Monday, October 1, 2007

Self-Employment or a Day Job: Which is Right For You?

If you're an aspiring novelist, you're probably someone who'd really rather be in a room alone, writing, than doing anything else. The problem is that writing books isn't exactly a career you can get paid to learn. You can't get a paid internship, a middle management job, and work your way up the ladder while collecting a steady stream of paychecks. Nope: you're stuck doing all the hard work with no pay, and then hoping that somehow you'll eventually collect a fair wage for that work.

Unless you have a trust fund or a saint for a spouse, you'll be stuck working for a living--at something other than what you consider your actual career. There are two ways to do this: get a normal job somewhere, or work for yourself.

The Steady Job: Costs and Benefits

There are benefits to having a steady job. The most obvious is that it's steady. You don't have to worry about money, and for some, that means dreaming about your novel instead of worrying about your paycheck. Then there's the benefit of having to get up and go to work around other people. The characters you meet at work can give you lots of ideas for your writing.

Of course, a day job can also suck the soul right out of your head. You can come home drained and exhausted every day--even though you didn't do much more than sit at a cubicle. If you don't like your job, you're not a good fit with the company personality, or you don't work with like-minded people, you could be miserable. For some, it's just too much misery to trade for a regular paycheck.

The Entrepreneurial Route: Pros and Cons

At first glance, opening your own business sounds like the best way to go. One of the most frustrating aspects of a full-time job is that it must come before your writing. Your boss might want you to work during a time of day when you'd rather be writing, or object to you using the company copier to make copies of your 400-page manuscript. But when you run the company, you're the boss. You can work whenever you want, however you want, and nobody can tell you otherwise. You can truly craft your schedule around your writing time.

For some, freelance writing sounds like an ideal business. There's nothing quite like the joy of getting paid to do what you're good at. I had several jobs where my duties were definitely not within my areas of talent, and I hated every minute of it. I knew I was talented--just not at what I was doing. And I hated the fact that I was seen as a bit of a screw-up. With freelance writing, I know I excel. I like getting up and going to work--even though I only have to go so far as my desk.

The problem with running your own business, though, is that it quickly takes over your life. You might want to spend the day writing your novel--you might even be planning to--but if there's client work to do, you'll probably do that instead--especially if your novel's hit a snag and you'll do anything to procrastinate. And when your day job is writing, it can be tough to summon the enthusiasm to write a novel when you've already spent all day writing other things.

The right choice depends, of course, on your circumstances. If you've got kids to support and a mortgage to pay, you might be stuck with the steady job--at least for a time. But if you're independent-minded and your steady job makes you want to poke your eyeballs out, you might be happier choosing the entrepreneurial route. I've tried them both--and I know what's best for me.

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