Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Writing With a Day Job


On last week's episode of Girls, Hannah got a temporary day job in GQ's advertorial department, where she had a taste of success (as well as free snacks).

Her fellow co-workers were fellow aspiring writers, and during a slightly fraught break room chat, they revealed that all of their writing successes came before they had a day job. Hannah quits, not wanting to wake up in ten years having failed to pursue her real writing, but later decides to try to have it both ways and vows to write three hours every night.

I'm sure this episode rang true for many a writer. Barring some sort of independent wealth or a generous benefactor, there are really only two choices:
  • Quit/scale back your day job to have more time to write, plunging yourself into financial uncertainty. 
  • Keep your day job and carve out time for writing in the margins, plunging yourself into creative uncertainty.
There are pros and cons of both courses of actions, of course, and I know writers on both ends of the spectrum. Some writers I know cobble together a freelance life to maintain maximum flexibility while just getting by financially, which gives them enough time to write.

I have thrown myself into my day jobs. 

I probably could, in theory, quit my day job, combine my books income with some writing/editing consulting on the side and cobble together a reasonable living with more time to write. But here's the thing: I like having a career.

It's not just about having a steady paycheck and benefits, which are nothing at all to sneeze at. Having financial security takes a ton of the pressure off of writing, and I completely recognize how fortunate I am in this day and age to even have a good job, especially one where I feel like I'm helping accomplish a greater good. 

For me, one of the most important reasons I like having a day job is balance:
  • Writing can be solitary -- I like going into an office, having a routine, seeing coworkers I like every day, and getting out of my own head.
  • Writing can be frustrating -- I like having something else I'm invested in, particularly in an arena where one's effort is often more closely tied to tangible results. 
And when one is down and gets difficult, often the other is up. It's sort of like having multiple horses in the race. When the writing is tough, it can be nice to go into the office on Monday and feel like I'm not living and dying by the publishing world. When I have a rough day in the office it's nice to be able to go home and write and feel like I have another iron in the fire.

The main drawback of writing with a day job is that it requires a huge amount of discipline. I have to give up things I might otherwise like doing. Namely, enjoying my weekends and many of my weeknights. Instead of going skiing as much as I like or staying in and binging on Netflix I have to convert to what is essentially a six or seven day workweek.

Again, I should be so lucky. And I don't know how this will work once I have a family. 

But if you're in a similar position, just know that you really don't have to quit your day job to write. There's enough time in the day, provided you take advantage of those slivers of time you have available and press forward even when you get tired.

Anyone else out there struggling with this dilemma? How do you make things work?

Art: Hay Harvest at Éragny by Camille Pissarro






72 comments:

Jaimie said...

"I like having a career." You know what? I kinda like it too...

I try to write 2 hours a day, but if I'm feeling terrible I keep my schedule free enough that I can throw all social life to the wind and write ALL DAY SUNDAY or 5 hours on a weeknight or something equally day-seizing. All my creative successes have been while working full time -- and I have non-full-time experiences to compare it to.

"And I don't know how this will work once I have a family."

Yeah, no family for me. For a while anyway. Not that I'm turning down offers... But since I'm not sacrificing financial security, I'm cool sacrificing that. Even if I ever get me a husband, I never want kids. Won't have time for them.

Curtis Edmonds said...

Fortunately, I find that the time I am able to spend writing (an hour or so a day, after work and after my twin daughters are in bed) matches up well with my daily level of creativity (which is to say, not very much).

The key is consistency. If you can sit down and write a thousand words a day for two months straight, you'll have 60,000 words, and that there is not chicken feed.

Stephanie Faris said...

For me, freelance writing was the answer. I prefer writing fiction, but being able to work from home on my schedule is the answer. Sites like Elance have been lifesavers for many of us non-corporate types!

However, writing fiction full-time is my dream, so I'm spending as much time as possible promoting my upcoming release... Once you start juggling writing, promoting, and a day job (not to mention a family), it gets pretty tough!

Nathan Sisk said...

I have a wife in nursing school and a three year old son, usually it comes down to having a schedule and willing to see that schedule get blown away because things come up.

I write in the margins of time I have. For example, after my son goes to sleep and before my wife gets home from school or weekends after everyone has gone to bed.

beckylevine.com said...

You say this so perfectly. I did the stay-at-home, freelance things for many years while my son was growing, and now that he's driving and heading off to college soon, I am looking to go back to work. I did make progress on my fiction while I was "off," but didn't get the agent or the publisher. I'm still on track for that, but I am SO ready to go back to work. And full-time. I miss just what you're talking about, the community and the dynamics. I know it's going to be a challenge when I DO find that job, but I don't want to do it the other way anymore. I'm going to choose the carving out.

Amy said...

Lovely piece, Nathan. I have a wife, three kids, and a full-time job as a university fundraiser. I also write novels. It took 10 years to see my first one published in 2012 & I'm in the throes of book 2 now. In my experience, where giving up the day job is not a financial possibility given my role as primary breadwinner for my family, it just means the writing takes longer. Which can be frustrating. But my kids like to eat. And take dance lessons. And someday go to college. Right now the book money is "fun money"---big screen TV; trip to Disneyland; down pymt on a car. Not actual make a living kind of money. Doesn't mean I don't dream about a day when it might be. I just don't pay the mortgage with it. Yet. :)

Sharon Cullen said...

