A Look at Writers’ Day Jobs

Let’s face it.  With the exception of the tiny handful of writers lucky enough to generate handsome earnings from their books or to have the full financial support of a spouse or a trust fund (two things I tend to longingly confuse), nowadays, most of us need some sort of gainful day job.

In fact, in this new economic and publishing context, paid jobs and careers in fields as seemingly unrelated to books as medicine, engineering, finance and law have become as integral to the writing life as long, quiet afternoons at the library once were.

Yet it’s a topic that tends to get lost amid our many conversations about publishing trends and craft.

So I asked some authors who also work outside their homes to share with us their experiences with this complex balancing act that’s increasingly becoming the *real* writer’s life.

Without further ado, I’m delighted to introduce Andrew Goldstein, Jane Roper and Michelle Toth.

Andrew Goldstein
Andrew’s smashing debut novel The Bookie’s Son will be released in May by Sixoneseven Books.  (I can’t help adding that I was so taken by the humor and razor-sharp insight in The Bookie’s Son that I lent the manuscript around to friends and family long before it was ready to go to print, literally shaking them and saying, “you HAVE to read this!”)

A former Breadloaf fellow and a new grandfather, Andrew has run the award-winning custom building firm, Thoughtforms, for over thirty years.  Initially he joined Thoughtforms to provide an income for his family, having held a panoply of part-time jobs before that including…Zamboni driver!…in order to write.  He then put his writing on hold for twenty years.  Still, he enjoyed his work and is proud to have helped helped Thoughtforms earn both Best of Boston and National Custom Builder of the Year awards.

Andrew confides that it was challenging to get back into the swing of writing after a twenty-year break.  But ultimately, he did.  Over the past ten years, he has managed to squeeze in a couple of hours of writing each morning before heading off to work.  “Writing in the morning before work has created good discipline,” he says.

His patience and dedication have paid off.  On top of publishing The Bookie’s Son, Andrew is now in a position of being able to leave his job in a couple of years to write full-time.  He’s looking forward to it, and notes that even after all these years, writing is still his true love.

Jane Roper
Author of the forthcoming memoir Double Time about the fascinating challenge of raising twins while grappling with postpartum depression (Saint Martin’s Press, May 2012), Jane Roper works by day as a freelance copywriter.

She says that as day jobs go, hers is a good one and she wouldn’t trade it.  A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Jane enjoys the creativity and challenge of crafting copy for ads, brochures, websites and the occasional video or radio script.

Still, she finds the work/writing juggle a challenge.  With an unpredictable schedule and workload, her freelance position makes it hard to carve out writing time.  She has to roll with the punches and be ready to tackle a project whenever a client calls.   It can also be challenging for Jane to find the creative energy and gumption she needs for book- or essay-writing after a day writing copy for work.

But clearly she’s got the drill down, because in addition to Double Time, Jane has written the novel Eden Lake and pens the popular Baby Squared blog over at Babble.com!

Would Jane consider leaving her day job if her writing provided a similar income?  “Hell, yeah!”  She says.  But…. *Sigh.*  She figures she’d probably have a better chance of winning the lottery.

Michelle Toth
By day, Michelle — author of the delightful novel Annie Begins — is a busy human capital executive in the financial services industry.  She also serves on the board of directors Boston’s Grub Street, Inc., the second largest independent writing center in the country.  To top it all off, she is founder and publisher of the new micropress Sixoneseven Books and is working on a second novel.

Her position is challenging and rewarding in a completely different way than writing is.  She loves that it focuses on people, teamwork and helping the firm as a whole.  While it’s not quite as much fun as writing, it provides the financial security Michelle values, including the ability to invest in herself as a writer.

With a dizzying work schedule of 10 – 12 hour days during the week, Michelle does most of her writing on weekends and during vacations, sometimes in marathon bouts.  Although work does tend to sap her creative-writing energy, she points out that her job also brings the gift of awareness of how precious writing time is.  As a result, she’s unlikely to procrastinate when she has a chance to write.

Michelle confides that she does dream of working less and writing more, but that she wouldn’t give up her job before retirement.  And if she did leave it behind for whatever reason, she’d want to continue with an activity that kept her engaged with others in a setting of teamwork and collaboration.  Bottom line: “Being engaged with the wider world is important for my creativity!”

 

Personally, I thrive on my job publicizing businesses and books.  The teamwork, the concrete problem-solving and the connection with tangible issues and current events lend perspective and help keep me grounded.  The fast pace keeps me on my toes.  During the couple of hours of writing I squeak in here and there each week, I feel more focused and productive — far less anxious, too — than I ever did during the four-year hiatus from the workforce I once took to write full-time.

In fact, I honestly don’t know whether I’d leave my day job if I could!

