“Don’t quit your day job.” An axiom meant to somehow soften the insult that whatever dream you’re pursuing is going to remain just that for a while: a dream. Perhaps you and I share the dream that our writing will replace our paycheck jobs. My dream specifically includes sand, tropical waters, a large umbrella (I burn easily), and an unlimited battery for my laptop.
But writing is not a get-rich-quick scheme and I’ve got kids to help through college so I’ll probably have to keep my day job even when writing can pay a few bills. It’s not all bad; our day jobs can actually be a benefit to our writing. Here’s how my paycheck job has helped my fiction:
Writing can be isolating. Even if you write in a coffee shop, there’s not a lot of personal interaction going on. Yet, what makes a compelling character? Connection. We all want to write characters so compelling, so real our readers are captivated. A day job can bring you into contact with new and varied characters that will inspire a character or give you that just-right detail for a character you’ve already met. My WIP has several “people” inspired from work contacts. In my social service work, I meet some doozies! I’m not about to let all that richness go to waste. Just be sure to change enough details that your fiction is still fiction.
When writer’s block hits me, it is usually with plotting. I don’t know how to get myself and my characters out of the corner I’ve written us into. Allowing my brain to focus on something else, like work, has often let my story percolate in the background with a perfect solution bubbling up. My day job requires a different set of skills and energy than writing and that can be a good thing. My work is a respite from writing and writing a respite from work. And depending on your work, you may have a whole plot present itself at work. I once had a job with regular meetings at a seaport. It was the first time I ever considered writing a thriller. A particularly rough day with the boss might give you the perfect plot for an alien abduction novel.
In your job, you know stuff. You know something others don’t. In my work, I’ve attended trainings about serious mental illness, gangs, addiction, law enforcement, educational reform and more. I’ve also traveled to New Orleans, Washington DC, Los Angeles and other places for conferences and trainings. All of that has been required for my day job and is good for the resume, but the expertise and trainings have also provided me with oodles of stuff for my fiction.
The reality is writing may not be our full time income for a while. I initially found this discouraging. But I was eating lunch with a bestselling author once and she told me to enjoy writing for pleasure while I could. She went on to explain writing on deadline and for the market can be a tough adjustment creatively.
So, writing can’t pay my bills right now. And that just might be a good thing.
What great characters and story can you mine from your career? What knowledge do you have courtesy of your day job? How would your writing life change if it was your sole income?
Charise Olson is keeping her day job. In between that, parenting and owning too many pets, she writes women’s fiction. Her blog, Prayers and Cocktails, can be found at www.chariseolson.com.[ Next Post → ] [ ← Previous Post ]