Dont Quit Your Day Job?

On-line literary magazine The Millions has a provocative interview with an artist who is also a copyright lawyer that is worth a read. It grows out of a recently mounted art show at New York’s Drawing Center called “Day Job” which, according to the author,

“neatly upended the timeless lament of every struggling writer, artist and musician – My day job is robbing me of the time to do my REAL work! In a clever, counter-intuitive twist, the curator of the show asked a dozen artists to produce a work that illustrated how their day jobs enrich their art.”

I thought this was a fascinating question, and one well worth posing here. How does your day job shape, inform, and even enrich your writing?

12 Responses to Dont Quit Your Day Job?

  1. EEV says:

    I’ve had some day jobs that got me a lot of human interaction. It gives me the opportunity to observe some quirks, behaviors, attitudes and so on. I do use those things on my stories, in fractured pieces, of course – it makes everything much more real.

  2. Karyn says:

    I hear people’s life stories, confidentially, in my day job. And while I am fastidious in making sure these stories don’t leak out through my pen (or my keyboard) when I write, the reminder that everyone has a story–and a complicated one at that–always enriches my writing (and my life).

  3. Blind Elephant says:

    For me, this is a very tricky question. There are very different points to consider. Do you have money? Do you need a base salary to survive? Do your husband/wife support your writing with their job? Do you work less that when you are employed? Do you work more with free time? Can you live without a schedule? Can you live apart from society? Do you live with your parents (and your over 40)?

    In the baseline you have to look at you from a third person perspective, try to became a hard critic of yourself and then you could at least find some confidence in your future in writing. But, has I said, it is a very tricky question.

  4. Donna Hole says:

    Ha! Yeah; I work in social services. So, I write about characters. (Like USA channel, lol) I see all sorts of people, and circumstances, and attitudes, personalities, mannerisms. But I also get to know certain patterns and ways of dealing this situations. Trust me, its a cultural experience.

    This helps me immensely when writing my women’s fiction projects. But it also helps me write realistic characters for thrillers and fantasy stories. People are people, regardless of setting, and react in some predictable way. But when the unusual happens, boy do characters become interesting.


  5. Hillsy says:

    I’m a data analyst…………

    ……….so no

  6. I work in a kitchen, and began writing what would eventually become my manuscript on a napkin when the kitchen manager was out of the room! In many ways it was a form of escapism – that kitchen was pretty soul destroying.

    I think sometimes it helps to have an awful dayjob, purely because it can motivate like nothing else.

  7. Sherri says:

    I have what most would consider a dream situation, in that I don’t work outside the home and all my children in school. Believe it or not, I write less than I did when I had a job. When I had to pencil in the writing time, it took on an importance that it doesn’t have when I have the whole day stretched out before me. Not only that, but the lack of new experiences is sort of hard to overcome.

  8. My years as a lawyer gave me the one thing I had lacked as a younger person: the confidence to believe that I could do it. If I could stand up in front of a judge, if I could counsel people about what to do with their lives (who was I to do that?), if I could face down a screaming adversary, then finishing a novel was not nearly so intimidating. So, no, I could never have done this without my day job.

    On the flip side, once my day job was full-time mom, it became nearly impossible to put the dream into action without a babysitter… Sigh.

    It’s all about balance, whatever you’re doing.

  9. Ryan Field says:

    I owned an art gallery for over ten years and wrote and had short fiction published with small presses and it was rough meeting deadlines, but I took something from every experience I had in the gallery. It’s like there is this little file cabinet in the brain for storing information that may come in handy one day while writing fiction.

  10. Becoming a lawyer taught me to write without angst, pounding my head on walls, hours of procrastination, and in other literary labor pains. I learned to just sit down and turn out words — perfectly good ones. When I returned to writing fiction after a decades-long hiatus, it felt remarkably natural.

  11. My day job brings to mind a line from a Jorie Graham poem: “You must hate one thing/and hate it deep and well.” But since that wasn’t the question…


    Although officially a medical transcriptionist, I could go by “inspector of names” – every report comes with at least two – the patient’s and the health care provider’s. And they need to be right! Therefore: How many variations of “Smith?” Don’t ask, you don’t want to know. How long can a name be? Half as long as the English alphabet. How short? They had to leave all the vowels out. Or, only a first letter…and a last letter. Everyone must have a name, in every language of the world. What a luxury, to see and hear them all (it seems, on a good day).

    As well, lazy poet that I am, I must devote part of my workday to “dictionary surfing” – I’m always looking up words (drugs, syndromes, body parts, etc), so why not, while I’m at it, peruse a little etymology? Perhaps, a little more etymology than is absolutely necessary to do my job? I highly recommend onelook.com, as well as the hyphenated (French-English, etc.) dictionaries.

    I also have a “writer’s cheat sheet” nearby, that I can jot down ideas that come to me, a good line of dialogue, etc. If the best ideas arise out of excruciating monotony, my job is perfect for best ideas (although I knew a physician’s assistant who said HER job was the excruciatingly monotonous one) (I will always remember her for telling me how she’d throw a whole orange, unpeeled, into a blender, to make a smoothie…rind and seeds and all. Maybe everyone makes them like that, and I just don’t know it).

  12. I apologize, first, for the belated reply to this post. I usually get around to reading other blogs on the weekends because I am so busy with work and being a mother, but I wanted to respond to this one as well. I teach high school English. We get to read the classics, I am helping a girl compile a book of her poetry, and we work on composition and grammar. So, even though I am exhausted nearly all the time, every day I learn something. The only time I have to actually work on my novel is in the morning before my son wakes up or at night after he falls asleep. (It is 5:40 am. on a Sunday morning.) But, at times, I have to admit, I do daydream about writing being my full-time job. However, I think my work would suffer from it and it can’t afford to do that at the moment, or ever. :)

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