While reading GallyCat’s Worst Day-Jobs for Writers, I thought about my own early post-college gigs. None of them were writing related and I was miserable. It was shocking to go from college, where I was self-sufficient and responsible to a corporate job where I was someone’s assistant. It didn’t matter how smart I was if I couldn’t get a lunch request correct. I also wasn’t writing—not at work and not in my free time, so my self-worth seemed to get tied up in my day job.
One of the first freelance writers (a copywriter) I met in the mid-90s was my opposite in this regard. We’d taken such different paths since earning our degrees.
Madeline graduated from college and pursued her writing with fierce determination. Like me, she took temp gigs but she focused on entry-level job responsibilities that she knew she could do well—and quickly. Every extra moment she could squeeze out of her day, she’d spend it on her creative writing. She was not shy about telling supervisors of her long-term goals and found many of them to be supportive. One boss even told her that she could write on the job, just as long as she produced good work and did her job (like answering the phone when it rang).
Of course, I’ve lost touch with Madeline and I have no idea what she’s up to these days. I wish I could at least remember her last name as I’d love to know if she’s still copywriting and if she’s published anything.
Once I decided that pursuing writing professionally was important to me, it became necessary that my rent-paying work be based on my abilities with words. Landing my first “they are paying me to write” job was nearly a dream come true.
I’m not sure why it’s so important to me that the money I earn is from writing. Other writers seem just as happy doing something other than writing as their day job and funnel all of their creative energy into their personal projects. There are weeks where I can’t think about touching words again—not to blog, not to email and not to draft an essay—because I’ve already written so much copy. Then I wonder if I’d achieve my personal writing goals faster if I was a gardener (never mind my complete lack of training or skills).
Probably not. More than two years into freelance copywriting and I still have moments of “I can’t believe this is my life” happiness. Madeline told me she loved freelancing and preferred working from home to endless office gatherings to celebrate someone’s birthday/baby/anniversary with generic cake. At the time, I thought she was missing out; now I realize that she traded in the cake for the ability to manage her own schedule and pursue her own writing goals without apology. Now I’m glad I made that trade, too.
What about you? Do you work with words to pay rent? How have you chosen to balance a day-job with your writing? What kind of work did you pursue when you graduated from college? I’d love to hear your stories.