Writing is one of those creative aspirations that typically accompanies another salaried job. Few can sustain a living simply from writing. If you ever start to feel down about not being able to make ends meet via your writing career, don’t fret. You are in good company. Here are just a few famous authors and the jobs they maintained in order to pay the bills:
J.D. Salinger was employed as the entertainment director on the H.M.S Kungsholm, a Swedish luxury liner.
Stephen King was a janitor, as well as a high school teacher.
William Faulkner went to Ole Miss for three semesters, then dropped out and became the school’s postmaster.
John Steinbeck ran a fish hatchery near Lake Tahoe. He would also give tours of the facility.
Harper Lee was a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines.
Jack London was an “oyster pirate.” During the night, he would steal oysters from the oyster beds of the most successful farmers and then sell them.
If these famous writers had to have other means of making a living, then we shouldn’t consider ourselves immune. In fact, it is precisely these day jobs that often fuel our creativity, providing content for stories to make them more realistic.
Some authors are able to find jobs that support their writing. If you can find a way for your job to complement and sustain your writing, then so much the better. Perhaps you are a chef and like to write about restaurants. Maybe you are a nurse who writes about life in the medical field. Keep a diary of your daily experiences and the emotions they elicit (happy, sad, mad, surprise, fear, love) as each can similarly move your audience in the future. People enjoy writing that is insightful and allows them to visit places they wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Isn’t that part of the fun, to enjoy vicarious adventures? So, as a writer who often lives in the career world, why not incorporate subject matter expertise into your writing? It will bring a three dimensional quality to each story.
Maybe you won’t give up your day job because it’s a significant part of your life and who you are. Did you know Wallace Stevens declined a prestigious professorship at Harvard because he didn’t want to leave his career (forty years in the making) with an indemnity company? Getting paid for writing is not always steady and consistent. You may have great book sales in August from a successful marketing push, and then watch sales decline in September. Maybe you sell one story and have to wait for years until selling another one. With creative careers, it is prudent to wait until making two or three times the salary of your day job before taking the plunge. Why? Because you will probably no longer have an employer who is helping to share or pay the expenses of benefits, such as health insurance, company profit sharing or a 401(k) match. Many employees do not adequately count the value they should be contributing to their current employer, so be sure and calculate the indirect earnings of any and all company perks (even gym memberships, mileage reimbursement, car allowance, et cetera).
It is the easiest thing in the world to allow the burst of enthusiasm from a great day in writing overshadow your career as a banker, doctor, lawyer, or teacher. There’s nothing like getting rewarded for what you love to do. If you can, enjoy what you do as much as possible, so it can feed and sustain your writing life.
What do you do as a day job?
With writing, how do you maintain a work / life balance?
6 Replies to “Don’t Quit Your Day Job”
I work in a middle school library. This keeps me close to children’s books which is helpful for writing middle grade children’s books. I’m also on top of what kids like to read and what are best-sellers (not always the same). I’m aware that if I was not working I’d be undisciplined w/ my writing and possibly not earning anything. So I’m content for now to do this until God calls me to something else.
Thanks for sharing, Kayleen. You are a perfect example of the work life balance required to handle both careers.
The trouble with working a day job is that these days, it’s not just about writing. Authors have to travel for research, blog, network, market, promote, do publicity events, etc. Publishers are doing even less to help authors market and the sales of a book fall to the author.The problem isn’t so much finding time to write–writers have been squeezing that in around the edges since caveman days when the baby neanderthals snoozed around the fire and Mom or Dad darkened their writing sticks in the embers. The problem now is all the post-publication work/time needed to keep up sales, which authors MUST do if they want publishers to KEEP wanting your work. Most authors (excluding J.K. Rowling or Stephen King) can’t rely solely on their writing to keep the cave in mammoth steaks. So a better question … how do we balance THREE full-time jobs (the bill-paying day job; writing/editing; and marketing/publicity/platform-building)?
Jaci, you are SO right. You really have touched on something very poignant that not too many people know about, going into a writing career. Not to even mention the expense of being a writer.All the marketing, having a website created, etc. is absolutely like having yet another job. I just got back from a writing conference and it wasn’t exactly cheap. However, the information was invaluable, and it’s always a juggling act.
I’m an English teacher, which is great (lots of chances to re-read the best authors & absorb their technique) and also very draining (between teaching and grading huge stacks of papers, I can easily feel too “worded out” to write).
How do I find balance? I’ll let you know when it happens. 🙂
Another great example of how careers work in partnership with real life, and the impact the ‘jobs’ have on each other. Thank you, Ginny.
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