Writing And The Mixed Blessing Of A Day Job

    Categories: Creativity

OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn

Many people have asked why I blog and give away so much information for free as well as the inevitable question, how do I make an income. Well, like most of you, I have a day job. I actually work four days a week in the IT department of a multi-national company. Yes, I’m in a cubicle!

My blogging, writing, podcasting, videos and social networking are all still currently an alternative life, although increasingly I feel like it is my ‘real’ life. I’m passionate about writing, books and the publishing industry so I don’t talk much about the day job generally. I am moving towards a tipping point where I could make it full-time as a blogger/writer/speaker but I currently find the day job a mixed blessing, as follows.

  • I can write what I love to write. I’m not driven by the need for money so I don’t have to write freelance. I don’t have to worry about the outcome of what I’m writing because it’s for pleasure, fun and the future. I loved writing Pentecost, I had so much fun. I don’t know if I could have done that without the freedom to write what I love. If I’d been fixated on writing for income, I would have focused on different goals. Writing a novel took a great deal of energy I could have used to write and launch other products for more income, but would not have advanced my fiction writing aspirations.
  • The bills are paid so there is less stress around the time-lines for writing/blogging success. I’m trying to build a brand and a reputation and as a writer and blogger, that takes years. I can’t speed the process up so I’m happy to earn elsewhere and spend time doing this for fun and building for the future.
  • The balance between writing and other work means I keep my passion alive. When I lived in New Zealand, I started a scuba diving business based around the Poor Knights Islands, a fantastic place for divers. I’m a PADI Divemaster and I love diving, I had contacts and it seemed like an amazing lifestyle. But the practicalities of living the dream meant that I didn’t dive so much. It became more like a job and not something to do for fun or relaxation. For many reasons, that business failed and I learned a lot in the process. But currently, writing is a great hobby i.e. something I love but I’m not doing for the money. I definitely want to become a pro writer and earn 100% of income from books, blogging and speaking but that’s still a way off. In the meantime, I want to continue writing for love.
  • Social life and real world interaction. I have good friends at my day job. When the floods happened in Brisbane and we all worked from home for 10 days, I missed seeing them all. I work in a huge office but have a core group of work buddies. When I work from home for too long I miss the social interaction and the laughter. It makes me consider one of those writer’s offices or freelance workplaces when I do make it pro!
  • Working elsewhere creates a desire and drive to write as I have to fit it into spare moments. I compare this to when I took three months off work in order to write a novel and didn’t write anything worthwhile. It was depressing and demoralizing and stopped me writing for nearly five years. I couldn’t create anything when I had unlimited time. There are many studies on how creativity is boosted when there are boundaries. It somehow helps the mind create rather than hinders it.
  • To be honest, I like my job. Shock horror! Three years ago, I wrote “How to Enjoy Your Job” which is a self-help book aimed at helping people enjoy their current work, discover what they want to do with their lives and change careers. I wrote it for myself as I was desperately miserable and stressed. I hated my job at that point. Writing the book kick-started the process that has led me here to you. It has led to my first novel, a speaking career and a growing online business. It helped me change my attitude to the day job. I moved to four days a week, my stress migraines disappeared and my health improved as well as my marriage and general happiness. I am primarily a writer, blogger and speaker but I’m also an IT business consultant with 13 years international consulting experience. I like the intellectual challenge of my work and being surrounded by smart people is stimulating. To learn more on how to change your life, check out this interview.

So, the day job is a mixed blessing for me. It gives me income, freedom to write and friends but it takes time from the writing career I’m trying to grow.

What do you feel about your day job? Does it help you or hinder you in your writing?

Joanna Penn :

View Comments (52)

  • Joanna, I had no idea you had a day job in addition to everything else you are doing~inspiring! You bring up some valuable points about what it takes to manage it all. I work four days as a nurse practitioner so every "free" moment beyond my day job is filled with my writing /blogging activities. I don't have much of a social life either but that is a choice and anything worthwhile does involve sacrifice. Writing is how I choose to nurture my soul. Thanks for a great, thought-provoking post!

    • Maybe I should have mentioned it earlier :)
      It sounds like you have similar balance to me and I appreciate the sacrifice but also feel it's worth it. Thanks.

  • Great article and advice. I too have a day job and write when I can. This has proven to be a good thing as I can write because I love to write and not have to write for money (though it would be nice to make a little.) To me writing is a release and fun and even though I enjoy my day job, my family and my friends writing and reading is my escape and quilty pleasure.


    • Fantastic Larry. I think the income does arrive eventually but as you say, it's great to write for pleasure!

  • I "quit" my day job four years ago to write. Actually, I gave up a six figure IT job to be a night secretary in a law firm. Less stress, less traffic, tons of down time.

    Although I took a cut in pay, I've adjusted now and can't believe that most nights I AM getting paid to write!

    Like you, I love my day (night) job! Thanks, Joanna.

    • Hi Elle, that sounds like a great job for writing. I know that Brandon Sanderson who recently wrote the latest Wheel of Time book - he started out working nights as well in order to write as there is little interruption. You'll be well ahead of the rest of us!

