Recently, a woman asked me if, as a creative writer, I actually had time for any other work—including my paid day job. The tone and body language told me that this wasn’t just friendly small talk between two just-met strangers.
Instead, the inference was that I was short changing the part of my life that mattered (day job) to feed the other (creative writing and teaching).
Haven’t you been there, too?
You’re so gobsmacked by a stranger’s question that, at best, you respond with something evasive or inadequate.
Then, hours or days afterward, you think of all those clever things you could or should have said, like how this woman had the wrong end of the proverbial stick. Or how it’s because I work a busy day job that I can be a creative writer.
So today, on Labor Day, if you’re a writer with a day job, let me assure you that your writing and your job don’t have to compete or detract from each other.
What a Day Job Brings to Our Writing
Money: Collection agencies make very, very poor writing mentors. Without a roof over your head and food in your fridge, you will not write. Trust me on this one. Even the most successful writers (read: publishing a book per year) average about $11,000 per year. Coincidentally, the federal poverty level (for one person) is set at just $1,500 over that amount. And, by the way, few of us can crank out a book per year.
Someone has to pay the household bills. And when the bills are paid, our lives are a lot less stressful and there’s more room to pursue our creative passions.
Creative freedom: When the bills are paid, we are not as susceptible to the fads and fashions of the publishing industry. We can say ‘no’ to those freelance gigs that won’t augment our portfolios, build our Curriculum Vitae and that will probably yield more headaches than fiscal stability. When the bills are paid, we can write what really matters to us.
Time and project management: A day job gives us dual experience in (a) meeting set deadlines and (b) planning and managing a roster of projects. Both of these skills will support and advance the creative life.
Tenacity: There really are no free lunches. So the tenacity and problem-solving skills we learn and practice at work carry over into our writing lives. A writing project has stalled? An editor or agent is ghosting? We need to be good at defusing disagreements, setting next steps and developing a workable contingency plan.
For centuries, big and medium-name creative writers have worked in all sorts of roles and industries and jobs.
So wherever you work, this Labor Day, I hope you’re writing. Also, I hope you’ll take a moment to be grateful for what your day job gives you and, just as important, what it gives to your writing.