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’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.
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.
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?