A full-time writer: To be, or not to be.

How do you keep from resenting your duties and every human’s sleeping requirement when you have to stop writing to take care of them?
—Darla McDavid in “Ten questions I’ll be asking a published author”

Occasionally I fantasize about not having to work at my day job so I can devote unlimited time to writing. I have a friend who gets to do just that. But articles and blog posts abound as to why that isn’t such a great idea (see a few of them listed at the end of this post). I’m way too much of a realist anyway. I like the security of a regular paycheck along with other professional and social benefits of a job.

So instead, I’ve thought about how cool it would be to write at my day job and pursue creative writing projects during my free time.

As a graphic designer for 15 years, I’ve worked with full-time writers who prepare everything from press releases, newspaper articles, magazine feature stories, brochure copy, website copy, radio spots, TV ads, and billboards.

One of these freelance copywriters, Ally, writes magazine articles and brochure text that is lyrical, elegant, and refined. Once I asked her if she does any personal writing on the side. A journal? A book? A memoir?

She shook her head. “Absolutely not. I give everything I have to my clients. I’ve got nothing left over at the end of the day.”

Several other full-time writers share the same sentiment. They write for universities, non-profits, travel, and financial companies. When they go home at night, they are done. Tapped out.

Even if they wanted to write for personal fulfillment, switching gears would be a huge hurdle. Not only have they used up all their writerly energy during the day, they also haven’t exercised their creative nonfiction or fiction writing muscles in a very long time.

Because of these conversations with writers, I’ve become even more content in my job as an in-house graphic designer and manager of a small creative department. My colleagues know I can write and they see how well I use my editing and proofreading skills at work. If I really, really wanted to, I’m sure I could request a chance to draft brochure copy or a script for our latest radio or TV ad. Such initiative would probably give me a boost up the career ladder toward becoming a creative director (assuming I nailed the copy writing assignment).

But then I think about my role at a former job. I managed a department of eight and worked ten hours a day. At first it was exciting. I was ambitious and motivated, until years later, I discovered I was completely, utterly burned out.  All I managed to do was eat, work, and sleep. The stress reached dangerous levels.

Whenever I am tempted to expand my responsibilities at work, I remember the words of my writer friend and how all of her creative energy was expended on her paying writing gigs. And I remember how overrated ambition is and how it can suck every bit of verve out of you. I do not want my tombstone to read: “She worked really, really hard at her job.”

So while I’m at my day job, I give it my complete attention. But I reserve enough creative energy for writing during my free time. When I’m sitting at my laptop at home or at a coffee shop, my mind is uncluttered and free to focus on my words. Only mine. Resentment-free.

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  1. I look at my day job as a little break from the challenge of writing. I like to have time to do other things and think in a different way to give my muse a chance to breath. Besides, my job is filled with inspiration from the time I start to the time I go home. 🙂

  2. Great article. I’m looking forward to my friend’s answer to that question. Along with being a writer, she’s a wife and mother with a household to run.

    My job has some writing, but not near enough to drain my creativity. I work for a school and I’m all over the place in terms of my responsibilities. Never a dull moment and lots of bright ones with all the kiddos around. I was thinking about what a gift a school job is for a writer, with all those three-day weekends, holidays breaks, and summer schedules. Still, sometimes I’ll find myself getting ready for work and wishing I was heading to my writing nook instead of my car. Once I get there, though, I’m good!

    • Thanks for articulating that question so well for your published writer friend. Can’t wait to hear her answer. Your question really got me thinking!

      Your job sounds awesome, Darla! And I think it’s good to long to sit at the writing nook sometimes… it makes arriving there that much sweeter. 🙂

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