I have a day job and write. I'm lucky in that my day job is part time. I'm also lucky in that my husband is the main bread winner. I jealously guard my part-time status and have repeatedly turned down full time jobs to protect my writing career.

I write every day. I don't give myself a time limit nor a word count. Although I try to write 1,000 words a day but if I don't get to 1,000 words I don't beat myself up over it. Its tough to find your groove, but once you do it all falls into place.

I also have a family--3 kids, a husband and two dogs. They all demand my time. I've learned to write in the family room with the TV on. That way the family doesn't get upset that I'm not there.

Matthew MacNish said...

Don't think I would ever quite my day job. Or at the very least I would have to be making a LOT of money selling books before it would be worth giving up the health insurance and the 401k.

Then again, if I was working in a carrot factory ...

Regina said...

Nathan, this is a great take on the "quit my job or not debate." I've coped with it in the past by working part-time at a nonprofit to supplement my book/business income. It's great to have an office and office friends and a reason to leave home. Writing and other entrepreneurial pursuits can be solitary/lonely otherwise--as you pointed out. As long as you can find balance, which won't look the same for any two people, then I think you're in the right place.

abc said...

If I were paid to write I think I'd still want to do therapy. It gives my life greater meaning in a different way. But I wouldn't do it full time. I mean, I really like binging on Netflix. I don't ski, but I do live in Iowa so it's not really an option (though cross country looks fun...).

When you have a family--a baby, especially--it is going to be really, really hard. My kid is 10 and easy now. I have to beg her to stop playing minecraft and hang out with me.

Glad you watch Girls. I love Girls! I love Lena Dunham!

David Jón Fuller said...

I think the struggle you articulate hits the nail on the head! I often fantasize about having all the time int he world to write, but feel I'd have to win the lottery first :P
I write during my commute in winter months (I take the bus) and on lunch breaks. In the summer I use lunch breaks and whatever half-hour (or 15-minute) chunks I can sneak. I find it helps to have short-term goals (eg. word counts per week, or new short stories completed per month) and then you can actually get a lot done while working full-time. And to be honest, I somehow get more writing done in those little bursts over the course of a week than I do on any day "off" I could use to spend writing.
In extreme cases, I beg off time normally spent with family to finish up a project for a deadline -- but by and large I poach only from my own "free" time.

remarz said...

Since teaching middle schoolers keeps me immersed in their world and that's what I write about, it's a definite plus to spend my days with 13-year olds. Like you, I also enjoy the financial security and things like insurance and retirement - and the 14 weeks off a year definitely doesn't suck - so I can't imagine quitting teaching at this point.

So for now, I'll continue with my five am wake up calls - writing after teaching all day ain't gonna happen - and devoting more time to writing in the summer.

Things could be worse...I could be an accountant (I say this after spending two days in Income Tax Prep Hell).

ericadwilkinson said...

I find this struggle to be enormously challenging.

I am the sole breadwinner for my family (not married, but I support my Mom and two young brothers), so a day job with benefits is crucial.

So I'm trying to balance my own writing, working full time, a family at home, a research/author's assistant gig, getting back in shape, dating, and being involved at my church.

I can't do all of them. At the moment, I'm finding that it is a win for me if I am deliberate about what I choose to focus on, or put aside, instead of just getting overwhelmed.

My day job, family, and church are things that I can't give up -- so writing, side gig, and getting in shape, and dating have to take turns.

For the next 4 months I've decided to work on getting in shape and writing, with as much dating as I can squeeze in the cracks, and to lay my side gig aside completely.

There is always a compromise.

Rachel said...

For me, I write as my day jobbut because it's mainly non-fiction so by the end of the day I'm starving to write fiction so I make time in the evening to write.Sometimes I double up and have some tv shows on in the background and although I'm often tired of all the endless writing but I figure that if I want it bad enough I'll do it. But I love having a career. You can have a day job and write if you really want it. I don't do word counts- those aren't what I'm about, but I write what I can and it all comes together.

Bryan Russell said...

My four kids are even more demanding than the day job. I mean, my day job has never broken my nose. Or covered the cupboards, floor, table, and itself with lard. Yes, lard.

Chudney DeFreitas-Thomas said...

I have a day job. I like having people to interact with and the benefits that come with the day job. However I literally have to carve time out to write, with a family that means I have to schedule family time and writing time and sometimes writing time is the two hours I get before I go to sleep.

Bryan Russell said...

@ Matthew MacNish

HAHAHAHAHA.

Ah, the carrot factory... I did wreck a few fingers there.

Kristi Lea said...

I write romance and most of the other writers I meet tend to be either childless/empty-nesters, or stay-at-home-moms (or would be if they weren't writing). Which makes me, the woman with 2 elementary-aged kids and a full-time non-writing out-of-the-house career (software), an exception to the rule.

There are days I wish I could quit the day job and write, but I make too much money in software and too little in my writing (so far, only pubbed by small e-presses, and not yet covering my Starbucks tab). The day job provides health insurance for my family. It also exercises other parts of my brain (all that logic and math and orderly thinking that I throw out the window when immersed in a story).