      • That's inspiring...off to check out Sanderson right now. P.S. Love the first chapter of Pentecost!

  • I work in office management so I loathe my job. Sadly, due to the cost of rent and the state of the job market, it's where I'm stuck. People tell you to use your occupation to write fiction but who wants to read about admin?! It does bring security knowing I do a job and it pays my rent, but unfortunately a job in which you feel unhappy, and a job you cannot readily leave, often zap the energy out of you, and leave you disinclined to write when you do finally get some time to yourself. I do try to make sure I write at lunchtime, and when I'm at home, and it just about makes my job bearable. Almost.

    • Hi Icy,
      I'm in a cubicle too so I appreciate your pain! I don't write about what I do at all - my thriller is exactly the opposite, all action out in the world. I think chick lit seems to be a popular area to write about office romances and the like but not really my thing!
      As above, I retrained over time - and am still doing it I guess. I have an exit plan but it will be a few years yet. Hang in there but maybe try 4 days a week so you have more energy for other things.
      Thanks, Joanna

  • Hi Joanna,

    What a fabulous post. I, too, have a day job. It pays the bills, I'm good at what I do and I touch other people's lives and am challenged everyday. I, too, love my coworkers - more like extended family than friends.

    The downside of the job is that it is extremely physically and emotionally taxing. That can often take away from my writing. And since I sold two novels, the added responsibilities of promotion, edits, communicating with my editor and my agent and now putting together a proposal for the option book while keeping another proposal idea for the next series in the back of my mind has become stressful and ultimately draining.

    But I think that's because I've let it. I've let the pressure build and put excessive demands on myself -- for both jobs. I never let myself have a day off, feel guilty taking down time.

    Your post has nudged me in a direction I have known I needed to head for a while now -- toward balance. In balance I believe I will find a new acceptance of my day job and once again learn to enjoy the challenges of writing and all that entails.

    Thanks for posting.


    • You definitely need that day off Joan. I get amazingly blinding migraines when I don't stop. My body literally won't go on anymore. I have to lie in the dark and sometimes it takes 2 days to recover. I try to stop myself before it gets that bad, but I'm definitely guilty of working too much as well. I'm trying to unplug at least 1 day per month and also focus more on my health. I hope you find your balance!

  • My day job always hindered my writing because, unlike how you feel towards your job, I despised mine. When I got home, I was exhausted. I felt that I couldn't balance my time or energy well enough to enjoy leisurely activities.

    Despite all of this, I left my job only recently and for very different reasons (about to have a baby!) So I know I will face some challenges in the near future. How do I earn income from home? How will I find time to write (for me, or like you say, for love) when writing will be necessary so often for other reasons?

    I appreciate your story about the scuba diving. You had to sacrifice your own diving in order to run the business. In a somewhat similar sense, I earned my veterinary technician license because I was passionate about animals. Over the years of working in the field, I felt like I lost that passion because my work was focused on the business of veterinary care and not always the animals themselves. Because of this, I'm keenly aware that the same thing could happen to my writing.

    From an aspiring writer's point of interest, it's helpful to hear similar stories from a published author. :)

    • Thanks Alexis. I am indie published i.e. I do it all myself (perhaps that's actually harder work!) but I'm glad the post helped you.
      I did despise my job but changed my life in order not to feel that way so I understand your moving on. All the best!

  • I actually have a pretty great day job, in addition to being a student. I learn a lot of new things almost every day and I have a good environment and nice people to work with. Even though I'm so busy that it seems like I don't have time to even sit down, let alone write, I'm actually doing pretty well meeting my writing quota that I've set for myself thus far. I think if I wasn't doing so much, I wouldn't have as much to write about anyway.

  • This is so timely for me. I've recently been offered a severance package from my long time day job, a job which I've grown to despise over the last 26 years. As I struggle with the notion of finding a new job, and writing, I'm hoping to find something that might marry the two, to some extent.

    Your words of encouragement for those of us who still have to pay the bills are very helpful!

    • Hi Eva, I still have to pay the bills too! and I think working 4 days a week at a job is the thing that makes the difference. You can manage without that extra income and you still have energy to create! All the best!

  • I work 32 hours a week as a communications director for a nonprofit and also try to write. I find that I get more done now and give my writing more air time than when I had the freedom to write all the time. Looking back, I think I spent more of that time fretting than writing. You might also be interested in my blog, writerwithadayjob. Stop by 'n say 'hello."

  • My daytime job is to (somewhat) take care of the household, (somewhat) take care of our huge vegetable garden, share the duty of feeding our 30 cats, cuddle our cats (or rather those who like being cuddled), and have my dear, sweet husband do the litter boxes. If this arises your envy, take into consideration that I am 73 years old and have a bundle of health issues. -- Anyway, this leaves me ample of time to write and stumble around websites. So I have just made it to this one. And on the way I bought the Kindle version of "Pentecoast" (even though I usually don't read this genre). This, unfortunately, won't make you rich, Joanna, but it shows that your approach works.