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Don't Quit Your Day Job (and Why That's a Good Thing!)

Making full-time living writing fiction is living the dream—but for most authors (even ones with book deals) being a writer means working a day job. 

If you are one of those writers, you are in good company. Octavia Butler wrote by night and punched the clock at a potato chip factory by day. T.S. Eliot worked at a bank, even after publishing “The Wasteland.” Charlotte Brontë served as a governess to wealthy British families; her experiences in this job helped her write Jane Eyre.

When I’m not clicking away at the keyboard on my next YA fantasy book, I’m…clicking away at the keyboard in the corporate communications realm. Like many other colleagues, I chose a career that allows me to use my writing skills, albeit in ways that don’t involve a magic-using princess or a blacksmith’s heroic son. I know writers who are English, writing, and drama teachers (both on the high school and collegiate levels), librarians, editors, and journalists.

But plenty of other fiction authors have day jobs that don’t focus on writing or literature. One author friend manages a medical facility, putting her master’s degree in healthcare administration to good use. Another author I know recently retired as a funeral director and now is the office manager for her family’s small business. And one talented horror writer I’ve met delivers online orders from restaurants. She keeps a notebook in her car so she can write between deliveries. 

Balancing any job with a writing career requires strong time management skills, though. Conquest Publishing novelist S.E. Reed recently gave a great presentation on “Tips for Busy Writers” at the Writer’s Workout Virtual Conference. S.E. juggles a full-time career, three school-age kids, and a flourishing writing career, and she shares some best practices on how writers can manage their time.

My personal tip is to carve out a short amount of time every day for writing. I do a 20-minute daily writing sprint. This means no social media, no TV, no distractions—just head-down writing for 20 minutes minimum. You’ll be surprised at how much you can get done in an intensive burst if you eliminate distractions! 

Once you figure out how to balance your work with your writing, there’s a big upside in having a day job. Writing gets to be your passion project—the thing that you love to do. You can write what you want when you want to write it. 

Obviously, if you are working with a publishing company, you must keep their deadlines and commercial considerations in mind. But it is liberating to know your next meal or your family’s mortgage payment doesn’t depend on writing a story. Even the best jobs invariably become responsibilities (as one colleague put it, “It’s why they call it ‘work.’”) Writing doesn’t have to be that way—it can remain something that brings you joy.

I’ll give the last word to Kurt Vonnegut, who sold cars in addition to writing some of the most enduring works of the 20th Century:

"Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow."

Bruce Buchanan is the senior communications writer for an international law firm by day. His debut YA fantasy novel, THE BLACKSMITH’S BOY, is coming soon from Wild Ink Publishing. A longtime lover of fantasy and heroic fiction, he lives in Greensboro, N.C. with his wife, Amy, and their 17-year-old son, Jackson. Follow him at @BBuchananWomble and @brucebuchanan7710.

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