I honestly don't juggle everything that well. I'm not a write-every-day person. Lately, I'm not even a write-every-week or write-every-month person. I do things in spurts. When the day job starts sapping all my creative/intellectual energy, then I'm lucky to have enough brain cells left to cook dinner (hello, chicken nuggets). So I'll take months at a time off from the writing. And when the day job gets too routine, I find myself staying up late to write just one more chapter of the book-I'm-compelled-to-write.

I wonder whether I'd be a much better writer if I didn't also have the day job (probably). I wonder if I'd be much better at the day job if I weren't writing (possibly). I know I'd be a much better mother if I did neither of those things and spent my days focusing only on my children and husband's needs.

I also know I'm a much more complete person if I do all of that imperfectly than if I tried to do just one thing.

Xanthorpe said...

"And I don't know how this will work once I have a family."

The answer to that is, "Very carefully!"

Despite my empathy with the family folks who have weighed in here, my biggest challenge is the discipline. Unfortunately, I'm not Louis L'Amour, who once said he could write in the middle of Sunset Blvd.

I really have to get my mind wrapped around writing and be 'in the mood' as it were. That makes it tough to carve out the time during lunch or after work.

Being involved in a dynamic writer's group helps; and I did get a short story published in an actual book in November! But now, it's back to the, "What have you written lately?" questions...

Oh; and Stephanie, if you can write a how-to book for people without a writer's resume on how to succeed on eLance, you could probably make a tidy living off those residuals. I have a fair number of years of writing experience and I'm not using it to work for hours on end to make $20...so any tips there would be MOST appreciated :-)

Kerrie said...

What you say is true...but...if you throw in having children, it all changes. If you have a day job and children, I've found it next to impossible to write. Any time you are away from the child (at your day job), you will want to be spending time with your kid(s) when you are home. Add cooking meals, more laundry and dishes, kid activities, etc., when would you write? After they go to bed? Forget it. YOU have to get to bed so you can get some sleep before you have to get back to your day job. I was driving myself mad trying to fit in writing. I am a much happier person now that I decided I cannot fit ot in my life right now? If writing is making me miserable, then why do it, right?

Dana Fredsti said...

Timely post for me, Nathan! I've been working a day job and writing/publishing on deadline for the last seven years. At times I could write at work - things were slow and i had an understanding boss. Then the job ramped up for a number of reasons and I lost all balance between work/writing/relaxation .It was pretty much like being on a giant hamster wheel with no real breaks and in a state of constant fight or flight. In other words, relaxing was not something that every really happened. I finally came close to a nervous breakdown in October last year, got an extension on my deadline from my publisher, and took a big step back to see what changes I needed to make in order to a: continue writing, b: continue earning enough money to pay rent, etc., and c: enjoy life and spend time with friends and quality time with my boyfriend. It took a mental/emotional paradigm shift, more discipline when it comes to my focus when I write, the realization that the fate of the free world does not rest on my shoulders alone. :-) Also, the encouragement of fellow writers and readers is invaluable. AND I've learned that I can write anywhere if I have to given enough deadline pressure so now I'm trying to utilize that new found skill without needing the pressure. I don't know about the whole family thing, but I guess twelve cats and a dog sorta count. :-) All of this being said, if I could earn enough to get by without a full time day job, I'd do it in a heartbeat. If they loosened the dress code to include pajamas, I might rethink this.

Heather Button said...

Oh my word! Thank you for saying this. I have a demanding career (which I love) and I write fiction in my off hours and I keep seeing posts with the new author paradigm where you have to keep writing all the time in order to succeed, putting multiple books out in a year. I've been looking for this perspective, as I don't want to eliminate either. And I've been looking to Kathy Reichs for inspiration, though she doesn't talk about working and writing often.

sharongerlach said...

I like having a career too - mostly because otherwise I would be a complete hermit. The social interaction keeps me balanced and keeps my worldbuilding, characters, and dialogue realistic.

How I make it work with a family AND a career? With difficulty. When my kids were small, I finally just put away my writing (for ten years!) because it was too difficult to try to take care of growing kids on top of a full-time job. Even now that they're grown and I have grandchildren, my writing gets shunted to the side frequently for family time. And when I'm deep in a book and closing in on the end, the family often sacrifices time with me and attention from me so I can complete the project. I work from a laptop in the kitchen to try to minimize the damage, but that slso means frequent interruptions while I'm writing.

Honestly, I've never found a 100% happy solution. They sacrifice willingly, knowing the alternative is me not writing and going completely crazy, but sometimes the sacrifice is made grudgingly.

Donna Hosie said...

Right now I'm balancing a full-time job, writing, three children and life. It's hard. I forgo sleep, waking at 4am to write before work, and then I do another couple of hours when I get home. Yesterday I worked from 4am - 8pm. I'm knackered, but we do what we have to do. Right now I choose writing over sleep!

KAT Writer said...

Great topic. As evidenced by all the comments.

There is no right answer. It is what ever works best for you. I have a career, am a mother of two elementary aged kids and spend time on my writing daily.

I struggle more with the work associated with being a writer. When I write my novel I am in heaven. It is a release of creativity and endorphins that make me a far saner person and better mother than I would be without them.

It is the extra work of building a platform and keeping up with the industry that ruins the whole writing experience for me. Unlike my job where I get out and socialize this is more time stuck with the computer and generating work that it is hard to see the results of.

Writing makes me so happy that I will suffer through twitter and staying up late and getting up early to make time for it and so that is not during family time.

