Hello, lovelies. There is a lot of sweet stuff in store for you in this week’s episode of the Write Now podcast, which takes a look at day jobs, writing for money, and what happens to a dream deferred.
“Don’t Quit Your Day Dream.”
On April 14, 2017, I left my job.
I was a senior UX content strategist at a marketing technology agency for over five years. I left by choice, though I enjoyed the work and really loved my coworkers.
So why did I leave?
- I was working 80+ hour weeks among my full-time job, podcast work, Forbes writing, personal writing, and church work, and needed to restore balance.
- I felt called to move on. I ignored and pushed back against it for the longest time, but we can only deny our calling for so long.
- I was using all of my energy (creative and otherwise) at work.
My decision to leave my job was not a rash one. In fact, my husband and I spent the better part of a year weighing pros and cons, building up a “runway” of savings, and carefully planning what our new life would look like. Many people talk about taking the “leap” like it’s a rash, impulsive decision — but for me, it was anything but.
And even several weeks after having made the transition, I’m still discovering new pros and cons. While I do get to work on my own projects, take on opportunities I would have otherwise had to turn down, and work less than 80 hours per week, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
I miss the team I used to work with, not to mention the reliable income and benefits. And I miss being an authoritative expert — in fact, I feel like a surprisingly large chunk of my identity has been torn away. I went from being Senior UX Content Strategist Sarah Rhea Werner to… being Just Sarah. It’s weird.
Expectation vs. reality, dream vs. fantasy.
We’re writers, and many of us are prone to daydreaming. And sometimes our daydreams are fueled by images we see on Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and other forms of social media. Images that set a certain expectation in our minds of what the life of a writer looks like.
Images like this (from my own Pinterest board):
These images often fuel dreams in which we quit our jobs and write for a living. We think going to be all inspiration and coffee and cozy sweaters and thoughts and ink and muffins (and maybe sunshine and rainbows, too, if that’s your thing).
But it’s not. At least, not all the time.
Americans (and maybe other cultures as well — I’m not sure) often suffer from “expectations vs. reality” syndrome. We get an idea of how something “should be”, and are then completely wrecked with disappointment when it turns out that’s not the case.
For example, we watch chick flicks and then expect marriage to match up to the Kate Hudson/Matthew McConaughey romantic ideal. But it doesn’t, and it never will. There is no “happily ever after” — no end to the hard work that we have to put in to enjoy a lifelong, functional relationship.
I’m not trying to be a downer. What I’m saying is that often, there’s a gulf between our expectations and reality:
Looking to quit your job and live out your dream of writing for a living? Just make sure you are setting your expectations for reality and not fantasy. By quitting your day job, you are not going to escape hard work (because writing is hard work) or frustration (because writing is extremely frustrating).
With all that in mind, leaving my day job to write full time was definitely the right decision for me. But (and this is probably what you’re wondering right now) is it right for you?
Don’t overlook the good.
Sometimes, having a day job is the best possible thing for a writer. Now, this might not be something you want to hear. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
Many, many writers produced their masterpieces whilst employed at their day jobs. Wallace Stevens sold insurance while writing Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry. William Carlos Williams served as chief of pediatrics at Passaic General Hospital, and typed poems on a typewriter between patients. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote award-winning material for years while holding down jobs as a cook, a bartender, a waitress, and a magazine employee.
So maybe you’re in a good place right now. Maybe your day job provides you with fodder and insights for your writing, or maybe it helps keep the financial pressure off of your creativity. Maybe your day job is decent and gives you the space and income you need to create without fear.
But maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you are trapped in a toxic work environment or hemmed in with toxic co-workers (or both), or maybe your job is harmful to your body or spirit. In this case, you need to ask:
- Is this a job I need to survive?
- Is this a job I need to leave?
If you need to leave, then find a replacement job and leave. But if you think you can grin and bear it, here are some tips for surviving your day job.
Sing it with me: I will survive.
Here are some tips to help:
- Read and/or write over your lunch break. Take the time to lose yourself in words.
- Keep an idea notebook with you at all times. It will keep your brain focused on your story, and it’s a great way to keep your creative self literally present at all times.
- Get in early (if you’re a morning person) or stay late (if you’re not). Make your workspace work for you.
- Use standing-around time to write, plan, outline, or jot down ideas. Just make sure you get your paid work done first.
- Don’t dwell upon how frustrated/angry you are. Trust me. Negativity is a bad spiral that will suck up all of your creative energy.
Also, while you’re surviving, please be ethical and smart. Don’t write on company equipment or on company time. Not only is it ethical, it also ensures that you fully own your work.
Remember, no matter what, you are a writer.
You do not need to quit your job or write full-time to become a writer.
You do not need someone else to validate your writer status for you.
If you write, you can call yourself a writer.
If it helps, get business cards printed. Vistaprint usually has some kind of sale where you can get 500 business cards for like $15. (This is not an endorsement for Vistaprint — they’re just cheap and don’t screw up my stuff.) Here’s a business card design I created in less than two minutes using Canva:
Hand it out to friends, family, and whoever else might take one. Do it. Be it. Live it. You can do this.
Related things you should read:
Here are some links you may find useful:
- “Real Artists Have Day Jobs“, by Sara Benincasa
- Jeff Goins on why you shouldn’t quit your day job on a whim.
- The Science of Us on why you should in fact keep your day job.
- Big Magic by Liz Gilbert on Amazon
What are your writing dreams? How do you survive your workday? Tell me all about it on my contact page. You can also leave a comment below, or simply email me at hello [at] sarahwerner [dot] com. 🙂
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