Your Paycheck: Words by Day or Night or Both?

coin towers. Image courtesy of stock.xchng®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.

3 thoughts on “Your Paycheck: Words by Day or Night or Both?

  1. The Seeker just answered my unasked question: how is it that I know so many lawyers who are talented, creative writers. It makes sense. After floundering in my post-college years, I often felt like I lost time, but now I realize that I needed that break and needed to experience things far beyond what I’d known. Maybe your “lost decade” will feel somewhat beneficial the further you get from it.

    Robyn, I relate and feel for you. It sounds like you tried the very thing I considered–and I bet I would feel the same way. Wishing you the very best of luck with getting back to the paid writing and full-time freelancing. Projects in the Mile High City are picking up, so maybe that can be a good sign for your area, too.

  2. Excellent post Jesaka!
    Being a writer myself, I completely agree. I had that dream freelance life and had to give it all up for personal reasons a few years ago. I’ve been doing small freelance projects here and there, but my day jobs have been mostly focused on non-writing activities. I feel like my soul has literally been sucked from my body. I have been trying like the dickens – especially in the last six months – to find a paying writing gig. In Southern California in this economy, such gigs are in short supply. But the market seems to be opening up more and more each week, so I’m hopeful. Ideally, I’d like to return to the freelance life full-time again. But for now, I’d simply be content with any “they are paying me to write” job. One thing my haitus from writing for a living has taught me is that I am a writer to my core. It is my identity, both personally and professionally.

  3. Fantastic post, as always. It is my theory that many writers get funneled into law school. Maybe it’s our facility with words and expression, and the fact that unlike being a writer, the law is almost a sure thing as far as careers go. I had lots of family pressure to go to law school. And I did. I was miserable for just about every minute of it. It’s almost a lost decade for me. I find myself sitting around daydreaming sometimes about what it would have been like if I had gotten an MFA instead of a JD. Where would I be now? But you know what? You can’t live in the past. And ironically, I’m back on the path I feel I was meant to be on this entire time–almost like the universe found a way to “right” itself.

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