The support of other writers is an amazing, unexpected coup of writing. I have never in my life met a more open, helpful and caring group of people. Being a part of this community is such a pleasure.

One piece of advice I can offer is to figure out when you are most creative so that the time you set aside to write is the most productive it can be.
I have tried writing after a long day and find I produce less and it is work I am not as happy with. When I write in the morning I can create much less muddied story arcs, better descriptions and more pages.
I save my twitter, blog and editing for night time as those items can be done with less creativity.

Happy writing!

Ilana Weiner said...

Hi Nathan thanks for posting as always! About five years ago I quit my corporate career to try to find a more fulfilling day job. Unfortunately the money wasn't there, so I'm back to the corporate office grind. I agree that having money does take the pressure off the writing. My struggle has been finding a career that I like as much as writing. Right now I'm going through a crisis of sorts realizing that I'm just not excited about any career except for writing, which doesn't pay the bills right now. I suspect this is a struggle that many writers have so consider yourself very lucky that you have been able to find writing success and as well as find a second career that you love!

Gretchen said...

I'm a middle school English teacher, and the other day, after I'd read a piece of my writing as an example in a lesson, one of my students told me I should "quit this hole and write a book!" Ha! I laughed so hard. And then I told her, quite honestly, that I live teaching and wouldn't want to give it up. I'd love to publish a wildly successful and well-loved book, but I would so miss the kids if I went full-time-writer.

Cathy said...

I tried balancing writing with a 50/hour week job for many years. Eventually, when my blood pressure was high and I had become overweight and diabetic, I decided to retire from my job. Trying to balance both was too much. Although, like you, I LOVED my job. It was time to pursue my writing dream full time. We had met our retirement goals. Our kids were grown. Nothing was being sacrificed, and especially not a comfortable retirement.

Though I had been in a job where I was directing large groups of people (children) almost every day, I don't miss it at all anymore. As a former children's librarian, I like not being "needed" all the time to entertain young library patrons during story times, or to answer reference questions.

My husband wasn't so keen on the idea at first, and if you're in a relationship, both people need to be on board to a big reduction in income. But I am also not eating lunch out every day, not putting 25,000 miles/year on my car, not buying a wardrobe and so many other things. I'm able to make much better meals, and keep our house cleaner. My health has improved.

Well, this ended up being long-winded. But if you continue to pursue both at full bore, I suspect that eventually your health will suffer and you will burn out on one or the other.

Aly Brown said...

Thanks for sharing your insight. This dilemma speaks to many of us. I sometimes wish I could focus solely on my writing. As it stands, my family and career are leaving little room for working on my next book. But, like you, I'm happy with my job. Also, my kids are still small and I just want to enjoy them. (Plus, I'm still celebrating the fact that I just conquered a massive pile of laundry. Oh, yeah, livin' the dream.)

My current struggle revolves around making time to write book two in my trilogy, now that the first is out. With three small kids and a job, my writing hours exist once the sun has gone down and, by then, I'm usually ready to crash as well.

Thanks, again, for posting. It's making me rethink my writing schedule!

Heidi said...

Writing in the evenings and on weekends doesn't feel like I'm giving anything up. Except when friends or co-workers talk about shows they're watching on Netflix or TV, and I have to say I don't watch because I have to write. The looks I get range from WHAAATTTT? to Poor You.

But that's the "price" I pay, and it doesn't feel alike a lot.

Lara Dunning said...

I have a day job and I feel lucky because the hours are super flexible and I can work from home. For the majority of time I really enjoy my work life. What I find hard is to be completely immersed in a writing time slot and then have to pull away from it for work. At the moment I'm trying to build my freelance writer resume up more in hopes to become more of a working writer.

M. R. Pritchard said...

I have a night job, working as a registered nurse, and during my days off, my day job is homeschooling. I squeeze my writing in between all of this. It's hard and hectic, but I like it that way. I never get bored, and I'm always networking.

AM Riley said...

While my daughter was young, I got into the habit of getting up before 5 am so that I could write. Occasionally the job is so demanding that I don't get home before midnight and during those times I could only focus on the day job. It was a nice break because when I started writing again I almost always had solutions to problems in the story that I hadn't been able to figure out before. Now that my daughter is grown, I am in the habit of rising early which is a great benefit in general.

Jason Bougger said...

I'm in that place where we've got two young kids, one is a boy just over 2 and a half, and the other is a 7 month old baby.

My first accepted short story didn't come until after our boy was born, so I didn't really start writing seriously until then.

I've got an hour long drive to work and my wife is a full time teacher, so she often brings work home.

Needless to say, we're busy.

I'm not posting any of that to whine, but just to give some background.

I get about an hour a day during the week to work on my fiction, so I'll share what works for me.

The second our 2-year-old goes to bed, I head downstairs to the computer and start writing.

An hour isn't much, so I make sure I have a plan going in. "Tonight, I'm going to write 500 words," or "Tonight I'm going to read through my third draft of this short story." Having a plan going in saves my from spending any precious time fiddling around trying to figure out what I want to work on.

I use my lunch break at work for some of the other important stuff, like searching for agents, and possible publishers, blogging, twitter, etc.

And I keep telling myself it's all temporary. You know, until I make it :)

Bruce Bonafede said...

