Wait – being a writer of books is a job in itself, isn’t it? The fact of the matter is that many writers don’t make enough money from their books to live off their writing (comfortably enough at least), and the small percentage who do have had to work their way to the top. Most writers start with a day job of some kind. Famous writers have certainly had some interesting day jobs before their rise to fame…
Ernest Hemingway – Correspondent and war-time ambulance driver
Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Journalist
William S. Burroughs – Bug exterminator
Fyodor Dostoevsky – Engineer
Harper Lee – Ticket agent
Stephen King – Janitor, English teacher
Anton Chekhov – Physician
Charles Bukowski – Post office worker
Haruki Murakami – Jazz club owner
Franz Kafka – Legal clerk
Indeed, many famous authors had nothing to do with the academic world, or the jobs related to it. Does this suggest that it doesn’t really matter what kind of day job you have so long as you write? That the passion for writing can overcome the inconveniences and vicissitudes of even boring day jobs? Perhaps.
A Modern Dilemma?
But in our modern times we have, or at least we seem to have, a lot of control over our “careers” – we certainly have more options than writers in the past had. We can even work from home, on our computers. So, while we focus on our writing (or on our art, for the same is true for most artists), should we simply chose whatever day job pays the bills, or can we allow ourselves to be choosy?
Having a day job that somehow involves books or writing, or at least something creative, may seem preferable to working in a post office. But is it really so? Does not having a boring and undemanding job actually encourage a creative state once you get home and sit at your desk? Kafka, who worked as a clerk in an insurance company, would perhaps agree, but then if he were alive today, perhaps he would have preferred to be a freelancer writer.
Or perhaps a teacher, or a librarian, as some aspiring writers are these days. Working as a writer, or with books or stories, as in journalism, may seem like a good strategy for the aspiring author, and it probably is. There is a danger in it, though, that the work-related writing consumes some of the energy and passion for the book writing, and so in the long run it can be insidiously harmful to one’s drive and creativity.
But Does It Really Matter?
For my part, I work as a freelance writer, “from the comfort of my home”, and while I appreciate the convenience of it, I do wonder sometimes whether my writing wouldn’t actually improve if I wrote less, that is, if I did not write for a living but worked as a photographer, or had some other job that would get me out of the house more, into the midst of people.
In the end, I think the important thing for us who want to be writers is to read and write every day. If we do that, what “day job” we have isn’t that important. It will of course influence our writing, but if it pays the bills and brings a certain stability to our life, which we need for our long-term writing projects, then I think it’s preferable to having a creative job that is full of ups and downs, or worse, have no day job at all and rely entirely upon writing to earn a living, which can influence what we write, in a bad way.
What about you? What day job do you have? Does it interfere with your writing?