Friday, August 28, 2015

The Myth Of The Day Job.

I was scanning through a feature in Myslexia called “Don’t Give up the Day Job” and I have to confess that it always rankles me a little when people infer that you are in some way a second class writer because you have another job. 

Writing is something that I do, am fortunate enough to make money at it, but it’s not what I spent ten years in full time education to achieve.  I am lucky (there’s that word again, as it was not actually luck, it was sheer hard graft for the first ten years!!) to have a big and successful business and a job I really enjoy.
The article pointed out something that I think is very true; giving up the day job can hurt your writing in more ways than one.
One of the reasons I’m glad I didn’t become a dentist is that I’m constantly fascinated by peoples’ chit chat. My patients might have my elbow in their buttock but I leave them gag free to scream.  People are an endless source of fascination. 
And they are very helpful.

The following story is one hundred per cent true.  A patient came in yesterday with a copy of their aunt’s death certificate (which was from Colorado weirdly?).  The deceased’s name was wrong. The dates were wrong. The death certificate was produced before she died. The cause of death was medically nonsense.  She died from a sudden aortic bleed although that took weeks. Okay so that is pedantry at its best but if there is a place to be precise and pedantic then it is on a death certificate.

Then there was the story a patient told me about her friend who has an idiot for a husband.  The idiot husband, (good suit, nice car,) thought it would be lovely to take downtrodden, mousey little wife and the two ankle biters out for a meal to a posh restaurant.  When they got there the restaurant informed him that they do not allow children in. So he sent wifey and children back to the car to eat chips while he dined in the restaurant.  You couldn’t really make this stuff up.

Also had a native Gaelic speaker in for treatment yesterday and she was delighted to have her brains picked. It’s an important part of the next novel that the Altmore of Altmore Road, is an anglicized version of Allt Mhor, which roughly translated is ‘Big Stream’. It is pronounced ‘elt vor’. Scots Gaelic has a lot of words for rain, showers, river, wet, damp, soaking.  The language has a big vocab for wet!  
Having a day job means 60 hour weeks are norm, deadlines are very tight, research is not a never ending feast of merriment- it’s tight and focused.
But I have no desire to sit penniless in a coffee shop waiting for inspiration for the next best seller. It’s not that the writing doesn’t matter to me it’s just that my other career matters just as much.  Do we still have a romantic notion of the starving writer in the garret somewhere?

Some people say as a point of pride that they went on the dole, social assistant/ brew while they honed their writing skill. Good job I was working, writing away until midnight and paying tax to keep them.  Another famous writer blew her PhD year money on writing her novel.  My two full time writing pals both have very nice early retirement packages that will never be in the grasp of a self-employed person like myself. What I am saying is, it’s not really their writing that funds their lifestyle now or gave them that initial headspace to achieve their first publication.
Would I change that situation? Not a jot. The day job gets me out and about. Meeting all kinds of people from all walks of life and engaging them in conversations that have a very precise starting point (‘where does it hurt?’)… but can end up anywhere (‘I do recall the night I saw my dad murdering my mother’).  I think my characterisation would suffer if I didn’t ‘work’.  I’m sure my dialogue writing skill comes from listening to all types of people talk.

 Full time writers very often have to pencil in other activities to get them away from the desk. Dog walking, exercise, meeting with friends. I think I would go mad spending my writing time with the evil in my head sitting in an office five days a week, and then going out to an event and meeting lots of crime writers with all the evil in their heads.
I love my day job, I never crawl out of bed and think ‘I hate my life. I hate my work’. Even if that patient is difficult, there will be a nicer one along in thirty minutes, and at some point in the day I will get a cake and a coffee brought in for me (yes they are that scared of me - they do bring me bribes).
Recently three good friends have become redundant from the day job and are now trying to write full time- and it is tough. I had coffee with one today, he was asking me for a job, anything, answering the phone, cleaning up… and he is a good writer and sells well… but not enough to keep the wife and kids.
 I couldn’t write well under that sort of pressure. Doubt if I could write at all. Not knowing how I am going to pay the mortgage might seriously impede my creativity.
Or am I selling out for an easy life?
 And, (is this my second blog ending in a Val McD quote?), she said that when she gave up the day job, her creative writing output dropped by 50%.
So may as well get back to the buttocks then!


  1. Michael and I are always thankful that we don't have to live off what we make. The only benefit would be that I'd become a slender man - very slender - and gaunt. Of course that doesn't mean we don't want to be able to live off what we earn from writing.

  2. True, it's good to have a multi-dimensional life. A writer with a one-dimensional life probably writes a lot of one-dimensional stories... unless they suffer from some type of multiple-personality disorder... which it's my understanding that most writers DO suffer from that... or is it that they benefit from that??? Oy. Time to do my day job...

  3. I, too, enjoy my "other day job" - probably more now that I'm a sole practitioner rather than with a law firm, though that says more about my personal orientation than anything else. I would love to be able to live off my writing income, but I'm doubtful that I'd abandon the law practice entirely even if (or when) that came to pass.

  4. Even if I were lucky enough to be able to retire I would still have to get out in the world. After I win the lottery I intend to do a lot of volunteer work. It turns out that I don't mind people much.

  5. When I did give up my day job, I did so fully realizing that in one year as a lawyer I would probably make as much as in my entire career as a writer. That thankfully is not proving to be the case, but as with Stan and Michael, I'm happy I don't have to live off what I make from the writing life, and no doubt very few can live on what they earn from writing. I think it was Stephen King who observed that only 5% of the authors the world knew and recognized made enough to support their lifestyles from writing. And that number may be high. To me the bottom line is simple: Writing is a lousy way to make a living but a wonderful way to make a life.

    As Caro said, back to the buttocks.

  6. Writing has now become my day job, and not because I have any kind of pension or pay-off from my previous career. I agree that I haven't been as productive on the writing front as when I was still working as a photographer, but I've had Other Things to deal with since dispensing with the photography, so I don't feel I've given that part of it a fair trial.

    And meanwhile I seem to have taken on a second career in house construction. People keep saying, "Come and stay! Bring tools!" And, believe it or not, I'm very happy to do so. Doing something physical is very different from writing, and equally satisfying.