Friday, September 7, 2007

My Defence of 'Day Jobs'

I'm a big fan of the image of the 'struggling/starving writer' typing out a lonely existence in her tiny garret apartment. To me the romance of this image is inexplicably attractive. The reality of this is something altogether different and somewhat terrifying.

I’ll not be typing out a lonely existence anytime soon, because to be honest, I can’t afford it. It’s a hard truth that 'day jobs' are in fact a necessity for many aspiring writers. If I want to have a roof over my head, some ramen on my plate, and to keep the creditors from frog-marching me off to debtors prison I have to work in a ‘day job’. Its unromantic, its uncomplicated, and it lacks the flare that I thought would surround my life, but each morning I get up and head off to the office for a stifling eight hours.

Except— my eight hours aren't all that stifling. In fact, I quite enjoy my 'day job'. I work for a great publishing house that encourages me to have opinions about books, proposals, author events, and constantly gives me new insight into the publishing industry. While it’s not exactly what I'd like to be doing (see writing alone in a garret) it’s certainly not a bad compromise for the time being.

I’d go so far as to say that I’m actually supportive of aspiring writers having ‘day-jobs’. Ok, so it doesn’t fit in with the romantic image, but I know that my job has helped me to understand humanity better. Getting up and going to an office everyday has allowed me to see a cross-section of humanity that would have been lost to me in my little garret. Not to mention the obvious benefit of seeing the publishing process (from proposal to finished copy) in action. I’m lucky enough to also be up to my eyeballs in free books, which is nothing to sniff at! Half of my inspired ideas come from conversations with co-workers or random doodling on the tube. Besides that, most companies have courses in copywriting, grammar, and marketing, which will provide me with excellent skills when I am able to freelance full-time. Actually having a ‘day job’ has also forced me to have a strict writing schedule, which makes the most of my time and efforts.

I think the trick to making a 'day job' more than a cubicle farm (although we have a horrible open plan office!) is treating each day as a fact-finding mission. What can I learn today about publishing? People? Characters? How can I use all this information to create richer stories? What have I learned that will help me get published? At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

Don't get me wrong, I've also had horrific 'day jobs'. I've worked in a cubicle farm that sought to break my spirits 1984-style. While each day became more and more nightmarish and I literally felt my creativity and will oozing out through my eyeballs, I realized one truth: I don't want to work for someone for the rest of my life. In fact, all I have ever wanted to do is write. Ever since I realized that I could take the stories in my head and put them on the page I’ve been hooked!

After college I felt completely overwhelmed by the vastness of the world, and the odds of actually finding a job in my major, my field, and finally WRITING professionally. Working in a crap 'day job' finally opened my eyes as to what I'd need to do to succeed professionally. For that, I'm grateful.

So for now, I’m going to have to content myself with writing in stolen moments at work and at night in the safety of my flat. I certainly hope one-day to freelance full-time and hang my shingle outside my garret, but until then, I'm going to make the most of my 'day job'. Watch this space!

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