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is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date.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.
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.
How do you manage to find time to write around your work? Do you do anything else in your spare time other than write?
I would like to know because I work full time and study as well but I really want to make some progress on my blog – just can’t find any time for it. 🙁
Joanna Penn says
I pretty much have no social life 🙂 I work 4 days and those evenings I often work on the blog or social network around the business. I spend Thursdays all day working on the blog , speaking, interviews and often do interviews before work at 6am as well. It’s a good time for me to talk to people in the US. Then weekends I usually have a full day (sunday) for writing and also try to fit in another couple of morning sessions. You have to give something up and so I have given up a lot of other things in order to try to grow this blog as well as my writing. For me, it’s also fun and I socialize online so it’s pleasure as well as marketing.
I talk more about making time in this interview
and also here
I hope that helps!
Iain Broome says
I was going to write a full comment but it makes sense to reply here.
I too run a blog, work full-time and have written a novel. I only do that through sacrifice and hard work. It really isn’t easy, but the results are absolutely worth it.
When I say sacrifice, I’m not saying I don’t have friends or watch television, I still do those things too. But I make time for the writing and the blog. Like Joanna gets up early, I’ll occasionally stay up late to get something published on the site. It really is a lifestyle decision, to a point.
It’s worth it though. I enjoy running my blog, watching the traffic and meeting new people. And it complements both my fiction writing and my day job – my blogging looks great on my CV.
I’ll stop there! I think this might require a full follow-up post!
Johanna van Zanten says
Your point is well taken. I write each sunday as a dedicated day for my second main purpose and the first passion in my life. I have followed the advice of several writers to maintain a blog. My five day full time work week would not leave me enough energy realistically to write.
You seem to be doing well. Good luck and best wishes for you.
Stephanie Dagg says
Does my day job help or hinder? Both! I’m a British ex-pat living in France where I bring up a family, farm llamas, and run a gite and a fishery. Coping in a foreign country gives me pretty much all my writing material. Every day is different and definitely not dull. However, the physical nature of what I do now means it’s a struggle to get the writing done late at night – I’m exhausted! But I love my life and my writing so I just have to make that extra effort.
Thanks for your inspiration.
Joanna Penn says
Wow! I love France – I really miss Europe and hope to be back for longer next year. I can feel a writing retreat coming on….
Stephen Tiano says
I had freelanced as a proofreader long before I got married or even met my wife, when the typesetter I worked for discontinued all their employees’ medical benefits. That was what made me take the civil service job I’ve been at for over 27 years. Once I had the secure job, however, I was able to afford the Apple computer I wanted. This led to my becoming something of a technology junkie.
When I married almost 20 years ago, I still need the “fix” of new computer equipment and software upgrades periodically. But thinking in the “we” I figured it wasn’t very responsible of me to spend money on things that, essentially, were expensive toys. So I thought about how I might turn it all into something that would at least pay for itself. With my proofreading background, I thought about setting type.
I got in at the right time. And because of the secure day-job, there was no pressure to do much more than cover expenses. The modest profit in the early years was “extra” income. But, as I’m competitive, and we did come to lose the “extra” feel about my freelance earnings, I always fixated on earning more than the year before. Then, too, at some point I decided I loved making books enough to retire into it and supplement my civil service pension when I complete 30 years.
It all seems to be working according to plan. Plus my egotistical side has been served, as my own blogging, guestblogging, commenting on other blogs (as I’m doing here), and being interviewed in various freelance forums has helped me to become what I, so far, refer to as “marginally famous”.
Joanna Penn says
That’s a great story Steve. So often we hear all the mega-quick stories of success where people switch overnight. But the slower approach also suits people and can be more secure.
Marginally famous is great!
Oh, Joanna, you practically wrote my life’s story in that post. I’ve enjoyed a steady income as an electronics engineer for over two decades that has allowed me to indulge my compulsion to create. These “hobbies” are rather expensive in time and money.
I’m a multi instrumentalist and composer with a small recording studio. After playing on stage for years, I decided that what I really enjoyed was composing. I have jingles playing in 14 countries, and while that sounds impressive, my royalty checks for last year totalled $32.46. I’ve never broken even for what it cost me to produce those tunes and the process of writing for money ruined all of the enjoyment of the process. In fact, I haven’t composed or even played much in the past several years.
Having a day job allowed me to follow a track of intensive study that turned into 4.5 years of research that eventually became a book titled The Sage Age – Blending Science with Intuitive Wisdom. It was featured in Publishers Weekly shortly after it’s debut, and launched a nice lecture tour. But, again, I have yet to break even on the costs.
About the time the lecture tour hit, I was contacted by a column writer asking if I would like to have my carvings featured in Woodcarving Illustrated. Of course, I agreed and have been featured four times since, the last one being a paid tutorial. I’ll probably do a book for them soon because the time spent on that will actually pay for itself. Until it hits “big” in a show, the carvings themselves never bring a price that covers the month of time it takes to create them.
