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Thursday’s Work-in-Progress: Five Years In, Five Things to Appreciate About Being a #Writerwithadayjob

This week marks a small milestone in my working life: Five years ago, I left my full-time freelancing/adjuncting practice, which had itself followed a period in which I combined an academic appointment with freelancing and adjuncting. Five years ago, I returned to a desk job in an away-from-home office, Mondays through Fridays, 9 to 5.

In other words, five years ago this week, I became what I sometimes append to my tweets: a #writerwithadayjob.

And I’ve been really lucky. I landed in an environment where I work with smart, generous people, and I tend to agree with the policies and philosophies of the organization’s leadership. As I know from previous experiences, it’s not at all nice when you aren’t in that kind of congenial environment.

But as a writer with a day job, I’m also grateful for some aspects of my job that have particularly enriched and improved the quality of my writing life. Here are five of them.

1) It’s true that the structure and routine of being expected in an away-from-home office–doing work for someone else–every day from 9 to 5 isn’t always a writer’s dream. But the structure and stability of a regular paycheck, health insurance, a retirement account, and paid leave are wonderful things. A few months ago, when I had major surgery, I was especially grateful not only for my health insurance, but also for the amount of paid sick leave I had “in the bank” that enabled me to be away from work for several weeks and truly focus on my recovery. Moreover, the paycheck’s reliability helps subsidize certain elements of my writing life, including the occasional book review or blog post that I can manage to produce for free for organizations/publications I admire, including Fiction Writers Review and Jewish Book World.

2) I work with great people. They’re smart. Many of them are also very funny. And they’re extremely generous and supportive when it comes to my writing.

One year ago, some co-workers surprised me by ordering copies of QUIET AMERICANS and holding an impromptu "launch party" at work.

3) Through my job, I’ve met some amazing writers-who-teach. I’ve learned about their work, and–wait for it–they’ve been interested in mine! From feedback on poems to suggestions on where to send an essay to a simple kind word or two, I’ve benefited from this generosity right from the start of my five years at this job. You can’t understand how much this means to me if you don’t understand how toxic my MFA program was, how little I was supported there, and how all of that negativity has lasted years beyond graduation.

4) My writing and editing skills–and my ideas and suggestions–are valued and appreciated. This means a lot, too.

5) I’m constantly learning. I’m surrounded by people, and I hear their stories. I carry out a variety of research projects. All of this is good experience for any writer.

One somewhat negative side effect of my return to the M-F, 9-5 life is that my patience for complaints from certain other quarters has diminished. If you’re a college teacher (say, with a 2-2 teaching load of writing workshops and entire summer and/or winter sessions when you don’t teach at all), I don’t want to hear about how difficult it is for you to find time to write. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, yes, you need to balance child care with your writing, but the child care is your job just as my office job is mine. And if you’re a full-time writer, please don’t expect me to applaud and retweet your blog posts and articles on how you somehow manage to write when all of those distracting social media outlets beckon. Sorry. (On the other hand, if you’re someone with a “regular” job AND you’re a parent with children still at home AND you’re writing, well, then I do bow down to you. I don’t know how you do it.)

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18 Responses »

  1. I’m an at home writer/Mom and my daughter just gave up naps. It’s been a challenge, but so far we’ve been making it work. I don’t know how people hold down full-time jobs, have kids, and write. It hurts my brain to even think about it.

  2. I love this post, Erika! And I’d write more about my appreciation for it, but I’ve got to hurry and run off to my Day Job. 🙂

  3. Great post, Erika! There are definitely tradeoffs in our writing lives, and despite the lack of time, having benefits/steady paycheck/community isn’t a bad deal at all. You truly are one of the most successful writers-with-a-day-job I know, so keep doing what you do! Because you’re clearly doing something (many somethings) right. You’re an inspiration.

  4. As a full-time job-worker, writer, parent to-a-13-month-old-ABD-doctoral-student (finishing up her dissertation this semester from a distance), I accept your bow and reward it with my continued readership to your blog. I suspect we all have limitless capacities when pressed to extend them.

  5. Great post. I’ve done part-time, full time, and no time and I found that working full time actually allowed me not to take the time I did have for writing for granted. It also gave me plenty of things to write about in the memoir I’m working on! Congrats on keeping such a great blog on top of it all.

  6. Thanks for the comments, all! You made me smile. @Neesha–the bow continues! @Chantal–I look forward to your memoir. @Kelly–Yes, it does inspire a headache! @Deonne & @David–Thx so much for your friendly words!

  7. I’m getting to my response late in the day after work, errands with the teens, my volunteer writing gig, and grading papers for my second job. I set personal writing goals for 2012 but overcommitted a bit at the beginning of the year. Ack!

    I agree that you inspire! And thank you for reinforcing for me today the oft taken-for-granted blessing of working for a good organization alongside awesome co-workers.

  8. Last year I was doing the whole full-time-work-plus-parenting gig and admittedly did not get a lot of writing done. This year I’m off work but have an additional child. Although most of my waking hours are spent caring for the two children I really do feel, like you, that the stimulation of doing “other things”– constantly learning, interacting with great people (even though mine are under age 3)– fuels writing. I get a lot out of my job, as do you, and this fulfillment definitely lends itself to writing. Additionally, the obvious time restrictions actually lend a certain urgency and productivity to the writing I can do. Interestingly, I write much more now than I did when I had fewer “responsibilities.” Thanks for the post– I am continually in awe of how many great pieces of writing and writing-related resources you produce despite–or because of?–your 9-to-5. Kudos!

    • Sarah, such a great point about the way the time restrictions can lend urgency and productivity. I do think that the full-time job has had something to do (positively) with the shorter pieces–especially poems, (micro)essays, and reviews–that I’ve generated during the last several years. I just find it harder to conceptualize and focus on longer-form work, and I can’t help wondering if that’s because I just don’t seem to get into a more expansive, less time-pressed mindset quite so easily anymore. Thanks for your comment, and congratulations on your new baby!

  9. And day job makes three… I am also extremely blessed in my day job, though I have my fantasies about how much I could write and read, if those were my only jobs.

    There is much to be said about getting out in the “real world” everyday, and that reassurance of the regular paycheck and all-important health insurance.

  10. My non-class writing has been inconsistent because I probably over committed this semester, too. I’m ABD in atmospheric sciences, taking on more than my teaching assistant appointment says because I enjoy it and it’s good experience, and taking my first reporting class that may lead to a journalism master’s. At home I have my boyfriend and his two teenagers.

    Slightly over committing makes me work more efficiently, but I’m toeing the line this time. Not sure which side of the line I’m on.

  11. Love this. I can totally write. I, too, have a day job and enjoy the feet in two worlds. Just discovered your site, Erika. Loving it!

  12. Hi Erika,
    Great post. I, too, returned to a 9-5 gig just three years ago, and, though it was really painful in the beginning, I do see the benefits. I think the biggest things for me are the structure and the freedom from financial worries. Even freelancing left me in a perpetual state of financial angst.

    Now I’ve been lucky enough to cut back to four days per week, which leaves me poorer but with one whole day for the big writes. On the other days, I’m lucky to do a little editing or just scribble down some notes.

    • Four days a week would be dreamy. Sigh. (Actually, this week and next I am living that dream, since our office is closed for two consecutive Mondays.)

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