When your "day job" is also being a writer

Being a “paid professional writer” is a dream for a lot of people. If you read many blogs or websites aimed at aspiring writers, most of them talk about the pros and cons of keeping your “day job” while you work on your craft and build up to earning a living with your writing.

I’m in a little bit different position because my “day job” is also being a writer.  I do content strategy, social media and web copywriting for a digital agency. About 50% or more of my typical workload each week is writing. So I already earn a living writing. But I’m still an “aspiring writer” in the sense that I haven’t had a lengthy work of fiction published in print, and that’s a goal I care about.

It can be both good and bad when you are already a working writer, who would like to expand or transition into a different kind of writing.  On the positive side, you get lots of great practice with the basic tools of language, grammar and usage. Business writing, including blog posts, online articles, pithy social media updates and technical manuals, can all improve your writing skills.  If you can keep a reader interested when writing about choosing a payment processing company, you’ll be better equipped to keep them interested when writing the necessary exposition in your novel.

The kind of writing I do is also excellent practice for overcoming procrastination, which typically plagues writers. The client really does not care that you aren’t in the mood to write about plumbing, law or dentistry today. They don’t care that your Muse is giving you the cold shoulder. The deadline is the deadline. Unless you’re genuinely overbooked and need an extension (which is rare in my case), you’re going to have to just suck it up and start putting words together.

On the other hand, when you’re already spending several hours a day writing, it can sometimes be tough to come home and write some more.  If you’re trying to get published, building up an author platform is another thing that can take up a lot of time, and requires even more writing.  So if you aren’t truly passionate and excited about this new milieu of writing, you may find that you’re “all written out” at the end of every day.

There’s also what I like to call “the Icarus factor.” When you’ve aspired for years to earn a living writing, and you achieve that goal, you may feel like setting a further goal to master a new frontier of writing is “reaching too far.” There’s a certain temptation to think that you should be happy where you are, and that striving for something more is hubris. (And we all know where hubris leads our heroes, don’t we?)

But mostly, that’s just silly dysfunctional thinking. If you were a good enough writer to get a full time job doing it, it’s likely you’re a good enough writer to succeed in another medium of writing as well.  And your current writing will probably only benefit from you stretching yourself as a writer by trying a different format and style.

Most writing coaches recommend that you don’t give up your day job, because the financial stress of being unemployed can make creativity hard. I’m grateful that I’ve already achieved an earlier life goal of earning my living primarily through writing.  Would I love to have my fiction work published? Sure.  Is it sometimes hard to sit down and write, after a full day of writing? Absolutely. But as long as I have stories in my head, I’ll keep trying.

What about you? Has reaching a particular goal in life made you more or less willing to keep pushing for new goals? Would you get tired of writing (or cooking, or playing tennis, or whatever you’re passionate about) if it were a “day job” and a hobby?

  2 comments for “When your "day job" is also being a writer

  1. 20 February, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    When I was eight I saw my first personal computer. At that moment I decided I wanted to be a programmer.

    My initial interest was in writing games. I started with text-based games and progressed through ASCII-art dungeon crawls and ended with sprite-based games. That was when I realized I didn’t want to do games because they were ridiculously hard. I moved on to creating various utilities for everything from tracking my comic books to AD&D 2nd Edition character generators. This stuck with me a bit better and I decided I liked data management.

    I went to college and quickly realized I wasn’t going to learn anything really new. There were some techniques and terminology, but there wasn’t anything patently new. Fast forward two decades and I have been getting paid to do my hobby for the last twenty years. Doing my hobby as a job killed a lot of the joy for me.

    Now I’m pursuing my passion for cooking. Having had my programming joy crushed already I am approaching it much more methodically. Doing what you love is great, but you have to make sure that doing it doesn’t kill your love for it. I am sure I will earn a living in the culinary field but I am taking a long time figuring out how to do that on my own terms.

  2. Kat French
    22 February, 2012 at 7:56 am

    Charles, I’ve seen how you are being very methodical with your culinary training, and protective of the joy you find in it (the Art Institute incident comes to mind). I think we have to guard our joy. It’s a gift, and when you lose it, I think it’s incredibly difficult to recapture.

Leave a Reply