And, since all of this happened, I’ve taken to opening a website training blog to help other creative folks promote online effectively without getting ripped off. That, after being a volunteer web director for years with non-profits. I really love this job and the creative folks I get to work with both as clients and through social media. Like you, I’ve been at it for a couple of years and finally broke even last year. I’m hoping to make a profit this year, and my day job allows me to be patient with the process.
The number one question I get asked is when do I sleep. Like you, I’ve given up having much of an in-person social life. Successful folks are willing to do what others won’t. So far I have a very impressive portfolio while doing what I enjoy. I work, but I’m not stressed. I’ve met great folks from all over the world. And, I have a legit excuse for spending so much time online!
Joanna Penn says
Wow! Ma-Anna, you’re an inspiration for creatives! I love that you combine being an engineer with your carving and music and writing. What a multi-talented lady. I think it actually frees the creative brain when the satisfy the logical part. I am perhaps enjoying my job more because of this too. Sometimes the juggling of energy can be hard but so worthwhile. I am pretty much breaking even on my company now, with speaking events and sales paying all costs including training, but certainly not ready to give up the day job for!
Marta DeGraw says
I just recently found your blog after you were recognized on Write to Done as a top blog for writers. And I think my mouth fell open when I read that you have a day job. My first thought was, wow, she *is* a real person!
It’s wonderful and inspiring to read how you balance your day job with your writing. I especially enjoyed reading all the different ways you’re grateful for your day job. Thank you so much for the reminder that creating a successful online creative business doesn’t require an “all or nothing” effort.
I’m finally beginning to see possibilities for changing myself and finding an outlet online where I can explore my creative side. Your passion for creating such a balanced life is quite the motivation. Thank you!
Joanna Penn says
Hi Marta, I’m so pleased it resonated with you.
I sometimes feel there is a kind of stigma with writers to mention they even have a day job, so I was nervous about posting this but happy now! I’m definitely a real person with all the stresses of the day job as well as the parts I’m grateful for.
I really have built up this blog and my writing in the spaces between – although moving to 4 days per week made a huge difference to the energy levels I have for the blog.
Please do explore your creative side while working – it is so fulfilling to have a growing side business or just a hobby!
All the best.
Alexis Grant says
I love this post, J! I’m with you — I tried the writing-full-time route, and I prefer having a day job and writing on the side, even though it’s hard to fit everything in. You make so many great points here! Thanks for sharing.
Joanna Penn says
It definitely keeps you fresh! and I love the idea of sporadic retreats as you have been doing, although so far, I haven’t managed to have one myself!
Aaron Geiger says
I do enjoy your candid approach to the reader, and I certainly appreciate your enthusiasm. In response to the question you posed, my day job definitely helps me with my writing. I’m a graduate student in journalism, but I work full time as an editor for a publishing firm at the university I attend. Although I don’t have that much time, I take great joy in knowing that even when I’m not writing on my own time, I am learning by watching how others write. Some are successful, and some struggle. My daily work also inspires me when I see others struggling, because I know that I’m not alone. And as a note to all of you who want to get published: it’s a very achievable goal. You just have to be willing to adapt and persist.
Thanks so much for your work, Ms. Penn. I do enjoy your writing.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Aaron. It’s great that you work in the publishing industry as well. From those of us on the outside, it can be quite daunting looking in!
M. McGriff says
You made me feel so much better about having a day job and trying to write at the same time! Though sometimes I feel the day job hinders me in the sense I’d rather be writing than in a cubicle but in the end it does help, not only for the reasons you describe but it also teaches me Time Management and discipline. Those are skill sets I feel I would need when my writing career takes off like I want it to!
Joanna Penn says
I’m glad you feel better! and I’m encouraged by all the comments. I feel a great pressure to move into writing fulltime but I think perhaps a lot of authors have another job, they just don’t mention it as there is some kind of stigma to working in a different job.
Ian Bontems says
I liked this post – it’s something I think about too.
I’m a mild-mannered librarian by day and it definitely helps with writing being surrounded by books all day. It’s good to have an excellent resource available all the time, and be in touch with readers day in day out.
Katie Ganshert says
Definitely a mixed blessing. I teach full-time and also just signed my first 2-book contract. I like that the advance I’m getting doesn’t have to go toward paying the bills. Those are already taken care of. I can spend some on marketing, save some, etc. But I do wish at times that I had more time to write. The main reason I want to stay home though isn’t so much for my writing as much as it’s for my tw0-year old son.
Perhaps I need to get a part-time job so I can focus more on getting my marketing plan done. I think there’s truth to what you said about a job forcing you to write more as your time is limited.
I just turned in an application for a part time job this afternoon. I’ve been reluctant to admit that the writing wasn’t paying all the bills and the stress is getting a little heavy. And suddenly I find you! I hadn’t really thought about not having to endlessly scour the internet for poor paying freelance jobs which drain me and leave me with no time to write the stuff I love!
This was just what I needed to hear at the perfect time! Thank you.
