If writers got a nickel every time they heard the dreaded advice "Don't quit your day job," most would be rich and wouldn't have to worry about a "day job." The fact that many writers would love to quit their non-writing jobs doesn't make it a reality for most beginners or even some seasoned writers. But there are many tangible benefits to holding down a steady job outside of your writing business. As a writer who has spent many hours agonizing over having to work my day job, I'd like to share the ten best reasons I've learned for balancing your writing with a secure line of work.
1) More Free Time Does Not Equal More Productivity
Many writers believe that if they only had their days free to work on their novels, write more queries or interview sources, they would have a more productive writing life. This isn't necessarily true, says writing coach Katey Coffing, Ph.D., who specializes in helping women writers work more efficiently. "People often assume that writing full-time will be easier. It seems logical, doesn't it? But many writers are no more productive once they've quit their boring and steady paycheck. Why? Because nature abhors a vacuum. Clear your schedule and you'll find plenty of new things to fill it, most of which won't improve your creative output." Coffing adds that when you know time is short, you'll be more likely to use your writing time wisely.
2) Working Allows You to Structure Writing Time
"Some people learn to write in little stashes of time -- before work, during lunch breaks or as a cherished evening respite," says Coffing. Having all the time in the world to write doesn't guarantee pages and pages of writing. I find that after working all day, I often can't wait to get home to work on an article or brainstorm ideas. Having structure in my day allows me to build up my excitement for my writing that otherwise might grow stagnant.
3) You Can Write on the Job
Not many jobs have open pockets of time that can be used for writing, but if you're lucky enough to have a job that many would label "boring," such as doing light receptionist work, you can write between phone calls. But even if your job keeps you pretty busy throughout the day, no one has to know that you are plotting your novel or thinking of article ideas at work. Freelance writer Jennifer Matlack worked as a housekeeper and gardener while she was building her writing business. "One thing about each position is that neither required brain power. I found them quite relaxing, so I never felt burned out after I got home. Much of the time, as I worked these jobs, I thought about new ideas to pitch too," says Matlack.
Creativity coach Barbara Millman Cole, who works with artists from all disciplines, says that working while thinking about your writing project can be very productive. "What is to prevent a writer from thinking about character development as they perform mundane tasks? The benefit is that when the writer goes back to the page, she is ready to create because she has been thinking about her art during the day."
4) You Can Negotiate Special Benefits with Your Employer
The more flexibility your day job offers, the better it will serve your writing life. Freelance writer Sheldon Gordon was able to negotiate time to conduct phone interviews with sources from the office. "Sometimes I've spent half the day doing interviews for a freelance piece, then worked late into the evening to get my 'day job' work completed," Gordon said. By talking openly with his employer, Gordon has been able to keep his existing freelance work as well as add new clients to his roster.
But not every company will be so generous with the structure of your work day. You could try to negotiate a part-time schedule, extra vacation or personal days or flexible work hours. You never know the possibilities if you don't ask, so talk to your boss and you won't believe the perks a day job might offer.
5) A Job Offers Benefits
Probably one of the best benefits to working a full-time job is the benefits package itself. You can't beat the health, dental, retirement and vacation benefits that many employers offer. Plus some employees receive bonuses, travel allowances, clothing allowances and discounts. Writer Camper English loves the benefits he gets from his part-time job. "I could make a living without the office job, but at only 20 hours per week I get full health and other benefits and a decent salary."
6) A Job Provides Stability
There is nothing cool about not being able to pay your rent. In fact, money worries will drain your creative energy and leave you stressed. Even if you have steady writing gigs, publications often take their time sending out checks. "The regularity of my paychecks keeps me from having a nervous breakdown waiting for freelance checks when the rent is due," English said. Bringing home a steady source of income not only allows you to keep your landlord at bay, it also pays for the crucial materials needed to run your writing business.
Having the stability of a day job has more psychological benefits too. "It provides a sense of self-sufficiency, contribution to family and responsibility," says Millman Cole. "It takes away the guilt of not contributing financially. It gives the writer emotional freedom to concentrate on the work."
7) Working Gives you Fresh Ideas
The fastest and easiest cure for writer's block is to get out of the house and experience the world. If you are working everyday, you are coming into contact with many people and many ideas that can lead to inspiration for the page. You'll hear conversations that may inspire dialogue for the novel you're working on. You might hear about a new business in town that would make a great feature article for a national business magazine. A coworker might relate a funny story about his toddler that inspires an article for a parenting magazine. The possibilities are endless if you keep your eyes and ears open at your job. "A day job may seem like a shackle, but it isn't wasted time if it gives you insight into human conflict and emotions -- the very basis of art," says Coffing.
8) A Job Provides a Social Outlet
How many writers spend their days in total isolation? Writing is a very personal endeavor, but that doesn't mean it's healthy to be alone all the time. Many full-time writers find writer's groups to help keep them involved with other people. But a regular job guarantees that you'll interact with people everyday, and not just other writers.
9) You Can Add to Your Clip File
If your company produces press releases, newsletters, annual reports, or anything else that requires a good writer, you can use your natural skills and garner some clips in the process. When I worked for an economic development organization in the public relations department last year, I added two high-quality newsletters to my portfolio (with bylines) and a number of press releases. I also got lots of experience interviewing sources and talking to editors. If your company doesn't have a newsletter yet, volunteer to write it. Apply for positions in public relations, marketing or journalism that will give you plenty of opportunities to use your writing skills. All employers are looking for strong writers, so share your passion for writing with your boss and watch your portfolio grow.
10) Release the Pressure
Let's face it, depending on your writing to make a living puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your shoulders to produce. But what if your novel doesn't sell, your queries don't yield enough assignments to pay your bills or your screenplay doesn't become a Hollywood blockbuster? Working a job that supports you no matter what is going on with your writing allows you to enjoy the process of writing more fully. And enjoying the journey of writing is the most important part.
Holding down a day job is about working smart and making the job work for you and your writing goals. The stability that comes from having a steady job frees writers to focus more fully on their work. If writers aren't worried about how they're going to pay the rent or buy food, they have a lot more emotional and creative energy to pour onto the page. Finding and focusing on the positive aspects of non-writing work will help you tremendously and move you forward more quickly in your writing career.
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Copyright © 2006 Denene Brox
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.