Time Management

5 Reasons for a Writer to Love Their Day Job

Saving Saffron Sweeting was written during a blip in my ‘professional’ life. I had a left a job that was making me miserable and decided I’d better have something productive to show for my time off.

However, I always intended to go back to work and although my ‘writing sabbatical’ lasted a bit longer than intended, I did start a new position in June. The challenges of learning a new job, together with being gone from the house for over fifty hours a week, have been considerable. More than once I’ve asked myself how on earth I’m going to get a second book written alongside the necessary logistics of daily living. If it wasn’t for the lovely reviews you’ve been leaving, I might have thrown in the towel on my second shift as a novelist.

Much is written about how writers with day jobs can make time to write. (I devour those articles, by the way). But I thought it was time to celebrate the day job and the benefits it brings:

1. The pay cheque. Duh. That really doesn’t need further explanation, does it?
But wait: there’s more.

Photo: John Nyberg

Photo: John Nyberg

2. Characters and material. The day job gets me out of the house and into the real world, where fully-fleshed characters are acting out their personal and professional dramas right in front of me. While I don’t intend to clone any of my present work colleagues in my next novel, there is nonetheless wonderful fodder in the myriad of material which occurs during an eight-hour work day.

3. Exercise for both sides of the brain. I didn’t write much creative stuff in my twenties and thirties, because I chose a fairly analytical career path. (Frankly, it’s much easier to make a living in the sciences than in the arts.) In recent years, the creative side of me has started nagging and I now believe I’m happiest when both sides of my brain get a chance to be in command. With a day job in IT (eek), I need to indulge the artsy side, too.

4. More time pressure. Did I really just type that? The hard-to-swallow truth is that my time is now more scarce than ever. But as my friend and author Martina Munzittu told me, the less time you have available, the better you tend to use it. If I run myself ragged getting chores done, to carve out time to write, I believe there’s less chance I will waste that time, than if I had ten hours every day to ponder my next sentence. “Just do it” is a necessary habit for the writer with a day job and it’s one I’m happy to learn.

5. Better perspective. I’ve been ridiculously lucky so far: nobody has left me a really stinky online review. (Although some private feedback has certainly stung.) However, I believe that the more different aspects we have in our lives, the easier it is to bounce back when one goes badly. If novel sales are low, or a bookstore turns me down for an author event, this hurts less when I’ve achieved something in my day job, or run ten miles, or had a lovely evening out with my husband. It’s true, fitting in lots of different strands puts more pressure on time, but a setback in one area is less likely to ruin my day.

For many creative individuals, a day job is simply a financial necessity. But I believe this cloud has silver linings of other kinds.  What do you think?

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18 Comment

  1. Reply
    August 30, 2013 at 3:32 am

    These are all great reasons, Pauline. Number 2 was particularly relevant for my first book. Having worked in an office for many years, a few of my characters were based on some of the colleagues I used to have in my twenties and the things they used to do. You can get a lot of material and ideas from work. I tend to mix and match and create someone completely new. You don’t want to run the risk of an ex colleague taking you to court one day! 😉

    Thank you for the mention, by the way. Time pressure is another important one. I work as a VA (virtual assistant). I use a tracking software to track the time I spend working for my clients, and I make a note of what I do for them in that time.

    I also do the same for my books now. I use the same software to track the time I spend writing new material, revising, marketing, blogging, everything. That way, I know exactly how I spend those few hours I have available every week. That means I am accountable for that special time, and no excuses can be made for any chores that need doing, or baking of cakes 😉

  2. Reply
    Pauline Wiles
    August 30, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    What a great idea, to track time. During my short stint as a full-time writer, I know I used to spend hours in the online world… which was pleasant but ultimately perhaps not productive. I’m much more conscious of time spent web surfing now, although I do feel I’m neglecting my online buddies a bit 🙂

  3. Reply
    September 2, 2013 at 5:45 am

    Great post honey!

