“Do what you love and the money will follow.”
“Dream big or go home!”
I walk a delicate line between optimism and reality. While I really, truly believe that creatives are meant to express our talent and skill, there is also a lot of wishful thinking that can get in our way.
Optimism versus Reality
Take quote number three for instance: Creators wanted. “Well, that’s great,” a realist would say. “So, how much am I going to get paid for that?” This isn’t to say that all realists are completely financially-focused, but some payoff is required to get a realist excited about a project.
Looking at that same quote, an optimist might be thinking, “Wow, another opportunity! See how great the world is?”
When I first quit my day job in 2008, there were a lot of emotions flying about. Excitement, peace, and hopefulness. Fear, anxiety, and frustration because there was so much that I still needed to know about freelance writing, and didn’t.
Mostly though, I felt grateful. Fortunate that I, a regular old, nothing-special individual, was finally going to have the opportunity to go after a life-long dream: being a writer. Working for myself. Helping others through my talent and skill.
Fast forward 7+ years ...
Am I still feeling the magic? Most days. Do I still struggle to find balance? All the time. Do I ever long for my 9-5? On occasion.
What I didn’t realize before starting my own writing business was that writing, while my primary emotional/creative outlet, felt stilted after spending hours a day doing it. Required writing—sometimes about topics I cared little about—was part of my new responsibilities.
You can’t just send an editor a note saying, “Gee, sorry this article is late. I actually didn’t finish it because it turns out the topic was dull. Good luck finding another writer to take care of it!”
Yeah. Write that note and kiss your career buh-bye.
So what are some ways in which having a regular 9-5 job helped my writing?
I did, after all, finish a full-length novel, several short stories and lots of newspaper articles while working full-time. (Whew! Just remembering that makes me tired.)
Here are five great things that a full-time job offers writers:
1. Payment for showing up. There were plenty of days that I wasn’t “in the mood” to work. I was finishing my bachelor's degree when I worked as a case manager in human services. Some days I daydreamed about a giant light beaming me up from my tiny, window-less office where my 300+ client files kept me company.
Later, when I moved away from human services to temp in an office (easy work = less stress, right?) I remember sitting and watching the clock hands move sooooo s-l-o-w-l-y. BUT I got paid. Every other Friday that sweet check hit my company mailbox and I zoomed to the bank.
2. Creative juices. There is something to be said for doing totally mindless work. It allows one’s creative side to go wild. I remember many boring afternoons at the temp job, sitting at my beautifully polished desk and doodling on scrap paper, then, BLAM! An idea would hit for the manuscript I was working on and I’d jot it down for my next 15-minute writing time.
3. Paid time off. I haven’t had a proper sick day in seven years. Not one where I stay in bed, resting, watching mindless television and letting the world go on without me. At the very least I am compelled to check my email account (often too many times a day).
Other times, I’ve written articles and penned correspondence between coughing fits. I always hated it when sick people would go into work (hello? please don’t infect the rest of us!). When you work for yourself though, no hours = no money. Somehow taking a full sick day isn’t such a priority anymore.
4. Learning on the job. I have a ginormously huge list of things I want to do before I die. (This Pinterest board lists one of my biggest goals.) While working full-time, I dreamt of being an entrepreneur. I don’t mean I thought of it like, “Oh that might be nice.” I mean I was obsessed with it … the way little girls dream about fairy-tale weddings? That was me picturing myself with my own business cards and day planner.
There were lots of skills I learned on the job that I still use today. Many times a month I silently thank my previous bosses for teaching me little shortcuts: easier ways to file/find/maintain records, basic accounting skills, ideas around marketing and more. Without these, I would have had double the amount to learn when I launched my business.
5. Community. OK, I almost didn’t add this one because I bet that you can’t stand some of your co-workers. That guy that always chews with his mouth open. The loud woman next to your cubicle who shouts into her phone all the live long day. The boss who micromanages you so badly that you can’t get the image of braining him with a stapler out of your head during meetings. I get it.
In fact, as an introvert, working alone was one of the things that I longed for most (and still something I enjoy greatly). However, there are certain things that a work community can offer that working alone can’t.
When you run into an issue with your computer, there is no IT person at the ready. Forgot to pay your cover designer? You can’t just shoot an email off to Accounts Payable and ask them to take care of it. There are no extended morning coffee breaks (unless your schedule is open and then you should worry because where is your next check coming from?), no working lunches, no expense account. Heck, you can’t even buy fun office supplies without debating with your stingy inner-accountant!
Tracy-Cooper Posy, a romance novelist, has a great list of things she wished she’d known about writing full-time before she started doing it. (*Note: there are racy images on her books—careful if you’re reading this at work!)
Do you recognize any of the perks above in your own life? Which resonated with you and which could you care less about? Please share in the comments.
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