First published Mar 30, 2010 by The Mark
Today’s best Facebook status update was from a friend who is an author: “Royalty cheque finally arrived. Time to get that root canal!” The post received a dozen commiserating comments from other writers – and not about the pain of dental work.
Most writers I know aren’t rich. They cobble together incomes from paid writing and speaking gigs, meagre royalties, and grants from insufficiently funded arts programs. Many add on part-time or full-time employment and raise children too. They scrape together enough (or not enough) time and money to continue working on their craft.
I’m talking about established writers here – people who are published, who have an audience, whose Google hits number in the thousands. Yes, it’s old news, but times have changed. Huge advances are a thing of the past. Independent bookstores are closing their doors. Writers have to use their creativity to pay the bills.
Years ago, I quit a full-time job as a social worker to start a part-time private psychotherapy practice in order to gain more writing time. Most weeks, my writing/psychotherapy is a near equal balance, with the exception of winter when new clients arrive in droves, and summertime, when people leave for vacations. In other words, my writing waxes and wanes with the whims of my higher-paid work schedule. Sometimes, I feel jealous of full-time writers.
Still, I manage to write almost daily, and sometimes I have the luxury of an uninterrupted eight-hour stretch. In many ways, this is the ideal way to write novels; I can be inside the minds of my characters all day long, thinking, planning, dreaming.
I’ve often pondered what it would be like to not have a “day job,” to earn enough income through royalties or arts grants. When that seems too far-fetched, I fantasize about month-long writing retreats in the middle of a forest.
Would I be as productive if I had this luxury? I’m not sure. There is something to be said for the structure a second job creates. Yes, it breaks up the writing, but it also trains me to use the remaining time well. I edit previously drafted passages in the gaps between clients, I reserve mornings in my agenda in pink highlighter, and I set goals to increase page counts. I treat my writing time as something precious.
I’ve heard other writers with day jobs express similar sentiments. There’s the parent who wakes at 5 a.m. every day, the consultant who accepts three-month contracts to earn just enough to get back to his writing, the teacher who spends weekends and vacations finishing her second novel.
I keep my day job for a number of reasons besides the obvious financial one. My clients are interesting people. The emotionally focused experience of psychotherapy complements the imaginative process needed for fiction. Plus, I’m good at the work, and it’s helpful to have a consistent feeling of competence and purpose (especially on days when a rejection letter or the results of an unsuccessful grant application arrive in my mailbox).
For now, my two jobs, writing and psychotherapy, suit me. But I have a feeling that the work of keeping them in balance will be something I’ll continue to question and grapple with for a long while yet. Today, my Facebook status update will read: “Three new pages in the morning, three ongoing clients in the afternoon. A good day.”