The Day Job Blues – An IWSG Post

IWSG badgeEvery month I see multiple posts popping up on my WordPress feed all on the same day, all with “IWSG” in the title or the first few lines of the post. Eventually curiosity got the best of me and I looked into the story behind these synchronized bloggers, which is how I discovered the Insecure Writers Support Group. The idea behind the group is, of course, to give and get support within a community of writers, most of whom are insecure about one thing or another (don’t laugh…it’s a writer’s lot in life to be continually insecure). On the first Wednesday of every month the IWSG hosts a blog hop; members can write about the insecurities they’ve been feeling, problems they’ve overcome, or whatever else they feel like talking about.

This is my first IWSG post, and today I thought I’d talk about the Day Job Blues.

Most writers are lucky enough to be able to make a decent living from our writing, especially those of us who chose to write novels. Making any money as a novelist is quite tough because of the over-saturated market and difficulties getting noticed, and even if you’re lucky enough to be traditionally published you might never make anything more than your advance if people just aren’t interested in your book. Thus, many of us have day jobs – the things we grudgingly do to pay the bills.

Now, I’m lucky enough to have a day job that is a great boon for my family. Because of the work I do my husband and I don’t have to worry about the bills, are well prepared in case of breakdowns or other emergencies, and we can afford to splurge a bit on ourselves with the mood strikes us. And while the schedule is sometimes grueling (12-hour days for 14 days straight), it does have it’s benefits (14 straight days off afterward). Truth told, it’s a pretty decent set-up – at least, it’s what works for right now. However, from a writer’s point of view it can be extremely stifling.

When I’m on shift I’m extremely lucky if I manage to scribble a few words in a pocket notebook throughout the day. Because of the long hours I have maybe a half hour to an hour per night to write, but usually that time is spent whipping up last-minute blog posts while trying to keep my eyes open. Many times I go an entire two-week period writing only a thousand words or less toward a novel because I just can’t find the time without sacrificing precious sleep.

And going home actually doesn’t help. Two of my fourteen days off are spent on airplanes, and if those planes don’t have outlets (hint: they usually don’t) I can only write as long as my laptop battery survives, or else take the much slower route of scribbling in a notebook (hint #2: my longhand is a snail’s pace compared to my typing speed). Of the twelve days I actually do get at home, I spend a lot of my time (understandably) hanging out with the husband and daughter that I’ve just been away from for two weeks. There’s usually a trip or two to go shopping or visit family while I have the chance, and more often than not there’s some kind of event like a birthday, wedding, or family get-together to attend while I’m home. There are the usual chores that never go away, and my experience has been that at least one appliance will break every time I’m on my days off. In other words, my twelve days off are not the lazy, tons-of-free-time days you would imagine them to be. Between doing the stuff that I have to do (chores, fixing stuff, engagements) and doing the things that I want to do while I have the opportunity (quality time with my daughter, catching up on our shows with my husband, actually getting a relaxing bath once in a while), I often only manage a couple thousand fiction words for every shift at home.

Now, the thing is, I did manage to write, edit, and publish a novel (and maintain a 5-days-a-week blog) under these conditions, because there is absolutely something to be said for sheer determination. But it’s not an easy path. Forcing myself to crank out extra words usually means giving up on sleep that I desperately need, and letting myself relax a bit means I often forget where I was going with a scene, or even lose interest in my WIP all together. Taking the middle road (or as close to middle as I can get) means that completing a project can easily take ten times longer than one would traditionally like.

The long and short of it is that writing – even though many people don’t look at it this way – is a job, which we work willingly and pluck away at whenever we’re able because it’s our passion. Meanwhile, the day jobs we do to survive steal all our time and energy, and while they support us financially, they leave us bereft of that passion, unable to scrap together the resources required to do the thing we actually love.

I’m writing about these Day Job Blues today because it’s about this time every month (midway through my work shift) when I start to lament my situation. As I crawl into bed each night, exhausted from long hours, eyes burning and body sore, I’ll dream about how wonderful it would be to not need a day job, to be able to spend my days cozy at home, sipping tea and writing to my heart’s content from sunrise to sunset. And then I remember that my debut novel, Nowhere to Hide, has to this day earned me less than $300, and I grudgingly accept the fact that having this day job is simply my reality, at least for now.

It’s tough, and at times extremely frustrating, but it’s life, and we struggle through because regardless of what else we have to do to have a good life for ourselves and our families, writing will always be something that has to be weaseled in somewhere, even if it’s just a few sentences while waiting for the toast to pop or the afternoon break to end.