5 reasons having a ‘day job’ helps your writing

 This was originally posted at The Creative Penn blog on 2 May 2009.  

Many writers dream of making a fulltime living from their books. The life of the career author is surely a whirl of book festivals, interviews and closeted months in French literary haunts penning marvellous literature. Who wouldn’t want that!

Some of my (many) bookshelves

Some of my (many) bookshelves

But the reality is that very few authors make a fulltime living from their books. 

It has been said anecdotally that the average Australian author makes AU$3000 per year (less than US$2000).

An American author who sold over 75,000 copies and made the Times Bestseller list shows a net income of $0 from her books.

Most writers make money from other jobs – freelance writing, teaching or a day job completely unrelated to their writing.

Here are 5 reasons why having a day job helps your writing.

1.       Provides (much-needed) income. Let’s face it, we need the money the day job brings! It may not be glamorous but the job is necessary to support ourselves and our families. It is also handy to have enough money to be able to buy the books we need, or to go to the writing conferences or events that help us in our work.

2.       Gives you the urgency to write when you do have time. There is a myth of creativity that if you could only have 6 months off work and write fulltime, then you would write that award-winning novel. It’s not true! When you have all the time in the world, you do far less than if you are under a deadline. The day job squashes your writing time into the hours you can spare – lunch hours, commuting time, hours when you would have watched TV, after the kids have gone to bed. Don’t wait until you have all the time in the world as that time may never come. Take advantage of where you are now and get writing!

3.       Provides material to incorporate into your writing. We all write about what is around us. If you write fiction, then your work can provide aspects of characters, snatches of conversation, scenarios, geographical realism. If you write non-fiction, then your work may turn into a book, or you may write to solve the problems of your workplace. Stephen King is a master of the ‘real’ character. His books are full of people that you would recognise at work. Where do you think he got his inspiration? The years of fulltime work to support his family whilst writing at night.

4.       Keeps you grounded in the real world. Writing can be held up as an other-worldly experience. The creative genius works alone in the wooden attic, surrounded by books and little else. Again, this is a myth perpetuated perhaps by literati but is not the real world. Real authors have jobs, families and problems like everyone else. Being a writer doesn’t make you more important than other people. Having a job like everyone else keeps you grounded.

5.       Enables you to write what you want to. If you have a day job that is not related to writing, then you have the freedom to write on your own agenda after your work is done. This creative freedom is liberating! You can write that poetry burning in your heart, or the sci-fi thriller, the business book, the erotica. You can write whatever you want to, so your creativity is focussed on your own writing goals.

The day may come when you are a fulltime author making millions from your words – until then, be grateful for the day job and make the most of the time you have now.