Does Your Day Job Matter?

Reader Mary asked a good question while I was out of town. At first, I read it and thought, “That’s the silliest question ever, of course I don’t care!” Then I realized that I was just thinking myopically…and that some writers may not realize that I don’t care, duh, and that you aren’t all mind readers. So it turned into the perfect question for a post!

Do agents sign authors who have other day jobs (and always will), or only full-time authors, or authors with day jobs aspiring to be full-time?

And here’s the answer that I thought was so obvious, but clearly isn’t.

Few published authors make their living as book authors. And it’s very rare to be a full-time author before you publish a book (since a lot of the lucrative book deals, the ones that allow writers to become full-time authors, are orchestrated by agents who work with large publishers).

So when people are looking for an agent, there’s only a very small chance that they’re already a full-time author. What a writer does with their days or what their day job is — unless it directly relates to the project they’ve written and I can use that factoid to help them build a platform — is of very little concern to me. I have clients who are doctors, who are stay-at-home-moms, who are teachers, who are grad school students. When I signed them up, a question about their job usually came as an afterthought in the initial phone call, the “getting to know you” small talk.

Most well-published authors still work full time jobs. A lot have jobs that are tied to their other careers as published authors, such as speaker or university professor or editor or magazine writer or English teacher or bookseller, but a lot still have either the drive or the financial need to work at more than full-time writing.

In fact, I think writers who have to find time to write because of other obligations are often more committed to their writing work. When you have all day to do something, you usually figure out a way to take all day to do it (the constant drama of someone who works at home and can’t afford to take a whole day to do one simple thing). A task stretches to fill the time allotted for it. But when you have to extract rare writing time from a busy work day, it becomes precious, like gold extracted from base metal in the ancient pursuit of alchemy. You focus more, you value your writing time more, you get more done.

This isn’t universal, by any means, but I do find that some writers who have to struggle to find time to write, even if it’s just at the beginning of their careers, come out a little heartier for it. So no, I don’t care what your day job is. But I respect you all the more for balancing a job, a family, and your writing life as part of the daily grind.

20 Replies to “Does Your Day Job Matter?”

  1. This is good to hear…

    By the way, I’m registered for your webinar on September 23 and I’m really looking forward to it. Will we submit our 500 words during the seminar for you to critique? I didn’t see anyplace on writersdigest.com to upload/submit them. Thanks for your time! Jen

  2. I actually feel guilty that my day job hasn’t filtered into my writing. But who wants to read about a raindrop flowing over dog poop and into the stormdrain in a bedtime picture book??? Yeah, didn’t think so. . .

  3. Thanks for answering my question, Mary, and it is a comfort to hear your answer. I had dinner last night with a former editor/aspiring novelist last night. She felt the same way, that working at a job somehow motivates you to grab time for writing. She’s finding it hard to juggle life as a stay-at-home mom with a teenage daughter and an elderly mother, and to make consistent time for writing. My nest just emptied, so that’s helped me a lot.

    I want to ditto Jen’s question above about your webinar. We weren’t given submission info.

  4. I always assumed this was true as well, but it’s great to hear it stated nonetheless. I am one of those stay at home moms, but I am also a homeschooling mom, so my writing time is precious indeed (in fact, I almost feel guilty when I do find those times) and I try to make the most out of every opportunity.

  5. Interesting! I love that I am a stay at home mome with my full house of little monsters and a writer, even if I made it big I wouldn’t change hardly a thing. Hire a babysitter for when I had to be gone, or when I wanted to stay up all night writing, and not just the usual 2-3 AM.

    I always wondered if my ‘lack’ of a day job would ever be a turn off, but there is nothing better than being around a group of people who always want to hear your stories!

  6. I have a day job as a magazine writer and editor. I’m always amazed at how the “work-writing” and the “real-writing” are separated in my brain. It’s as if I tap into two completely different areas, even though both involve stringing words together. It’s interesting how our minds approach fiction writing differently from everything else in our lives.