 

Do you have a day job?  What is it?  How does it play into  your writing?  Would you leave it if you could?

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About Sharon Bially

Sharon Bially (@SharonBially) is the founder and president of BookSavvy PR, a public relations firm devoted to authors and books. Author of the novel Veronica’s Nap, she’s an active member of Grub Street, Inc., the nation’s 2nd largest independent writing center, and writes for the Grub Street Daily.

Comments

  1. says

    I am a technical author so my day job pays me for my writing, although I’d prefer to be paid to write fiction than to write engineering maintenance manuals for air traffic engineers.

    I have been a soldier, sailor and teacher in the past and one of the reasons I became a teacher was because I thought it would give me time to write. I was wrong because I was always taking woirk home, including during the holidays. As a technical author when I walk out of work each day I can completely forget about wotk so in the evenings and at weekends I can write. OK sometimes I work late etc (and I get paid extra or time off in lieu for that) but I have many many hours more free time than when I was a teacher.

    I hope to have enough income from my fiction writing by the end of 2013 to be able to become a full time fiction writer. I would never have found the spare time to achieve this when I was teaching.

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    • says

      I taught for many years. By the last few years, I was working 50-60 hours a week: 30 hours teaching, the rest with prep and grading papers. Not only couldn’t I teach and write but, finally, I couldn’t teach at all. Oh, during the summer when I didn’t have to go back to school, I could. Over Christmas vacation I could–if I didn’t want to spend time with family. The joy of no longer teaching is that I can write on Sundays evenings instead of starting with lesson prep and grading papers from 4 PM on.

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  2. says

    I work in higher ed. The financial stability of it gives me the freedom to relax when I’m writing, and be choosey. Instead of trying to work on whatever project will pay, I can take my time! Sometimes I feel like Hawthorne at the Custom House, though…

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  3. says

    I’ve been wearing three hats for so long, I don’t know any other way of life. There’s something to be said about the discipline of having to stick to a schedule, otherwise it -whatever IT is (writing, work, extras) isn’t going to happen. I find myself goofing around if I know I have the whole day ahead of me to accomplish one thing. :)

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  4. says

    My “day job” is…high school. Unfortunately my work day doesn’t end at 3:45 when I get out of school, but continues for another 5 or 6 hours of doing homework. However, I do get a few perks like summer vacations and holidays, and I get an excuse to work in some writing time when I’m working on assignments for my creative writing class- so I guess it’s not ALL bad.

    This post contained valuable information for me, as I still don’t know what colleges to apply to, much less what I’m going to do after college…

    Oh, and Christopher- I understand how it can be hard to find writing time as a teacher, with all those papers the grade!

    Good Luck Everyone!

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  5. says

    I’ve mainly worked in education and as a paralegal. The benefit of education is that I’m surrounded by reading and writing all day and have more extended ‘off time’ to work on writing. The con is the same for educators as it is for students (as Laura describes above): you take your work home with you as a teacher and spend a great deal of time at home prepping for work the next day. As a paralegal there’s nothing that to take home, so evenings and weekends are 100% clear, but it’s much less easy to get through the workday! Writing time depends on early mornings and busy weekends.

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  6. says

    I work 10-hour days in educational PR and publishing, and squeeze in writing and book promotion at night. It does take discipline and commitment, but is totally worth it. Would I quit the evil day job and write full-time if I could afford to? In a heartbeat!

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  7. says

    I love Michelle’s bottom line. Right now, I’m CEO of Enzo Corp. – that’s mommy code for stay at home mom. I finally figured out a writing schedule, so I don’t feel like chairman Enzo will fire me. I do my best to find activities that keep us both engaged and learning. I appreciate the post so much Sharon.

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  8. Louise Hughes says

    I’ve been unemployed for six months, since graduating from university. Its given me a lot of time to spend writing, but I would really like the distraction of a job, and the inspiration to be found in interacting with other people. Having nothing to fill my time with but job applications and writing actually makes it harder to write for some reason, and its taken me a long time to get into a disciplined routine of working on my writing every day. And yet part of me worries about not having the time to write when I do eventually find a job…its weird.

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  9. says

    My day job is managing a martial arts training facility. I usually put in 12-14 hours each day Monday through Friday and some weekends. I manage to create my daily blog posts in the mornings ) http://donasdays.blogspot.com ) , go through about 200+ emails when I get home around 9 each night and work on my other writing on the weekend between cleaning my house and running errands with my disabled sister. Would I leave my day job? Probably not because I have worked with/for my best friend for 11 years now and we make such a great team that he has told me many times he and the school need me. I do wish however that I could simply clone myself and be able to be in two places at one time! Lol…

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  10. Diane Watanabe says

    I am an aspiring writer and the writing bug bite me just a few years ago. As a meeting planner, my schedule can range from hectic to insane with working nights and weekends. The first quarter of this year is insane, so finding time to write has been nearly impossible. Since my ms is completed, I work on my revisions on airplanes.

