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.
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.)