Writers, Don’t Quit Your Day Job

In defense of working for someone else’s dream while you build your own

My generation grew up on Disney—heartwarming stories about finding your calling, pursuing your dream, and never giving up.

And while I love Disney, it’s (unfortunately) not the real world. In the real world, you shouldn’t quit your day job.

When I graduated from college, many of my peers were reluctant to enter the workforce. At the very least, we all had trepidations. I don’t even know what I want to do! was our war cry. Cue weeks of scrolling through job postings, searching for that elusive job that ticked all the boxes.

For me, I’ve always known that I want to be a fiction writer. Anything other than that seems, well, boring. Useless. But seeing as though I hadn’t actually written a book at this point, I decided to suck it up, look for a job, and wander down the marketing path (that dark, shadowy lane where English majors go to die.)

Here’s the important thing: I didn’t like my first job. Or my second, or my third.

Don’t get me wrong; I worked at some great companies. But there were two main problems: I didn’t love the field I was in, and entry level jobs tend to suck no matter what.

1. I didn’t love the field I was in.

Marketing to me has always seemed a little shady. I love writing and storytelling, but using it to manipulate people into buying a product they may or may not need? That feels wrong.
BUT (and this is an important but) I recognized that while I may not love marketing, it provides me with a steady job that allows me to pay rent and buy groceries. You know, act like a functional adult. And despite my misgivings, I’ve learned that marketing can be an incredible force for good.

2. Entry level jobs tend to suck no matter what.

The worst part about entering the workforce is taking crappy entry-level jobs. Unfortunately, to get to the good stuff, most people have to slog through the terrible first year or two.

Writers especially don’t want to work in entry-level jobs while they’re struggling to achieve their creative goals. But the pros far outweigh the cons here.

If your goal is to become published, then it’s better to work as an entry-level marketing assistant than as a Starbucks barista.

This may seem counterintuitive—why would you invest your time in a career that you don’t actually want? But working a traditional 9-to-5 job can have enormous benefits for your writing career.

When you put in your time with a 9-to-5 job, you start building financial independence. You can (hopefully) support yourself. And this independence affords a sense of confidence and self-worth that living in your parent’s basement can’t—traits that can help drive you to accomplish your creative goals. And, funnily enough, when you aren’t worrying about your bills, your creativity has a lot more room to stretch and grow.

Many writers find the structure of a traditional job to be helpful for their writing; a daily routine can significantly affect productivity.

So don’t turn your nose up at a day job just yet; taking a full-time job could be a decisive step toward reaching your creative goals.

So why you should keep your day job?

I see four reasons:

  1. To establish financial independence
  2. To gain self-confidence
  3. To maintain structure and discipline
  4. To steal from your job

I already covered the first three, but I want to touch on that last one: steal from your job.

No, not pens or ideas or time—but skills. Learn voraciously and never skip an opportunity to investigate a new topic.

For my part, I’ve learned valuable skills from each of my jobs. Photoshop, Illustrator, web design, blog writing—each of these skills has helped me grow and given me invaluable skills I can use, say, in marketing my own book.

Of course, your job can also inspire you by giving you background knowledge or inspiration for your work. Maybe you work at a newspaper office and write a novel about a young woman in the media industry.

But even if there’s not an exact correlation between your job and your work, there’s always something to learn.

At one point, I worked for an addiction recovery center as a content writer. That job didn’t work out, so I left. But cranking out four blog posts a day? That taught me discipline, time management, and the value of hard work. Not to mention the writing practice I got every day.

In every job, there’s something to be learned. Eavesdrop on your annoying colleagues and steal their words for your dialogue. Observe the petty gossip and write a scathing short story about office politics. Whatever you do, keep your wits about you and remember that everything is fair game for informing your fiction. (And if it really helps, you can always get through difficult situations at work by plotting to vilify your colleagues in your upcoming book.) Thankfully, I have a great job where I don’t have to plot against my coworkers. But you never know.

Conclusion

Contrary to the romantic vision of a writer’s life, keeping your day job allows you to fuel your creative passion and pay rent. I know it’s not always easy, but in many cases, a day job can inspire you and teach you crucial skills.

To every writer who’s struggled with whether or not to take that stuffy office job—
To every writer who’s currently working in a stuffy office job—
To every writer who loves their day job—

Here’s to you, friend.

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