    Before I landed my current job, I was unemployed for fifteen months. While it gave me time to complete my ms, it wasn’t a productive time that I hoped it would be. Amazing how quickly creativity can come and go when you least expect it.

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  11. says

    I didn’t get serious about writing until three years ago, when we relocated from Tennessee to Washington State. I was a teacher in Tennessee but was unable to find a new position in Washington (alas, budget guts, I mean cuts).

    Alone and friendless in a new city, I returned to the writing I had all but abandoned while I built a family and a career. I’m working full time again now, but every day is a struggle. My stories are always with me. They follow me around like children, tugging at my elbow, or whispering, “Are we done yet?” in my ear.

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  12. says

    I like hearing about others’ great success while balancing a day job. I have one that is 4 days a week, 10 hours a day plus commute, and I often think of my job on that commute, make notes to myself after hours, email myself ideas–while writing whenever I can, morning or night, and especially on Fridays and weekends. I get that in order to have benefits, security, and some sanity, I need to live this double life. My husband, a musician with a band to run and recordings to do who also teaches by day, is in the same boat. If we had children with us full time, we would probably not be able to live this double life.

    I find that despite the stress and challenges of spending most of your life with others in an office, I am given so much writing material that my head is constantly spinning with ideas. Characters abound, plots unfurl, and I also use that commute to spin the next yarn.

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  13. says

    What a fascinating and diverse group of writers! Higher ed, high school student, paralegal, PR / publishing pro…. So nice to know. Thanks for sharing, all!

    And special thanks to Andrew Goldstein, Jane Roper and Michelle Toth for helping kick off the conversation with their own experiences.

    Jessica – “the financial stability gives me the the freedom to relax when I’m writing…” So true. The lack of that financial stability was what made me feel anxious when I didn’t have a day job, even though I was a mom, which helps many women feel more grounded. With kids to care for and prepare a future for, I actually worried even more!

    Louise — I’ll bet once you find a job you’ll be able to relax a bit in that way, too, and will discover ways to fit your writing in. I think it really is hard to write consistently when your situation is in flux.

    Kath – I’m with you! I also have been wearing so many different hats for so long that truly I don’t know any other way of life. Well said! And I’d probably feel completely lost if suddenly my way of life changed.

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  14. says

    I’m a pediatric physical therapist, have been for decades. The most I can dedicate to writing is about 10 hours a week – and that’s pushing it. When I get home from work, I often have trouble shifting my mindset. I mean, how do I go from working with children with disabilities and empowering their families to creating plot and characters? It’s a refreshing change of pace once I get there, it’s just a matter of getting there.

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  15. says

    I’m an Admin Asst in a highly stressful company, at a workspace that is every introvert’s worst nightmare, so to say it sucks me dry is an understatement.

    But the interesting thing about managing work/writing/life is that I figured to best use my scant free time to write, I ought to be a meticulous plotter. But it turns out I like SOTP better. Probably means I’m going to have to throw out/rewrite a lot of scenes, but it’s less stress on me this way.

    Would I quit my job in a heartbeat if I was financially stable? You bet. But I don’t see it happening. Even with another source of income, we’re still slaves to medical insurance.

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    • says

      Hi,

      I also write for my day job as a Marketing Executive for a large dental clinic and you’re spot-on, I often feel mentally exhausted by the end of the day.

      I’ve recently dropped down to working four days per week and I’m trying to be very disciplined to ensure that on my day off I get at least three-four hours of writing done.

      Like many writers I’m naturally a little bit introverted, so I can’t help thinking that being obliged to go out into the world and interract with my colleagues and our clients is actually good for me!

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  16. says

    I’m an association management executive for an association management company. I provide executive leadership services to two higher education-related associations. It’s a challenging job, but fun. No two days are ever alike. I enjoy working with our boards and volunteers to help them elevate their professions. If I could, I would write full-time or, better yet, work remotely at my professional job part-time so I could enjoy the best of both worlds.

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  17. says

    This is so fun reading about what everyone does in the “real world.” As for me, I have an MA in Sociology and worked in women’s health advocacy before embracing full time motherhood. I now work for my three kids!

    It’s interesting how our professional backgrounds creep into our work. My academic interests were in Women’s Studies, and both those scholarly pursuits and my former profession have influenced the content of my writing.

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  18. says

    I’m a stay at home mum at the moment, so my writing fits in around my baby’s sleeps more than anything. Before, though, I managed a medium sized business in the city and found time to write on the long daily commutes. I actually got a lot of writing done in those times!

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  19. says

    My other ‘income streams’ are all related to writing. They include speaking to groups about writing/books and teaching writing workshops and some free-lance editing. In the past I’ve graded essays written by children in public schools for the state of Georgia.

