a fiction writing career. In fact, I'd bet most novelists would give up their day jobs in a heartbeat if they didn’t need the money. (The exception being doctors and lawyers.)

The blogger’s second point—that it “gives you the urgency to write when you do have time”— may be true if you’re a receptionist in a chiropractor’s office who spends most of the day reading magazines. But if your day job is, say, editorial project coordinator for an educational publisher, and you spend your day writing copy, editing galleys, generating ideas, tracking documents, planning and attending meetings, etc., then it’s very likely your brain power will be spent by the end of the day and no matter how much you want to work on your novel after dinner, it probably won’t happen. Or you’ll try and get very little done. On the other hand, a job that leaves you physically exhausted but requires no real brain energy (pulling green chain) might allow you to be more creatively productive in your free time. Having done both jobs, I speak from experience. (The chiropractor receptionist job I just made up. )

Another supporting point was that it “provides material for your writing.” Again, it depends on the job. The green chain job offers little in the way of stimulus for characters or scenarios, but it will give you that “urgency” to write. That sense of “I must finish this novel and get it published so I can quit this hellish job before I go insane.” Then of course, some writers get whole novels out of their day jobs (The Devil Wears Prada). Most jobs fall some where in the middle of the continuum as far being a source.

My own situation is that I work three days a week for a newspaper, which provides a steady paycheck. But on those days, after writing copy all day, I don’t write novels when I get home. I also do freelance editing and manuscript evaluations. But I do those projects on nights and weekends after I work on my novel. So most days, my personal writing gets the biggest surge of my creative juices. And this is why I’ve been able to write two novels in the last fourteen months. Not because I have more free time, but because I have more focus.

What do you think? Is your day job good for your writing career? Would you give it up if money wasn’t an issue?

19 comments:

Jennifer Roland said...

In. A. Heartbeat.

I write newsletter articles and press releases as my day job, so I'm pretty zonked after work. I would love to be able to focus on my writing during the day and spend more of my evening time with my husband. But evenings are when I write, so the only time we spend together without a computer glued to my lap is when we watch Supernatural and sometimes Chuck.

I don't mean to complain. In this economy, I'm lucky to have a job, and I am thankful for it. But, I would give it up if money were of no concern.

Eric Mott said...

I have a day job in a completely different field (computer programmer). So when I get home my writing feels new and fun to me, something different. It also helps that my wife and I run the writing business together. So I know while I am at my day job she is making progress with the writing at home—the best possible situation! I would like to be a full-time writer like she is someday, but we have a long way to go before we can give up my excellent salary. Right now my job gives us the financial freedom to take chances and have fun building our business.

Alan Scott said...

I know the lure of writing full-time is tempting and I would dump my day job if I could still pay bills, but is it a pipe dream? I write in the evening, but many times when I make it home, I'm too tired to think and my creativity hits bottom. On a good day, I may write a few hundred words, but that's not the norm.
I'm starting on a non-fiction work and it'd be great to spend time in the library researching the topic, which I can't do while at work.

Bill Cameron said...

Yeah, sign me up for in a heartbeat too.

Many years ago I made the decision to quit doing commercial writing. I used to pull in a pretty good living writing ad copy, packaging copy, corporate newsletters, that sort of thing. All perfectly fine in themselves and a good way to make ends meet. But I found I had a certain number of words in me each week, and if I used them up writing for other people, there were none left for me.

My current day job is graphic design and web development. On the one hand, it's a pretty nice way to make a living. But I've been doing it for most of my adult life, and I've reached the point where I'm starting to think homelessness would be better than another day wrestling code or assuaging the ego of some mar-com manager.

loreleimathias said...

I write novels by night and copy by day... i actually prefer doing both, and find one skill really feeds off the other... have blogged in detail about this before if you're interested:

http://community.brandrepublic.com/blogs/younglionsfromcannes/archive/2008/09.aspx


Lorelei Mathias

loreleimathias said...

sorry don't know why that didn't work! the link is:

http://community.brandrepublic.com/blogs/
younglionsfromcannes/archive/
2008/09.aspx

Nocturnal Intellect said...

I become most creative at night, but with my daily schedule and work that is totally unrelated to writing, I am just too tired and need to attend to my little ones needs. From time to time I get some peace and quiet at work where I could do some writing and perhaps finish at least one project, but the something else calls my attention and Im distracted, or it's time to go home.