"...once I have a family." Well, in my view the first thing you can do is forget about writing for awhile. I became a dad when I was 35 and the first thing I realized is I had never really understood what the word "tired" meant before that. After awhile, how it will work will depend on what kind of a dad you want to be. I wanted to be very involved as a dad and between that and a "day job" (which has never been 40 hours a week, more like 60) there was NO time for writing for many years. It drove me crazy but it was totally worth it.

thewriteedge said...

I have a family. Two kids, seven and five, who keep me running with school and extracurricular activities. And I'm a freelance editor, so I have writers who I have to keep track of/help/email/stay sane with. I'm also a recovering introvert, so since we moved here to Central Illinois last summer from Salt Lake City I'm trying very hard to have a social life with the new people I've met.

In between all of this and around it and through it and above it and below it, I'm trying to write. I'm the last one to go to bed at night because that's usually the only time I have to write, even though I don't like missing out on sleep and it's harder to be creative when I'm tired from the day's events. I carry a notebook with me during the kids' music lessons and dance lessons and swimming lessons so I can do some quick outlining of new stories (particularly the one I'm going to attempt for NaNoWriMo this year.) And I'm constantly talking to myself, trying out dialogue or vetting possible plotlines as I do the dishes or fold the laundry or drive from one place to another.

I love to write. I wish I had more time to do it. But I also look at all those other things in my life as potential story pieces. An overheard conversation somewhere or an encounter with a salesperson can turn into something for a story one day. So I look at my non-writing time as a potential treasure box and try to remind myself that although it's hard for me to write, I'm writing more now than I have ever before.

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Yes. And not only because I am not a writer who works best for 6-8 hours a day, but because I am always, but not ONLY, a writer.

JenniferDZ said...

I love my "day" job, but it's also as a writer and instructor(medical), so I do sometimes get burned out on writing, and I'm a freelance writer, so I'm my own boss. Business is booming right now, so I don't get much time for fiction. I did just finish my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction, though, so I am "finished" my first novel. Between the job and the family, though, I don't get much time to revise right now. Soon, though...soon! I'm getting the itch again after falling down in exhaustion after finishing the degree!

Anonymous said...

My consistently paying job is one I LOATHE. So that helps a lot as I push forward with my writing. And yes, I forgo Netflix for writing. As well as sleep (I do six rather than eight hours) for writing. But those things are indulgences. The things I don't cut back time on? My children. My exercise. Those things are not indulgences and, when push comes to shove, outrank my writing time and ambitions.

-Susan

Carolin said...

Well, unless you're independently wealthy, you'll HAVE to keep your day job, as very few writers can make a comfortable living off their writing.

So, like you and like many others, I have a full-time day job, a full-time horse farm to run, and write when I have some hours, i.e. am not too bushed to do so.

One of these days my magnum opus will be finished (hopefully by the end of this year), and then we'll see how it flies ;-)

rebeccam said...

Yes, it takes a lot of discipline. That's the key. I was able to reduce my hours at work and keep my job at four days a week, which left me time to research and write my book and also build up a freelance business. But it took much longer to finish the book than it would have if I didn't have the job. If you're not in a rush and you're disciplined, you can do it!

patdonovan said...

Thanks, Nathan, for weighing in on this. After YEARS of procrastinating, I began fiction writing about three years ago, and a novel in earnest 18 months ago (recently completed). About a year ago, I scaled back my full time job as a journalist to devote more time to my fiction. The early morning is my most creative time, although my work is full of X's where I have to go back later and plug in the word that wouldn't come to me at 6:30 a.m.

Most days I don't want to leave my home desk, but I am very, very grateful for a flexible day job for which I am paid to write. And I firmly believe that my pre-office fiction writing informs my work, making me a better writer and editor once I get to the office. I'm like an athlete who has completed the warmup.

That said, don't ask me what I'd do if the big book contract ever comes through!

Lori Schafer said...

I'm fortunate in that I have flexible hours at my day job, so I can basically choose when I work. During the slower times of year, I can get a ton of writing done, but of course, my paychecks are a lot smaller. And I do find that I get frustrated during the busy times, wishing I had more time to write. On the other hand, sometimes it is a nice change of pace to do the day job, particularly since most of it is math. I suppose what I'm saying is... I really have nothing to complain about :)

Julie Musil said...

I don't have an official day job, but I'm the mother of three teen sons who keep me super busy. Thankfully, my hubby is the breadwinner. Still, I carve out time between sports, field trips, and other activities for writing. It's a well balanced life, and I'm grateful for it.

Vicky Lorencen said...

Your experience mirrors mine (although I do have a family added to the mix). I'm thankful to be paid to write and edit full-time, while I pursue my own writing passions in children's literature.

cinthiaritchie.com said...

Great comments!

I wrote my first book while working full-time as a single mother. It took me seven years but I finally finished, found a publisher, etc.

Then I took off two years, lived on my novel advance and freelancing and it was nice, not having a schedule and being able to write when I wanted.

I was also (dare I say it?) bored out of my mind. I'm not very disciplined and it was hard to maintain a schedule.

Now I'm back at an editing job. Luckily I can set my own schedule and do a lot of work from home. It's more difficult to find writing time but I often get more done since I no longer waste hours watching movies or playing Spider Solitaire.

I think most of us have this romantic notion of staying home and writing all day, every day. But trust me, the grass isn't always greener.