    When I began my ‘literary career’ I was a stay-at-home mom with three children and writing was a way to keep myself sane. Have a creative outlet.

    Now, the ‘baby’ is 13 and I wonder why I don’t get more words written a day than 1,000! :)

    Thanks for a very interesting post, Sharon!

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  20. says

    I’m an information security auditor for a large oil and gas company. I work long hours and travel for work (I’ve whipped out and laptop and worked on my novels at airports and in hotel rooms and in places like Washington D.C., Singapore, and Dubai). On top of that, I’m working on a masters degree in illustration (purely for my own love of art) so time is pretty limited.

    It took me 3 years to finish writing my first novel (unpublished since finding an agent has been pretty darn hard) and now I’ve working on a second, mostly during lunch hours and what little down time I have during the weekends. It’s a crazy life but you gotta have a little crazy in your life to be a writer :-)

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  21. John DeLaurentis says

    I work as a high school English and Creative Writing teacher, and also teach as a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University. Teaching at the high school level is difficult, because often times I am sapped of creative writing time by paperwork and constant grading, lesson plans, etc. etc. The good thing is I get to teach literature and really get to know the books I teach in-depth and also hear feedback from my students. This helps spark my own creative writing ideas. Plus, having the summers off is a dream for a writer. In fact, last summer I finally finished my novel, a work-in-progress for the past six years. I’m currently in the long process of sending out queries to literary agents hoping to acquire one this year. If my book was successful and made it possible for me to leave my day job, I would do it in a heartbeat. My passion is to be immersed in the literary world. But I do think I would hold on to my college teaching job, because in that job I realize more often that I really love teaching almost as much as writing.

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  22. Todd Hudson says

    Neat stuff! I’m fortunate to work at a growing small-mid size company, so I do everything from writing the copy for our product literature to helping with owner’s manuals to writing web copy and designing some graphics.
    This I enjoy, but I do wish I had more time to write. I don’t think that I had the discipline to write full-time 20 years ago (maybe not even 10 years ago), but I do think at this point that I could write full time if the income would match what I’m making at my full-time job. Reality rules, however, and I keep on working so that we can finish raising our two sons.
    In the meantime, I’m going to try to get on a regular writing schedule and get done what I can, and maybe get some good juices flowing.

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  23. says

    These posts are always inspiring as well as comforting, as these days writers are facing the idea that “making it” doesn’t necessarily mean being able to support oneself. Most of us will still need the day job, and it’s good to know that it can be handled in addition to the writing.

    As for me, I’m a library assistant-almost-full-librarian. Grad school will be over in May, and then I’ll have even more time/energy for writing!

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  24. says

    I chose to walk as my day job (25 kilometers a day) as a mail carrier – even though I have an MA (German lit) and a teaching degree. When my kids were younger it was the only way I could keep my sanity, pursue my writing, and stay healthy. No regrets and my retirement is within sight now, and I look forward to more time – but will it produce more writing? Don’t know. It’s not writing itself that’s so time-consuming. It’s the search for a publisher, and then after a book’s published, it’s the marketing.

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  25. says

    I’m an oncology nurse. I homeschool my youngest child (don’t ask me how–I just make it happen) and I have an organic veggie garden.
    Busy? Yes. And I believe in sleep, least I look and feel old. So time writing? Never ever enough. This is the thing that depresses me more than anything. But alas, here I am. When considering going to grad school to become an advance nurse practitioner, I put the breaks on. If I don’t allow myself to pursue this writing, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.

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  26. Joanna Strong-Branson says

    My day jobs include teaching composition courses at 2 local community colleges and freelance writing- anything someone will pay me for! My favorite freelance jobs are ghostwriting book projects, though those are interrupt my own creative output more than any other projects.

    When my new husband and I get financially stable enough for me to give up my teaching jobs, I will in a heartbeat with no regrets or hesitation. Until then, the income is critical to getting to that point of freedom, so I’ll keep it up.

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  27. says

    Weirdly enough, I just wrote a blog post on this a week or so ago. My “day job” is also writing–for a marketing agency. So I write blog posts, website copy, and social media content. It’s helpful in that doing daily writing isn’t an issue. But it can be tough to come home and then apply butt to chair and write on my fiction projects. It’s a mixed blessing, really.

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  28. says

    I’m glad I found this–this issue has been a struggle of mine for years and I’ve enjoyed reading the post and the comments.

    One thing I’ve realized recently is that different sorts of writer personalities are fueled by different types of work styles. While one writer might thrive on a work routine similar to Michelle Toth’s, it could bury another. I think it’s all about finding which writing/work style is best for you–the one that makes your muse sing–hopefully sooner rather than later!

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