On Being a Writer with a Day Job(s)

IMG_0674-2For a long time it felt like my paying jobs were always at odds with my writing. I felt as though the two parts of my life were always battling for my time and interest. Both were important and fulfilling to me, but seemed to be in opposition of each other. It often felt like my paid jobs were robbing my creative pursuits, but I was the one organizing the entire heist. The relationship between my jobs and my writing has always turbulent and a bit paradoxical, but over the last few weeks of working more hours than I ever intended, my creative frustration came to a breaking point and the writing slowed to a stop. The jobs weren’t going away and neither was my writing, so I knew that I needed to figure out how to balance these two parts of my life.

I had a breakthrough when I was driving home from work one night (how ironic) and listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic on audio book. Although I have some significant issues with this book, I found Gilbert’s discussion of having a non-writing job enlightening. She talks about how she was hesitant to give up her job, even after she had published a number of books, because of the pressure it would put on her creative work. To Gilbert, her job wasn’t just a means-to-an-end, it actually enhanced her writing. She had the freedom to explore ideas and write things that might not be best-sellers, because she had another financial stream to depend on. She didn’t have to expect things from her novels, so it allowed her to be more creative with her writing.

I had never really thought about my jobs as direct supporters of my creativity. Although I find a lot of joy in what I do professionally, I always thought of work as a “necessary evil,” something that I had to do so that I could pay rent. It seemed like I wouldn’t “make it” as a writer until I was making enough money from my writing to quit my day jobs. After listening to Gilbert explain her perspective, I began to rethink the ideas that I had unknowingly been forming for years, based off of romantic depictions of what a writer’s life should look like.

Now I am beginning to see my paid jobs as allies to my creativity. My jobs still take up many hours in my week, but instead of seeing them simply as time-sucks and money-makers, I’m trying to see them for all they’re worth. First of all, they bring me a sense of fulfillment. I acknowledge how fortunate I am, because many writers work miserable jobs to support their creativity, and I have two jobs that I actually enjoy. My library jobs are a welcome part of my identity. To be a writer does not mean that one has to be solely a writer. Second, my jobs have allowed me to write without the pressure to sell my novel. I’ve had room to try lots of writing that didn’t work out and take time to learn without worrying about how I was going to make money from an experience. As a young writer who’s trying to figure things out, this freedom to experiment with very little financial anxiety has been invaluable, and I am grateful.

Not only have my jobs supported my creative freedom, but they’ve also enhanced my writing in many other less-direct ways that are worth noting. Here are a few of those ways:

  1. My jobs give me structure. I’ve learned that I write more when I have a bit of pressure on my time. Although there is a tipping point to this system, it’s good for me to know that I have limited time to write. If I think I have the whole day to get something done, then I’m likely to fritter 80% of it away.
  2. My jobs give me opportunities to build relationships with other creative people. The library seems to be a safe harbour for many writers, poets, artists and people pursuing other creative arts. Getting to meet and discuss life with people who are following similar paths is a highlight of my work life. That being said, even in my dreariest jobs, there have always been people who have creative interests. Sometimes it only comes out if you’re vulnerable enough to start that kind of conversation, but creative people can be found in all parts of life.
  3. My jobs extend my understanding of the world. When I’m at work, I interact with the public and see all ways of living that are different from my friends and family. I am constantly being challenged to reexamine how I think about people and how life “should” be lived. If I stayed locked up at home, I’d miss out on all of these interactions that deepen and add complexity to my understanding of the human condition. More thoughtful writer = more thoughtful writing.  

To sum it all up, my circumstances haven’t changed, but I have changed how I look the relationship between my jobs and my writing. As a kid, I remember my mom ordering me to “change my attitude” whenever I complained about doing something that I didn’t like. I am not going to lower myself to quoting a certain statistic about attitude vs. circumstances that often went along with those conversations, but you get the idea. As with most of my writing problems, I had to adjust some internal thought patterns about my jobs before the external act of writing once again began to work on the page.

I don’t normally give a prompt for the comments, but today I would love to hear how you balance (or don’t) your paid jobs/other life commitments and your creative projects. Although I have a much more positive outlook on my jobs, I know this will be an ongoing struggle for me, so I’m curious to hear about how other people deal with it. Do you feel as though you’ve found a good system? Do you have any suggestions on finding the equilibrium?

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