Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Keep your day job. Seriously.

There’s a misconception that once a person gets published they become rich, famous, and interesting. This is a falsehood. The dream is to write full time and to make a living exclusively off of our craft, but there are also some arguments against this approach.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard for published authors was the following: keep your day job. Crazy as it might sound, it keeps you financially stable, helps you maintain a healthier perspective on life, and allows you to remember what day-to-day life is like for your readers.

Success changes people, and yes, getting published is form of success. It can cause you to lose sight of reality, and for authors (who already have dual citizenship with the People’s Republic of La-La-Land) this is a hazard. As a result, one of the things you have to remember to be realistic about is money.

Publishing is a business of feast and famine in which you will have your times of plenty and your times want, and keeping your day job is good way to stay financially stable when you find yourself between royalty checks. You never know what’s going to happen next in this business, and it’s better to have a job you can leave than to need to find one after being out of the job market for three years.

When you write full time you can lose some things very important to your health. Like your actual health. A sedentary lifestyle of sitting at your laptop at home, or in a coffee shop drinking lattes is a great way to gain an unhealthy amount of weight. It’s also a great way to allow any sense of consistency to slip from your life.

Lastly, if you aren’t living like a reader, how on earth can you expect them to appreciate what you write about? But I’ll just remember, you think to yourself. In fact, human memory is prone to distortion and nostalgia which does not resemble the facts. Unless the only people you write for are other fulltime writers, you may find yourself out of touch with the people who are (temporarily) making your existence possible.

Writing is a beautiful passion with so much to offer. But one of the things that helps us remain real people with real lives, are the mundane grind of a desk job.

It builds our character, and maybe that's the best way to create them too.


Jillian Kent said...

Hi Conlan,
Great advice. Although I have to admit I'm struggling like crazy to find that balance of meeting deadlines, working full time, and family obligations. I'd like to lock myself in a room for a month and just work on the current novel, but alas, the day job calls and I'm grateful for that job. So how do you balance all of it?

Andrea Kuhn Boeshaar said...

Great post. I can relate and I'm sure many other authors can too.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Conlan. As an author who also has a day job I understand the advice and the vice. The balancing act is, for me, the hardest part of this writing gig. I hate not having enough time to finish a chapter or scene. On the other hand, I get so much inspiration and "real world experience" from rubbing shoulders with the work-a-day world every day.

Lena Nelson Dooley said...

I loved your blog post, Conlan.

Greg Mitchell said...

I'm very grateful for my day job. I think you're right that it keeps you humble--I still take orders from my boss (who is also my dad, which is not near as fun as it sounds :p) and do grunt work. Heft boxes, make deliveries, deal with customers and UPS drivers and fellow grunts. It's supported my family all these years. Besides it gives me a chance to work on story stuff in my head.

If my "job" was sitting in front of a computer all day and writing...I think I'd probably go nuts.

Linda Rios Brook said...

Before anyone decides he or she can make millions by writing books, a walk through of a large Barnes and Nobles can be a humbling experience. Thousands of books and hundreds of thousands of new ones released each year. I recently saw a NSI survey that said most new releases sell fewer than 200 copies and have less than a 5% chance of being carried in a major retailer