P.S. I'm also a marathon runner. Juggling a full-time job, writing and long-distance running isn't easy, but it is doable. You just have to love what you do enough to make it a priority.

Perry Payne said...

I've structured the work-art balance in many ways over the decades, sometimes focusing solely on business, sometimes solely on art, but more often - and successfully, when there's a beautiful, busy, stimulating stew of both with a bit of volunteering and socializing to add savor. I feel more creative and productive, the more interactive I am. The more people I encounter and work with in all arenas, the more stories I encounter to sing, tell, and play. If art serves to reflect society, then it's good to be in society and relevant. Thanks for opening this discussion, Nathan! I hope you're loving New York as I did for twenty years!

Anonymous said...

I always see people in their twenties and thirties trying to rush things, and freaking out when things don't happen fast enough for them. I guess it's human nature, but most successful long term writing careers have been nurtured for years and most writers aren't even ripe until they are in their forties. The fact is that if you truly love to write you will be a writer until the day you die. Writers don't retire, they expire. And those who have to balance careers with writing will only get better if they stick with it. The one thing that often suffers is a social life, but then most writers who passionately love what they do don't even consider this much of a trade off. We would rather be writing about skiing than actually skiing.

Tiffany N. York said...

In my opinion, it's not possible to have it all. Something will always suffer. I'm a single mother with no weekends off or parents to take my son off my hands. I juggle paying the bills, maintaining a house, a yard, a car, my writing, and my son. I gave up having a relationship. Takes too much time and energy to cultivate and nurture one.

So, yeah...

Anonymous said...

I wanted to add one more thing. I see many who talk about how hard it is for them to write. And writing is a different process for everyone. But sometimes people need to be honest with themselves and face facts. I don't want to sound like a dream crusher here but not everyone was cut out to be a career writer who makes a living at it. We all have individual talents and if writing starts to take an emotional toll maybe it's not the right thing for someone. I have seen published authors with books that didn't sell torture themselves and continue with more books that don't sell. When is it time to turn that talent in a more positive direction? Maybe with another career? There are no easy answers but I don't think everyone who wants to be a working writer does it for the right reasons. And the glut in the self publishing market right now is a good example of this. I know one author in his 70's who has been writing these terrible non fic spiritual books for years and no one reads them. People usually avoid him at parties.

CL Taylor said...

I've had a day job since I wrote my first novel back in 2008. Now my third novel is about to be published. I can cope with that - just. What's much harder is balancing that with looking after a 2 year old! With childcare costs in the OK being so prohibitive and with no tax relief for self-employed authors it means keeping the day job at least until he's three (when nursery vouchers are available).

CL Taylor said...

Oops, that should say 'in the UK'

Sam Albion said...

It's a terrible dilemma, isn't it? If I throw myself into my career 100%, I'm too tired to write yet, if I don't put the hours in writing, I feel as if work is a temptress luring me away from the novel(s) and I want to cut her skinny throat. It seems what we all do is sacrifice our "free" time so we can write, but then, when we emerge all bleary-eyed from our ink-spattered caves, we find we've got no party invites and all our friends have become acquaintances. Why do we do it? Because we love it, and as the saying goes... love will find a way...

Kentish Janner said...

I had to give up work when I had my son, and now couldn't get back into work even if I wanted to because the childcare costs would wipe out anything I earned and then some. All of which means I'm now a full-time mum - which a lot of people seem to think means I 'don't work at all.' (That's right, my life is just day after day of sitting around on my ass doing nothing at all while my kid's at school - lucky, lucky me!)
/end rant. Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah...
I have about two hours a day designated to 'writing time,' and I track it using an Excel spreadsheet I created for the purpose. There's something about seeing the 'evidence' of your time at the coalface right in front of you week to week that makes you more inclined to stick to it (you can lie to everyone else but YOU CAN'T LIE TO YOURSELF.) It's how I finally managed to get a draft one completed of a novel, and how I'm still pursuing the draft two - not to mention maintaining a weekly blog and other, smaller writing projects. I do miss the face-to-face contact with other humans though. Most other mums in my area work, and it seems there are NO writers' groups in my home town at all (I've even been into my local library to ask if they'd start one; they put up notices and stuff, but got no response at all.) So I have to get my writer-socials online. Thank god for the interweb!

Emily Wenstrom said...

I know I *should* like having a career. Especially when I've been so lucky as to be able to support myself as a writer professionally in the creative field of marketing & PR.

But I just really do not enjoy having a career while balancing my writing most of the time. I do it for the stability of a paycheck and benefits. Which, as you so aptly point out, is nothing to sneeze at. Like you, Nathan, I do at least know I'm very lucky to have the career I do, even if office dynamics do drive me nuts.

But I manage to be pretty satisfied creatively anyway, and I am so grateful to my writing for this. By the end of the day I am totally drained mentally and creatively, so I started working out at night and instead waking up early to write before work, when my brain is still fresh. This has proven to be a powerful habit and it's lasted me three years so far, and will likely go on my entire life. Even if I were able to transition to just writing fiction full-time, I would probably keep waking up at 5 a.m. anyway because I enjoy those quiet pre-sun hours so much!

adan said...

The PIssarro caught my eye right away ;-)

For me, the best I've been able to come up with, since I still need income from outside writing to get by, at least with the expense of living in Austin, is alternate periods of time where I work with when I write, but in terms of weeks and/or months.

