Several years ago, I shared advice for new writers about what they should focus on. One of my points was about the expectation of having a day job. Many new writers define “being a writer” as writing full-time, as though having day job equals an admission of failure or demonstrates a lack of professionalism.
However, most writers do have day jobs. And as my post back then pointed out, day jobs can help us as writers, so they’re not just time sucks.
I was reminded of that old post by a question making the rounds on Twitter a few weeks ago, when Marian Call asked people to share their first seven jobs, specifically the jobs they’d held as teens or young adults. The lists people shared reminded me of how we don’t have to be defined or limited by our non-career jobs.
What were your first 7 jobs?
Babysitting, janitorial, slinging coffee, yard work, writing radio news, voice-overs, data entry/secretarial
— Marian Call (@mariancall) August 5, 2016
Now Global Space Statesman!
— Buzz Aldrin (@TheRealBuzz) August 7, 2016
Slushee machine at my aunt’s store
Intern for WNET
Drawing 1 model
Community paper writer
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) August 7, 2016
Those “lowly” jobs didn’t stop Buzz Aldrin or Lin-Manuel Miranda from being successful. In fact, I’d bet that if we asked most people about their early jobs, they could point to at least one way those positions helped them later on.
Non-Career-Related Jobs Can Help Us Too
Maybe our non-career-related job helped us learn how to get along with others very different from ourselves. Maybe we learned something about our likes or dislikes. Or maybe we just had our eyes opened to the world.
For example, most of my early jobs are self-explanatory (from babysitting to restaurant hostess). Those taught me patience (with a side of biting my tongue), how to be detail-oriented, and how to compromise with coworkers.
But for a period of ten years after graduation, because I was moving so frequently, I worked for temporary agencies, mostly in office positions like receptionist, secretary, and data entry. That might seem like a long time to not have a career job (pre-Millennial time anyway), but I enjoyed the experience.
I got an inside look at tons of industries: major TV station, large-circulation magazine, automotive manufacturer, stock broker, etc. So I learned a little bit about a lot of companies and industries, from technologies to office politics, all of which is great experience for a writer.
Also, because temporary jobs pay according to the skills used, I learned to advocate for my worth, negotiating raises on a regular basis as my assignments changed. Being able to stand up for our worth in the face of confrontation is a skill more worthwhile than most things we could pick up from any job.
In other words, we might be able to turn almost any job into a learning experience that helps us as a writer—and throughout our life. Day jobs don’t have to be avoided.
Is Our Goal to Quit Our Day Job?
Unfortunately, even non-newbie writers fall into that “quit the day job” definition of success. I’ve seen too many writers quit their day job too early—when they don’t yet have a solid plan to stay ahead of bills—because they assume that’s the next logical step in their career.
That old post of mine also came to mind when an article on Marie Claire made the rounds on social media. The author of the article bemoaned not being financially secure after writing one acclaimed literary novel. *sigh*
No author will be financially secure after a single book. It takes time and additional releases to build up to success.
If an author is in a position where they can quit their day job and write full-time, great. But unless we’re downright wealthy, that means taking on a lot of pressure to produce words that add up to a product that readers want to buy. Many authors find that pressure makes it harder to write than when they had the time-suck day job.
As the author in question, Merritt Tierce, said (parentheses are my summary):
“I haven’t been able to write since the moment I started thinking I could or should be making money as a writer. I haven’t produced a Second Book. …
I could (lists several jobs that would bring in enough money to erase her worry…) but I don’t … Because I don’t want to write on the side, on sabbatical, in my spare time, for one month each summer, or never.”
In other words, she quit her job before her debut was published and then she didn’t write during her time off while living on her advance because of the pressure to produce. She doesn’t write now because she’s so stressed about money. And she doesn’t want to take a job and reduce her stress because she’s told herself that part-time writing doesn’t count. *double sigh*
Don’t Let the “Quit the Day Job” Goal Hold Us Back
And just as our characters’ false beliefs lead them to self-sabotaging behaviors and hold them back from what they really want, the same holds true in our life as well. In this case, it’s better to write part-time than not at all.
Kameron Hurley wrote a great post in response to this author’s disappointment:
“I have seen this sudden, shocking realization – that writing is a job, a hustle – destroy a lot of debut writers. … If you are looking for your self-esteem in your sales numbers or the size of your royalty checks (if you get them) you are on a fast road to disappointment. … Writing is not a get-rich quick scheme. Fans, media, and aspiring writers need to stop positioning it as one.”
Bob Mayer added his insights as well:
“Every author I’ve ever met who thought they had it made? That was the moment their career as a writer was over.”
None of that is meant to imply that we should give up on our dream of quitting our day job if that’s our goal. In fact, with self-publishing, more mid-list-type authors are finding success than ever before. However, we do want to be smart about it. *smile*
How Can We Tell When We’re Ready to Quit?
If we think we’re ready to quit our day job, we might want to question our plans and our personality:
- Are we the type of person who gets more work done when there’s a time crunch? If so, we might want to think of the many authors who quit their day job only to discover they got less writing done when they had more time.
- Are we the type of person who struggles to write when stressed? If so, we might want to hold off until quitting won’t cause income stress or look for ways to reduce the stress factors.
- Are we able to stick to self-imposed schedules? If not, how can we work around that weakness?
- Do we already know our most productive writing times and how to make the most of them? Is our day job interfering with those times now?
- Do we have a plan for including downtime? Or will we feel guilty for taking any time off?
- Do we have several story ideas ready to draft so we can be productive right away? Do we have plans to improve our chances at good income (writing a series, etc.)?
- Have we tested our ability to fast draft or other productivity-enhancing techniques?
- Do we have savings or other income to pay the bills? Or are we hoping we’ll be able to “force” success before the money runs out?
- Do we have a plan (and willingness) to return to a day job if our productivity, scheduling, or income doesn’t work out as expected within a certain time frame?
It’s worth remembering that just as Lin-Manuel’s path to Hamilton musical success wasn’t straight or fast or glamorous (Slushee machine to intern…to McDonald’s), we’re not going to be rolling in the money after our debut. Successful authors build up their income over many releases.
Our path to success might take zigs and zags. Plenty of authors on Twitter talk about their day jobs. Just as many share how they couldn’t get a book contract after they thought they were set. One successful book might be followed by five that tank.
None of those things are the end of the world unless we give up. And we might be more likely to give up if we’re in the hole and unable to scrounge up money to pay the bills because we don’t have a day job providing consistent income.
On the other hand, success can find us if we’re releasing books, even if we’re working a day job or writing part-time. When the stars align, a day job won’t keep the writing-success fairy from visiting us. Trust me. *smile*
What were some of your first jobs? Did you take away any lessons or insights from them? Do you have a goal to quit your day job? What would make you decide you’re ready for that step? Do you know writers who let false beliefs about day jobs and being a full-time writer hold them back? Or do you know writers who quit their day job too soon?Pin It