  7. When I worked as a journalist for a Canadian daily newspaper, I used to get up at 5:30 for my creative writing. I had a routine where I would make this wonderful latte and head up to my office, showered, and dressed. No phone calls, no child yet rising from bed, and I would work until I had to head out to the newsroom.

    Because my time was precious and limited, I worked. Then I switched into journalistic mode when I hit the newsroom as a reporter/video producer/feature writer and columnist. I wore different writing hats and I loved the variety.
    People would say “Aren’t you tired of writing?” And I would say never! Each area works a different part of my brain. Cross training is a good thing!

    Lesley

  8. “But when you have to extract rare writing time from a busy work day, it becomes precious…You focus more, you value your writing time more, you get more done.”
    That’s happening for me right now. As a high school teacher I didn’t have a lot of spare time, and I wrote sometimes. Now that I stay at home with my toddler, I write in every spare second that I have, and I treasure that writing time. I crave it like a junkie. When I don’t get it, things get very ugly around here.

  9. This is something that has kept me from submitting my work – the fear that my demanding day job would keep me from being able to write a followup and that no agent would want me because I wouldn’t be enough of a money-maker. But you make a good point about finding precious time to write. I need to remember I was doing the same day job and raising the same kids five years ago when I cranked out 269,000 words in my spare minutes (don’t worry! I’ve edited out most of those words – again, in spare time!). Thanks, Mary!

  10. It was a question that had been on my mind too. But I’ve another, time and again I hear of writers “making it” whose background is journalism, or editors of magazines etc. It’s very rare that a stay-home mum hits the big time, or a cashier of the local supermarket.
    Now, being a stay-home mum with a small part-time job at the local supermarket I’m worried…

  11. A perfectly thorough answer! This question has often occurred to me and the answer was greatly comforting!

    Loved your point about people NOT being mind readers (well, unless you’re a spicy mind reading witch in a novel…) and think that most of us assume that everyone else knows what we’re thinking ALL THE TIME! So, unless you ARE a spicy witch or some other paranormal creation – communication and CLEAR expression are absolute MUSTS for both your written work and every day (real) life…er…am I rambling again or do you KNOW what I mean…? …any spicy mind reading mediums out there interested in a translation job…?

    Seriously now – your webinar on 23rd September sounds amazing. THANKS SO MUCH for giving your time for such educational activities. I’m really looking forward to participating!

  12. It’s good to hear that agents sign on people who work. Because hopefully it means that the agents understand the time constraints of writing, working, and marketing a book. For many of us who can’t afford to quit our day job, that becomes a big issue no matter how disciplined you are to squeeze writing into the day.

  13. This is a really great post, Mary. I have to say, I really do value my writing time even more now that it is so limited by my day job. It’s like getting to eat a candy bar at the end of the day once the kiddo is asleep. 🙂

  14. Great post! I live 45 minutes from work, work 40-45 hours per week, have four children, do most of the house cleaning, do yard work, and make time for my wife of 11 years. I also work different shifts–some days I’m home at 5, somedays not until midnight or later. I almost always write after everyone else has gone to bed, and this means often sacrificing sleep to do what you want to do after you’ve spent all day doing what you have to do.

    Still, it’s paying off. I have had three short stories published already this year and have a couple more ready for submission. I also have two completed novel manuscripts I’m going to start sending out.

    There is time to write. The question is whether you can use it wisely and be productive in the time you have.

  15. Agreed. Writing time is like gold when your day job keeps you away and it’s all you can do to get through the mundanity before writing time begins at 4pm (for me). I work at a school, and I spent the summer writing with fervor to finish my novel before school started up again and pulled me away.

    Although I would LOVE to be a full-timer, I understand what you mean about how precious writing time is when you don’t have the luxury of a full day to do it.

  16. Valuable – thank you. I’ve struggled lately with decisions on Online Reputation Management specifically with LinkedIn. As an author, I wish I could proudly display more of my passion through LI, but as a Director for larger corporation, I don’t believe my genre would help my day job. Unfortunately I believe the decision has to stay with the one that pays the bills, so I am thrilled to read this from you. THANK YOU!

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