When I do have to work, it's usually full time, and during that time, I read more, outline new work more, and tend to create (if anything) mostly either short stories or poetry - the continuity of the flow of feeling and thought being most important to me when creating finished work.

In Vermont, I was able to work part time, leading senior fitness classes, that I was able to continue good productivity with novellas and even a novel or two.

There is something to what you mention about being able to go from one activity that one has tired of, creative work or job work, using each as escapes from the other.

But I found that for me, if I could get regular part time fitness work, like I did with the Y in Vermont, that would be best, keeping me active & fitness and diversified ;-) while leaving enough time and energy to do creative work.

Sounds like your balance works great for you Nathan, hope it continues to be so - best wishes :-)

Robin said...

Great article, thank you for posting. It's can be difficult to balance work and creativity.

As a freelance writer (web content and resumes, mostly), my business has its busy and slow points. After being self-employed for a while now, I'm finally getting used to the ups and downs and am able to use the "down" times to focus on songwriting and visual art. It takes a leap of faith each time, but that feeling has waned over time as I've been through it many times. This lifestyle has allowed me to achieve a true sense of balance in my life - my work informs my art and vice versa. I feel very blessed.

I must say, my husband has an amazing job with benefits and this has allowed me to continue doing what I love to do.

Before we were together, I did make sacrifices to make this lifestyle work so I've been on that end of things as well. I lived in a small studio, didn't have a TV/cable (still don't), and shopped at thrift stores. For fun, I'd go out and listen to live music or go to cafes to read, and I took walks with friends rather than going to expensive restaurants, etc.

I think everyone has their own "rhythm" and it's important to learn what makes you tick. Working is essential no matter what, it pays the bills and perhaps most importantly, keeps us connected to the outside world - otherwise, what would you write about? ;-)

Kastie Pavlik said...

I work full-time, so when I finally decided to write my first MS, my husband didn't see me for three months, and then more after that during round one of edits. ^_^ I can't really say how I make it work, but I do. When I want to write, I write. I sacrifice my "free" time and dvr tv or forgo playing a new video game. My husband and I make the most of the time we do spend together and sometimes I'll plug in my noise-canceling headphones and write in the living room while he watches tv. We're still spending time together, even if we aren't doing the same thing.

Johanna Garth said...

I was having a long conversation with a friend about this same issue recently.

In a way, my husband subsidizes my writing career while the flexibility of my writing career allows him to climb his career ladder. Of course we have children, so my time isn't unlimited, but I've found 5 hours a day is enough to make a huge difference.

My writing has consistently improved and while I have yet to sign a great big book deal, at least my latest book is out on submission with a great agent. I chalk this up to those five hours a day.

However, if I had unlimited time, no kiddies demanding me to schlepp them from point A-B, I think I'd go back to work because that great expanse of days without anything to break it up would be almost more daunting than trying to find the time to write and balance that with a career.

Maybe, like so many things in life it's all about the right balance. For the moment, mine is working well for me.

And it sounds like yours is too. :)

Magdalena Munro said...

I laughed (more like a snort) when I read your blog yesterday. As I was reading it on my device my son spilled a bag of rice on the kitchen floor, dinner was cooking, I was fretting about the 50 things I had not accomplished during the 8 hours that ran past me at work, and longingly looked at my half finished painting, thinking, Johann, please go go bed early tonight so that I can write and paint. This is all tongue in cheek because in actuality I love my life and the chaotic way it all fits so nicely together.

The only advice I can offer you and others as they navigate through the complexity of "work life balance" or "work write balance" is this (this only applies to those that need or want day jobs): Ensure that you are so damned good at your day job that you can make the rules.

Because I've become really good at my day job, I dictate/command my bill rate, dictate/command when I work (M-F 6-2), dictate/command work arrangements (I work from home because I need the solitude) and make sure I do a good job. This offers me financial security, precious time with my son, and when he sleeps, I turn into a self centered creative that makes whatever her heart desires. One can find balance!

Magdalena Munro said...

I laughed (more like a snort) when I read your blog yesterday. As I was reading it on my device my son spilled a bag of rice on the kitchen floor, dinner was cooking, I was fretting about the 50 things I had not accomplished during the 8 hours that ran past me at work, and longingly looked at my half finished painting, thinking, Johann, please go go bed early tonight so that I can write and paint. This is all tongue in cheek because in actuality I love my life and the chaotic way it all fits so nicely together.

The only advice I can offer you and others as they navigate through the complexity of "work life balance" or "work write balance" is this (this only applies to those that need or want day jobs): Ensure that you are so damned good at your day job that you can make the rules.

Because I've become really good at my day job, I dictate/command my bill rate, dictate/command when I work (M-F 6-2), dictate/command work arrangements (I work from home because I need the solitude) and make sure I do a good job. This offers me financial security, precious time with my son, and when he sleeps, I turn into a self centered creative that makes whatever her heart desires. One can find balance!

E. Brown said...

How many balls can you juggle and for how long?

And maybe it’s not so much balls as eggs. Eggs that can crack and make a big mess.

For the longest time, I thought I was going to have a career in politics. (Never mind the unfinished manuscripts piling beneath my bed since I was eight years old.) I was going to run for office so that I could make a difference on a bigger scale. I pursued a bachelor’s in public policy, then a master’s. I did internship after internship. I enrolled in a program that encouraged and supported women to pursue public office. It was a wonderful program packed with inspirational speakers and tons of information on how to launch one’s political career.