Joanna Penn says
I’m so glad this helped Walker. I did have a look at freelance writing a while back but found that I can earn a lot more in my day job, hence I didn’t go down that route. I also think part time work is perfect for leaving space for creativity. It chunks your time down and enables you to really focus when its time to write. All the best!
Martha Hart says
Great situation to be in… but it’s a tricky balance. For the last 4 years, I’ve worked as a writer at a major university, and it’s taught me to write on deadline (whether I feel like it or not) which has helped me stay focused on my own writing at home.
But the stress of the day job (I’m generally in the office 9 hours a day, and don’t much connect with my co-workers) plus being a “reverse mom” (sole caretaker for my 86-yo mom who lives with me) plus going to school at night… not much time left. I am so driven to write, though, that I do it anyway, and sacrifice sleep and health.
The balancing point is starting to tip… and that’s what I need to remind myself about. When the benefits of the day job no longer balance out the lousy parts, it’s time for a change.
Joanna Penn says
I agree with the tipping point. I am probably on the edge of managing at the moment as well with my novel launch happening next week and preparing for that as well as everything else. But then things calm down again and I am ok. I am grateful as per the post but I definitely have days when I want to chuck it all in and buy a lottery ticket! But the grass is always greener right 🙂
Liss Thomas says
Love your post! I still have the day job and write when I can at night and on the weekends. Just finished my first novel and am anxious to get it out and start on the next. Tough to do when the day job gets more and more demanding. But I would love to try being a writer as my profession.
Becca Chopra says
Great post – I love when I totally agree with someone. I also love my day job (as a holistic counselor and yoga/meditation instructor), plus it gives me endless ideas for my fiction, such as The Chakra Diaries. You’re right, it’s great to have a full-time income so you can just write what you want to. It’s also a blessing to be doing what you love all day long.
Becca Chopra, author of The Chakra Diaries
Sophia Chang says
I can’t tell you how much this post and especially the comments cheered me. Browsing writing blogs the last year made me think I was the only writer who had to work for a living (my friends have since told me that the cost of living is affordable in the rest of the nation…damn city life).
In any case, I love having day jobs, it gives me something to say when other people ask what I do that won’t result in condescending looks. lol Unfortunately, my last workplace was so toxic that I eventually had to leave (just finished my last month!) For the last year the stress of the work environment made the income not worth the lost sleep. On the positive side, it made writing a blessed escape 🙂
Joanna Penn says
I really think more people have day jobs than they admit! I agree that working in a toxic environment is bad. I used to get awful stress migraines and would cry after work I was so miserable. But I think you can find a working situation that suits you for the day job as well as having that time for writing. I’m a city girl too, so the income is definitely necessary for the coffees, drinks after work and great restaurants!
Kate Kyle says
Many, many thanks, Joanna for this post.
i know it may sound a little naive, but I thought you’ve got where you are becuase you have been full time writer/blogger/speaker. It’s important for me to hear that you have done all that while having an almost full time day job.
It’s important to hear why you still need your day job, and to hear that even you (as I’ve considered you as a very successful self-published writer and blogger) still consider yourself as ‘a way off’ from being able to earn 100% of your income from writing and related activities.
All that becuase I’m very unhappy in my profession (it’s not about my job, it’s my profession) and there is no other way to happiness than change professions. Of course I’ve considered becoming full time writer, but decided against it.
With your insights I feel more confortable with my decision of retraining and seeking professional fullfillment and happiness in a completely different career, while still writing.
many, many thanks for sharing your experience :))
Joanna Penn says
I was also very unhappy a few years ago. I really hated what I did. It had no purpose and I felt I had little meaning. Starting a business on the side has given me purpose and meaning so I no longer look for that in the day job. I do want to become a fulltime writer at some point, but not until the reality fits my expectations for income and opportunity – and it doesn’t right now. The worst thing is to give it all up for writing and then find you need money and have to go back – which is what I did years ago. It was humiliating to my soul and I stopped writing for a few years.
I’ve basically been retraining in my spare time as you suggest. I’ve done courses on blogging and writing, marketing and other things whilst still working. I’ve definitely spent the same amount as a Masters or other type of course – in time and money. It’s definitely worth it. So, all the best with your retraining and I hope you find a great parallel career.
Robin Storey says
Your post reflects exactly how I feel about my own work. I work a 7 day fortnight so I have 3 days off per fortnight to devote to my creative writing, but I also write at nights and on week-ends. For me it’s very freeing having a day job that pays the bills so I can focus on my writing writing without financial worry. Plus my job is in social welfare and I meet many interesting people who have unwittingly provided me with raw material for my novels. My fantasy is to be in the position to be able to write full-time, but I often wonder if I would be any more productive – I think the social isolation would be the hardest part to cope with. If I ever am in that position, I would think seriously about a writer’s office – that is a great suggestion.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Robin. Real life fodder for stories is also a great reason to be out in the world. We can lose perspective at home alone!
Kathleen Pooler says
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!
Joanna Penn says
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.
Larry B Gray says
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.
Joanna Penn says
Fantastic Larry. I think the income does arrive eventually but as you say, it’s great to write for pleasure!