In Defense of Keeping the Day Job
Every writer knows the old adage, keep your day job. It’s spoken to aspiring writers as a soft warning with the requisite slight grimace and empathetic head tilt. It’s meant to relay a thousand cautionary tales: less than twenty percent of debut authors will ever see a royalty check; bookstores are crumbling and publishers are investing less money in new authors; with the uprising of e-books, authors are making less money. Keep your day job. But it’s every writer’s dream to one day turn in their two weeks notice, right? Or is it? Well, I’m here to tell you that keeping your day job is not always a bad thing.
Now, I’ll fess up: I only work part time and I’m one of those rarities who loves their day job. I’m an optometrist and it’s a great field. But believe me, there are days when after prying scraps of metal from the ultimate eye squeezer that I’m contemplating full time writing. So why don’t I?
For me, it’s all about balance. Writing is the ultimate roller coaster. It’s an emotional ride. Because writing is so subjective, it can bring crippling insecurity. I’ve seen major NYT bestselling authors blog honestly how they still fear their new books will not be well received. It’s a financial ride – a nice advance check followed by months of no income at all. Writing, I’ve also found, is a roller coaster ride of time management as well. There will be weeks of intense deadlines that require a monopoly of time followed by a span of weeks where you sit twiddling your thumbs waiting to hear back from your editor.
This constant undulating of emotions and paychecks and time requirements can elicit extreme joy: I just got the most amazing fan letter! I just got an awesome advance check! I just met my deadline! Or it can throw you into a fit of lows: I just got a two star review on Amazon! Will I ever earn out my advance? What am I supposed to do while I wait to hear back about my submission? For me, I like to complement this roller coaster ride of highs and lows with the steady reassurances of my day job. I don’t have daily emotional doubts about my ability in my day job, there’s a guaranteed paycheck and a nine to five schedule.
Then, there’s the physical nature of writing. There’s all that sitting and staring at the computer screen. All that quiet. I love the balance of having days where I’m bouncing around from room to room, seeing new faces and talking with new people. Which brings me to the solitary nature of writing. Sure, there’s social networking available to the lonely writer. True. And there’s value in it, absolutely. But, for me, the computer will never replace true connections with other people. I’m still a firm believer that much of actual communication in a relationship is relayed through tone of voice, body language and the ebb and flow of an actual verbal conversation. All these things are lost with just typed words. I love that my quiet, creative writing time is balanced with a day job that puts me in constant connection with different people. Not only does it fill a social need, but it serves as a schoolroom to witness actual people and their quirks and mannerisms – all things that eventually help shape my character development and dialogue. In fact, it was a little over a year ago when I walked into the exam room to hear two teenagers in the midst of a very animated discussion on how they should make a voodoo doll of an ex-boyfriend. I quickly scribbled a note and the next day, in my writing time, I crafted an entire voodoo scene that wound up in my new YA novel.
For me, weaving together the stability of a day job with the creativity of writing has helped me achieve a blended balance that keeps me sane. So the next time someone tells you, don’t quit your day job, don’t necessarily think of it as a bad thing. Think of it as an avenue to balance the undulating emotions, keep a healthy bank account, throw some diversity into daily activities and an opportunity to study people for inspiration.