I finished the program and decided that I would not run for office.

I had heard from too many female elected officials whose marriages had ended in divorce. It seemed the majority of those that were successful and still had a family in tact had started their careers after their children were grown or much older.

I had to have a full-time job to make ends meet, and the bottom of a political career ladder pays next to nothing, but I managed to fit in a decent amount of creative writing. That changed dramatically after my first child was born. Now I was juggling a job, a baby, a marriage (yes, a baby brings you closer as a couple but it also puts stress on the relationship—I highly recommend Gottman’s "And Baby Makes Three" for those embarking down this path), keeping up with family and friends, the activities of daily life (e.g. trying to cook a healthy meal and not defaulting to frozen pizza, working out, flossing, and many other things too easy to neglect), and, oh yes, writing. And something called sleep.

So my writing career hasn’t taken off as much as I would have liked. But I have to be okay with that because I made choices, I have a set of responsibilities, and I have limitations. Sure, there are super-women and super-men out there that seem to juggle it all—maybe they even do it without resorting to throwing down gallons of high-energy drinks and without teetering on the edge of insanity. But I’ve, thankfully, stopped trying to be a super-woman.

Someone once told me, “You can have it all. Just not all at once.”

Truth is, I still try to have as much as possible at one time. I cram as much as I can into 24 hours even while I decry Cadillac’s new commercial exalting the workaholic American over the more laid-back (and less materialistic?) European.

So, I’m not sure there’s an answer or morale to the story in this long post, but I appreciate the opportunity to think on this dilemma and to remind myself to have patience and to manage my expectations. I figure that’s the best I can do, unless I want to make myself miserable. I have to be okay when something gives and if I end up with a little yolk on my face now and then.

Ghost said...

Every writer needs to find the time to write that best works for them. I write at night, when the world is slumbering and the house is quiet. I don't know why it works for me, but night time gives me the opportunity to be at my best.

I admire those that can squeeze in writing whenever possible.

Cecelia Dowdy said...

I usually write early in the mornings! When my muse really kicks in, I can get up as early as four AM and get 3 hours of writing done before going to work. I don't write much in the evenings. I'm too tired - my job is sometimes stressful, especially when we're closing our ledger at year-end and during an audit (I'm an accountant).

I do write on weekends. My evening and weekend time is somewhat limited because of my son's sports activities and practices.

I love having a steady paycheck and health benefits. I know for a fact if I quit my day job, I'd fail making a living as a full-time writer.

Miriam Joy said...

For me, it's writing while studying -- I'm in full-time education, so while there's no financial aspect of it, it's definitely a case of, "Do I want a social life? Is writing more important than getting a top grade in this essay? What's my priority today?" In the past, I've always put writing first, figuring that it's a more direct link to my career, but at the moment I'm scaling back on how much I write to concentrate on my exams, which will decide my future as far as uni is concerned, so they're kind of important.

As a student, I have it easy: I don't have to pay any bills, and I probably have more time at home than those who work, although it's split between homework and extra-curricular activities. It's definitely still a balancing act, though, and it's really hard.

Amanda said...

Extreme time management! I'm currently working ~45 hours per week between three jobs, but I managed to wiggle all three jobs into Monday through Friday. After work I'm pretty tired, so I plunk onto the couch with my husband and I read a book while he plays video games or watches TV. It's passive, I absorb some words and another writer's craft, and I can still keep up a conversation with the hubs.

On Sundays I do all of my cleaning, errands, seeing the friends and family, whatever.

That leaves me one day to write: Saturday. And Saturday is sacrosanct. It's the only day of the week I drink coffee--making it super effective! I get up by 7 a.m. and then stay on the computer all day and sometimes all night. On good days I knock out 20 or 30 pages. By the end of the day I am wrung out, but I have six days to rejuvenate for the next round.

Alllll of this is going to change when we start having kids. I'll retool the system when I have to.

Whirlochre said...

Sadly, I had to slaughter my family.

117967412569767968777 said...

I like having a career too, but that career is writing! If I could quit my day job, which is only partly a writing job, I would. I'd be able to write my own stuff all day long. Heaven.

Peter Dudley said...

Well said. Life is about tradeoffs, and everyone needs to find their own path. I wish everyone did a better job of respecting the choices other people make.

C.E. Austin said...

I was a nook and cranny writer, squeezing my writing into late nights and early mornings until I was diagnosed with cancer. The cancer either gave me clarity, or made me crazy- probably a little of both! I quit, I mean put school on hold (putting it on hold sounds slightly more impressive than quitting), and decided to chase after my dream. I haven't regretted a moment!

My husband is the breadwinner, so it has given me the chance to stay home, put a lot of time into my family and community, and write my heart out! To help pay the bills I substitute teach, which allows me to take a subbing job if we need the extra money, or stay home if i want to write.

Regardless if I ever get published or not, I won't regret the time I've spent doing what I love, and giving my dream of becoming a published author a shot! (If need be, I can always finish out that degree, right?)



Teena Lyons said...

This is a really great post - it's important to create your own goals and stick to them because there is no 'correct' way to go about writing! If a person wants to write, then there's no reason why they shouldn't - even if it's on the side of their central career.

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