The Day Job and the Creative

As most of you know, I have a ‘day’ job. The writer/artist/whatever else I am is all on the side of my primary career. This is not because I am secretly yearning to quit my day job, flip desks, and storm off into the sunset to make my way as a full time creative. Rather the other way around, as a matter of fact. I was a full time creative. And then I went back to school, graduated with a BS, and started working toward my dream job. I got it, too. I’ve been a Scientist for a year now, since I accepted the new role at my lab in 2018. (Blinks. A whole year? Dang)

But wait, you might be thinking, you’ve got a good income, you’ve achieved a life goal… Why are you still writing? Well, because I started writing thinking two things: one, I was in college at the time and any money was good money. Two, I was planning on writing being my retirement income. Something you should know before you launch off the deep end into self-employment. There is no such thing as retirement in the way most people talk about it, and there is certainly no handy retirement investment funds that your employer contributes toward (pats her tiny matched fund on the head. You grow up a bit, now). Self-employment is fantastic for freedom and flexibility. It’s not so great for consistent reliable income. After having spent most of my adult life running a micro-business, I knew that the only way I was going to avoid being a burden on society as an old lady was to build something to support myself in my old age. Hence, starting to write.

Still writing is because it turns out that writing is also very satisfying to me as a creative soul. In ways that working in a highly regulated environment like my lab cannot possibly be. So I keep writing not because I need the money, but because I love it. That being said… I have to find a balance between the Day Job, and the side-hustles. Which is what I started writing this to help you out with. Reality is, as Peter wrote about yesterday in his post on the vanishing marketplace, that just being a writer is going to always be hard to do on a level where you can support yourself, much less a family. Reality is, that has always been the way. Look at most – not the top few percent, statistically speaking, but most – full-time writers and you will see a hardworking spouse in the background commuting off to their high-paying job. The writer has the support that enables them to spend the time writing. In time, this certainly does lead to income, and perhaps enough income to enable them to say they hold up their  end of the bargain.

I am not trying to discourage you. I want you to walk into this with eyes wide open and no expectations of rose gardens and rainbows. There are going to be market shifts that mean your sales drop, and so does your income. There are going to be fads that come and go. But if you are doing this on the side, you have the luxury of not needing to chase the fads. Or write a book a month. You can just keep putting books out, year after year, and you will look up one day and realize to your surprise that you have loyal readers who are sick of the author that put out a few books, burned out, and disappeared, but they love the consistent reliable books you offer them. And they will say to people ‘hey, you should read…’ and via word of mouth you’ve got a fan base. It’s slow, that is. That’s ok. You, the part timer, have the luxury of longevity.

For the day-in-and-out routine, you want to find what time works best for you to write, be it an hour right after work, an hour before bedtime, that golden hour of quiet in the early morning when no one else is awake… find a time, and set your alarm, and make yourself write every day. Last year I was really struggling with work and finding writing time after a long day in the lab. This year I’m no less busy, but I have made the mental commitment to writing every day, and I’m going to do it. I might not put out thousands of words a day, but I have momentum. More, I have a habit. Because I do love my job, it can wear me out both physically and mentally as I chew over some problem I need to solve… but if I get in the habit of setting that aside to write, I find that I’m more refreshed and ready to tackle work the next day. The writing becomes a buffer, a doorway I can close on the workaday to keep it from eating my life.

And plan on life, too. Things will go wrong. There will be emergencies, and excursions, and any number of interruptions to your routines. Since you don’t have hours every day to write in, plan for the unexpected. Prepare so you can write anywhere, any time. I carry a notebook, and a tablet with keyboard, almost everywhere I go. I can write in the car, the doctor’s waiting room, the airport… you name it. I need to fit my writing work into those times, because if I don’t, I lose the momentum.

I love my jobs. I’m not ready to quit any of them. I just have to be creative in finding time to accomplish all of my goals!

(Header image: Cedar with her recently sold painting of romantic Cthulhu’s. Commission art is the best sometimes, such fun imaginative work)

14 thoughts on “The Day Job and the Creative

  1. Thank you.

    This is something I really need to consider. I’ve not yet learned to manage work life balance.

  2. Yep. There should always be some time somewhere to write (or whatever other creative endeavor you choose). Over the years, I’ve fallen into the habit of ‘pay-job stuff, housework, errands, business stuff’ in the morning, ‘veg out’ in the afternoon, and write/edit between dinner and bed. Sometimes it gets mixed a little, but that’s the typical schedule.

  3. “Self-employment is fantastic for freedom and flexibility. It’s not so great for consistent reliable income.”


    Sadly, weirdos like myself with poor social skillz are pretty well stuck. Thankfully the writing thing is a task that can be done with bad knees. ~:D

    And so much less demanding that standing on a ladder in the hot sun, scraping paint.

    1. This. Indy writer and publisher, cushioned by a military pension and social security: no way until the mortgage is paid off (another two years! Yay!) I could ever qualify for a car loan, which is why my daughter and I both drive older and pre-owned cars … and am very careful about maintenance and care of both.
      It always came around that we had money for stuff like … basic needs. It was just that it wasn’t predictable!

      1. Maintenance on older vehicles, oh yeah. I just had to replace the turbo on my behemoth F-250. ~$5k to do it, they have to remove the entire cab from the truck.

        But the damn thing was leaking coolant, and it was some pain now or a lot more pain later. A fractured turbo fan will scatter shrapnel all through the air intake system, as well as leaking coolant and oil. Best part, you may not know it has blown, so the shrapnel has time to wreck the intake and exhaust valves, the pistons, rings, cylinder walls, main bearings, pretty much everything. New engine. $20k. Kapow.

        -Hopefully- (if I may even say anything without angering the Auto-Repair Gods) the engine should be good for another 100,000++ miles before something else bad happens. Do the oil changes, air filter and fuel filter changes, it should keep going. Nothing lasts forever, but diesels commonly go 250,000-300,000 miles before they need new valve seats, or rings, or what have you.

        Good thing self-employment pays. ~:D

  4. “…very satisfying to me as a creative soul.”
    I understand that perfectly.
    Making things or fixing things was/is way more satisfying than work, but work paid the bills and provided the off time (and money) to do things that satisfied my inner being.

  5. Avoid having a day job that interferes with your writing if feasible. Things like reviewer, or English professor, or translator. . . .

    Gene Wolfe is the only writer I’ve heard of who managed to write during his day job, too — he was the contributing editor to a magazine on manufacturing plants.

  6. In my case, I am the spouse with the Day Job. It’s not high paying, alas and alack, but with careful budgeting, we get by even when Peter’s not able to write and release for months. And this is why (aside from health issues) I’m lucky to get a novel out a year; it’s my darling man’s job to write, but my own has to be squeezed into the sides and around the edges.

  7. I just had to sketch out some short stories the other day. Otherwise something was going to go *ping* and rude honesty would have ensued. Which would have been refreshing but not diplomatically wise. I’ve not been able to write creative stuff for two weeks and it is starting to show. But I knew this was coming, and I know that focusing on other things right now will help in the long run.

  8. I recently went back to school also, and have been working as a geologist for… three years? Maybe two. I’ve already lost track. I’m not even sure that I’d quit if I won the lottery. In any case, it does take away from whatever time I’d have to write, but I didn’t write *before* either. Then it was a lack of self-discipline. Now it’s exhaustion and getting home with no brain left. In any case, it’s not the day job that I view as a problem but the commute. I go through cycles of resentment over my daily travel time.

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