In Defense of the Day Job

Your day job might be something you do while waiting for paying work in your dream field of endeavor. It may be something you will be doing for the rest of your life. Sometimes it takes a long time to figure out which camp you’re going to end up in.

 Me? I think I’m going to be a day jobber for life.

This is not to say that I’m giving up on my dream of being a professional writer. Far, far, from it. But sometimes you’ve got to face facts. For me, the realization that the whole “day job” thing as a life sentence was something that kind of slowly dawned on me over the last few years. When I first graduated college, I looked and looked for a writing and/or video production type job. After working for minimum wage at Blockbuster for a while, I realized I needed a real job – ANY real job, or I would spend the rest of my life living at home with my parents (no offense, mom and dad….) So, while still looking for a job in my desired field, I took a day job working as a cashier at a Lexus dealer. I thought it might be fascinating to work at a car dealership – particularly a luxury car dealership. And you know what? It was. It really was. I got an inside look at the “behind-the-scenes” of a how a car dealership works. And believe me, the clientele at a luxury car dealer is never, ever boring. We got everything from judges and doctors to “kept women” and drug dealers (or street pharmacists, as we called them).

 Oh, and by the way, I met my husband at that day job. So that day job was totally worth it.

 I also worked on the weekends as a wedding videographer (which was at least related to the field somewhat). Also a very interesting job… After that, I went to work at a job placement agency as a receptionist. This was not an especially pleasant experience. There wasn’t enough work for me to do, let alone for the “other” receptionist who had quit, but not really…as she still came in a few days a week. She was in school, so I understand she had an odd schedule, but they really didn’t need us both there. I had nothing to do, yet had to always look busy under the watchful eyes of the boss who always expected me to have something to do. Not fun. I lasted three months.

 I went from there to a temp job at Maryland Public Television. I was only doing data entry for Wall Street Week, but it was still fun. When that ended, I applied for a job as a paralegal. I had NO legal experience, but I thought it would be fascinating to be a paralegal. And it was.

 I should say, it IS. I’m still here. Ten years later. (Ironically, the Murthy Law Firm is in the same building and right across the hall from the temp agency I worked at. Actually, the temp agency left and the law firm has taken over that space, so I’m actually working in the same spot as the old agency).

 I was part time at the paralegal thing as I was home with my two kids. The money situation was bad, so I worked very, very hard to try to start a freelance career. I won’t bore you with the details, but here’s an earlier article about the whole thing here  if you’re interested. It was during this time that I really thought I might be able to quit the day job thing and actually be able to call myself a full time “writer”. It was rough, when that particular dream died. I felt that was my last, real shot at ditching the day job. It just didn’t happen.

Actors deal with this kind of thing, too. Check out I’m Angry  from the Struggling Actress .

 [Incidentally, the conventional wisdom for anybody trying to break into screenwriting is to hop on a plane to Los Angeles and go work as an intern for an agent, producer, or studio. Given the HUGE numbers of wannabes who are given this advice and given that I couldn’t even find a related job in MARYLAND, I would be curious to see how often that advice really pans out. We don’t get statistics on the number of people who end up getting BACK on the plane after not finding work out there, do we?? How can there possibly be enough jobs – even unpaid internships – to support all the people trying to break into this business?]

 It was during this time at some point I read the wonderful book ON WRITING, by Stephen King. If you’re a writer, do yourself a favor and read it. It’s full of helpful advice and inspirational words of wisdom that can bring you to tears. It also had within it a very daunting statistic that I took to heart immediately.

 Less than 5% of PUBLISHED authors make enough money to write for a living.

 That statistic both stunned and freed me.

Wow. So, you’re saying I could actually publish a book – even SEVERAL books – and still not be able to quit the day job? Yup. Check out any random book at the library. Chances are that guy or gal might still have that day job.

So….you’re saying that there’s going to be no miracle phone call telling me I’ve “made it” to rescue me from my day job forever? Even if I get past what feels like the impossible hurdle of selling a screenplay or publishing a book – it’s still not going to be enough?

Nope. No. Probably not. Unless you become a multiple New York Times bestselling author, that day job just might be a life sentence. So I figure I better start trying to accept my day job as a fact of life.

And, somewhere along the line, I did. I stopped hoping, praying, expecting, that someday I would make enough money to “just” be a writer. I began to accept that I might just be a lifetime day jobber. I can either be really depressed about this fact, or I can think about all the good things that come from a day job.

 Believe or not, there are some:

 1. Stability. Unlike freelance work, I don’t have to scrounge and network to get more work to do. It’s waiting for me when I come in every day. It also STAYS on my desk when I leave for home. I don’t take it with me.

 2. The job has nothing to do with my writing, which means I save my creative energy for MY projects, not for someone’s work.

 3. Paid days off. Between the kids’ illnesses, doctor appointments, school functions, my own doctor appointments, bad weather, etc, I don’t have NEARLY enough paid days off, but some are better than none at all.

4. Paid holidays. If you’re a freelancer, you don’t even get paid for Christmas.

 5. Regular human interaction. How can you have stuff to write about if you’re at home all day by yourself, writing in the corner?

 6. Doing good. I’m blessed with a day job where I can actually help people. I work as a paralegal in an immigration law firm. I deal with some very anxious people who have a lot of stress on them as they wait to hear whether their visas will be approved or if they, along with spouses and children, will suddenly have to go back to their home country with little warning. When I answer phone calls with a kind, caring voice and answer questions to the best of my ability, these people can sleep better at night. I don’t take that responsibility lightly. My boss is fond of saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. I believe that with all my heart.

7. Limited time to do what you love makes it more special. I get up at 5- 5:30am every day to have an hour to an hour and a half to write. I take my notebook with me to work in case I get ideas. When I go for a walk and listen to “my” music, it helps connect me to my writing. Ditto for listening to music in my car. I can only write in bits and pieces sometimes, but I get it DONE. I’m proud that I am able to get the amount of writing done that I do. I have a full time job, kids, and I STILL crank out screenplays and novels. One hour at a time. Sure, sometimes I wish I had a day job that was less…intense. Immigration law is very complicated and sometimes I have a heavy caseload. There are times when I wish my “just a day job” job required less brain power, less stress, less, well, work. I know several people who work at government jobs who actually read novels at work because there’s nothing to do. If that were me, I’d be WRITING novels. But, in this economy, I’m grateful to have a job. I have a job – a life that’s outside of my kids and family and outside of my writing. I don’t always want to be there, but I’m grateful for it. With a day job that (more or less) pays the bills, I concentrate my screenwriting and novel writing effort on trying to sell a screenplay or publish a novel because it’s my DREAM, not so it will pay the mortgage. If I ever do sell my work, it doesn’t matter how much (or how little) I make on the deal. Who cares? That’s not why I’m doing this.

 What it all comes down to is the fact that I AM a writer. Paid or not, I write. I write screenplays, novels, and blog entries. I do it because writing is what I love to do more than anything.

 I love it so much I’d do it for free.