Aggie
http://nocturnal-intellect.blogspot.com

©DGreer said...

You know the old saying about giving a busy person the job because they'll get it done. One can definitely have too much time, and that's a huge creativity suck, too. It takes a lot of self-discipline and focus to write every single day when that's your only day job.

Don't I have to clean the bathroom?

:-Dani
http://blogbooktours.blogspot.com

Lisa Logan said...

I have to disagree with most of this, too (except the income part). The "urgency" to write comes from my muse when an idea hits, and I will write it anytime, anywhere--though most often when the household is asleep to limit interruptions.

As for material, I rarely write things having to do with being a hospital unit secretary. I draw ideas and inspiration from far more aspects of life than my "bill paying" job. But hey, to each his own--for those who can find these silver linings in the cloud of needing a job outside writing novels, hats off to you!

--Lisa
http://authorlisalogan.blogspot.com

JD Rhoades said...

I'm a lawyer, and while the job doe provide a lot of material, it can be draining mentally and emotionally. Some evenings it's nearly impossible to drag myself to the keyboard. But I am writing a lot faster these days.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I find writing and promoting a full time job - I guess that's why I waited until retirement to take it seriously.

Jane Kennedy Sutton
http://janekennedysutton.blogspot.com/

NL Gassert said...

Given the choice, I’d like to work part-time. To make money and get out of the house.

I agree with Dani about free time requiring a lot of self-discipline. I had the luxury of staying home last year and didn’t write nearly half as much I should have been able to do. I was busy doing nothing much of anything.

Now I have a job that leaves me exhausted and drained by the time I come home. My creativity has taken a nose dive. My writing has suffered. I can’t even plot (or write in my head) while I’m at work, because I have to be focused on students. And my natural nocturnal schedule is completely counter to the fact that I have to get up early and be alert. Sigh.

Ideally, I’d like to have a part-time job that requires neither heavy lifting nor heavy thinking so I’m free to write the rest of the time.

L.J. Sellers said...

NL: I sympathize. It's so hard to find a good balance, but I hope you do some day!

Susan Kelley said...

This post was perfect timing for me. I teach high school, and I love my students. Other than the money and the need to eat, they are what keeps me on the job. But I work with so many incompetent adults, some days I can't stand it. I would give it up in a minute to write full time if I didn't need the money. I can't think of anything about my job that helps my writing though many days it does help my soul.

Alaska Author said...

I'm a state writer-editor in my day job. It feels like there is never enough time to do my first love-writing fiction and escaping. Always too tired after the full 9-10 hour day at work, and roles of wife and mom, and it seems to always be someone else's project I've committed to when I'm not doing these other things. Sometimes I fear by the time I can write full-time, I'll have forgotten all the stories!

Omi said...

At the moment, writing is my day job. That's more the result of moving around often and not having a car, in addition to the sorry state of the current economy than personal choice, but if I had the option to do nothing but write (or read) all day and be paid for it - I would drop everything and run for it.

Most of the jobs I've held in the past have been food service, and dealing with idiots all day doesn't really lend itself to taking the time to idly daydream every fifteen minutes or so.

Ashley Ladd said...

When my day job had less stress, I would come home and write all night. But as the years went on and I've progressed to manager of a hopping customer service department, I often get home late, stressed, and drained. I'm lucky if I can keep my eyes open. Thus, now most of my writing gets done on weekends and occasionally a bit at night. It's not that I like that, but I only have so much energy. Or maybe I'm just getting old and can't burn the candle at both ends anymore. I used to stay up till midnight and after writing. Now I fall asleep by 10 or 11 pm.

The Happy Whisk said...

I really love my day job and feel lucky that it works so well with my writing.

Gabriele said...

I wouldn't give up my day job if it was a regular job to spend all my time for writing professionally.
I wouldn't do it, unless I was coining it by self employment which was buying me good medical peace of mind . Why? Money is a very vast term. Its value is less and less predictable. Meantime, there are more reliable assets we may invest in, such as a medical insurance.

Therefor, I wouldn't leave my every day work place if I had medical insurance which I didn't want to give up. The latter may be worth more than money, once we reach retirement age with little or bigger health problems. I have yet to see the country, where good free medical treatment would be given to some passionate writer who never managed to save up for the day when he needed doctors, dentists or surgery. Unless somebody invented a new Mother Theresa who would look after desolate writers who once left their day time jobs. A Mother Theresa who would raise funds and have merci on them.