    I gave up work to concentrate on my writing, and now im regretting it *sighs*


    1. Reply
      Pauline Wiles
      September 2, 2013 at 9:37 am

      I’m so sorry to hear, it Vikki. It can be super-tough to leave a steady income stream to do something that makes you happier. Assuming the main regret is money (??) I hope your writing fills the gap soon… or that maybe you can find a way of bringing in some extra pennies without abandoning your typewriter altogether…

      1. vikki
        September 4, 2013 at 3:08 am

        Im finding that im actually less focused now I’m not working, i just spend all day procrastinating and doing chores Pauline lol


    2. Reply
      September 4, 2013 at 12:26 am

      Hi Vikki

      I don’t know your circumstances, but hang in there.
      I was on a nine-year work contract which ended in 2005, and that is when I decided to take a year off and have a go at writing. Little did I know that within a month my husband would be made redundant, so there were two of us unemployed while I was writing my book 🙁

      It seemed totally bonkers at the time. I used to feel guilty, as I felt I should be out there earning the money and not writing a book, and this had a big impact on my creativity too. But I persisted with my goal and I am glad that I did in the end.

      Whatever your circumstances at the moment, please try not to feel bad. I am sure that you gave up work because you are passionate about writing and I am confident that you considered all things before taking this step. It is easy to feel a little lost, especially if you are writing full time and you have a whole day ahead of you. This is normal, and I went through the same thing when I wrote my first novel and was doing it full time. You’re doing your best, and you will be rewarded for that 🙂

      1. vikki
        September 4, 2013 at 3:09 am

        Thanks Martina 🙂

        I just need to be more organised! lol


      2. Pauline Wiles
        September 4, 2013 at 12:30 pm

        Great advice and thanks for sharing your story, Martina…

  4. […] Since long before I was a Professional Organizer and years before my current struggles to fit novel-writing alongside a day job, I have loved to read ideas from others on planning and using our day […]

  5. Reply
    September 5, 2013 at 12:37 am

    I don’t want to hijack the comments section, but I had a similar experience to Vikki when I set up my VA business. There were two types of distractions: chores and friends.

    I used to tell myself: this ironing will only take 10 minutes, oh well, while the printer is printing that long document, I’ll load the dishwasher, and then wander off and hang the washing… and so on. All these tasks always take longer and lead to more distractions and take the focus away from what you should be doing.

    And friends, well, they just assumed that because I was at home, I was NOT working, and it was OK to call for a chat, or pop in for a visit, a long one.

    After about 3-4 months of massive un-productivity I got really frustrated – and I realized that I was the one in control and the one who had to establish some boundaries. I started doing so, a little at a time. I told my friends that if they wanted to talk to me they had to do it in my official coffee and lunch breaks. (Yes, I still take those :-)) and the chores too got done in those breaks or in the evening/week-ends.

    It all sounds terribly organized, but being Italian, I am very flexible. I do believe in breaks, and Vikky, you should take them, because they give you permission to do exactly what you want without feeling guilty: cup of tea? chat with friends? put your feet up? chores? sleep? chocolate biscuit? I find that I am always that much more productive after a break.

    Perhaps you might try breaking your day into sections of writing/breaks/writing. That way your official writing time is actually broken into mini sections and it may be easier to focus on what you want to achieve in that slot, rather than having a whole massive day ahead of you? Obviously, Vikky, you know best what works for you, and you may want to experiment with different things. But either way, you’ll get there – I have no doubts 🙂

    1. Reply
      September 5, 2013 at 10:04 am

      You’re not hijacking at all – thanks for the advice and I’m pleased this is a topic which is useful. Maybe, Martina, this would make a great blog post at your own site?

      1. Martina
        September 6, 2013 at 12:54 am

        Thanks for the suggestion, Pauline. I will consider that. Your post has actually sparked an interesting discussion and there are many angles we can tackle this from.
        Thank you for writing such an interesting article 🙂

  6. […] course, coming back to 200 personal emails, 900 at my day job and some particularly nasty bills has been a shock to the system – and don’t get me […]

  7. Reply
    June 10, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    Pauline I loved number 1 especially, sometimes I neglect my clients when I’m feeling particularly inspired, it reminds me to put in the work and find balance. . Thanks again!

  8. Reply
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  11. Reply
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