If you clicked on this post, chances are you’re a writer with a day job. Maybe you unequivocally love your day job, and you’re able to effortlessly maintain a perfect balance between your non-writing career and your creative pursuits. If so, this post is not for you. (Also, I’m incredibly jealous.) But if you’re anything like me, you’re sometimes tempted to view your full-time job as the enemy that’s holding you back from achieving your writerly dreams. If only you didn’t have to grade those papers / sit in those meetings / finish that report / deal with your annoying boss, you would actually have time to write. You daydream of spending endless hours at home in your pajamas, happily typing away on your work-in-progress, instead of wasting your time mindlessly entering data into yet another spreadsheet. You peek at social media during your lunch break, only to find that your writer friends who are unburdened by the demands of a non-writing job have already met their writing goals for the day—whereas you haven’t written a word. In moments like these, the message couldn’t be clearer: your day job is not your friend. It is a burden to be escaped as soon as possible. In fact, if you didn’t have to worry about pesky little things like rent and the electricity bill, you’d have quit already.
Before you start drafting that letter of resignation, though, hear me out: your day job may actually be good for your writing. Aside from the obvious benefits of being able to pay the bills, your non-writing work can actually be a source of inspiration and freedom.
Yes, you heard me right: freedom. It may be difficult to view your job as liberating when you find yourself chained to your desk, but hear me out. Many full-time jobs offer paid time off—a luxury you wouldn’t have if writing were your only source of income. If you’re lucky enough to have paid time off, maximize it: take every vacation and personal day you’re entitled to! Use those days for writing time, travel, or much-needed downtime. Few things in life are more restorative then a paid vacation . . . And knowing your personal finances won’t collapse if you take a break from the daily grind is a freedom that many full-time writers would envy.
Speaking of finances, there’s something liberating about having a reliable paycheck that’s independent of your writing. In Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert describes the freedom that comes from uncoupling creativity from your economic needs and argues that relying on creativity as your sole means of financial support may place an untenable burden of stress on you and your art. When you’re supporting yourself financially, you have the option to write whatever you want, without stressing about publishing trends or the ever-changing market—which can potentially afford you more creative freedom than writers who must, like it or not, always have one eye on the bottom line.
And a non-writing job’s potentially positive impact on your writing goes beyond the financial. In her blog post “Why You Can’t Quit Your Day Job. Yet,” literary agent Carly Watters points out that working outside of the home often offers writers opportunities for social interaction and inspiration they wouldn’t necessarily find if they were at home working in their PJs. I know this is true for me. I could’ve never conceived—let alone executed—the idea for my novel, THE LOVE TEST, if not for my years of experience advising international college students on immigration issues. My non-writing job informed and enriched my plot, my characters, and my themes. And while I may not look forward to another early morning at the water cooler after a late night of revising, who knows? That water cooler conversation may spark the idea for my next project.
And if it does, then my day job may actually be more friend than foe.
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. New York: Penguin Random
Watters, Carly. “Why You Can’t Quit Your Day Job. Yet.”