Monday, February 21, 2011

Trying to Write Outside a 9 to 5 Life


So... what's your day job?

I ask partly because I'm curious (nosy), and partly because I've been thinking about this lately in regard to my own life. The reason, of course, is because I have a new job.

And it's a great job. I got hired as a full-time In-house editor at an editorial company called Scribendi (which you can find at Scribendi.com). We handle just about everything, doing critiques, edits, and proofreading for just about any kind of written material possible. Creative writing? Check. Corporate? Check. Business? Check. Personal? Check. ESL? Check. Academic? Check. Technical? Medical? Scientific? Check, check, check.

In other words, I get to sit and play with sentences all day. For a sentence junkie like myself, this is a permanent high. Indeed, I get paid for taking my drug of choice. A fiscally responsible addiction!

But it has got me thinking about the connection between day jobs and the writing life. How does your day job influence your writing? It's interesting to try and chart influence. Owning the fantabulous Inklings Bookshop was great for me in terms of writing. I was surrounded by great books all day, and I could always snatch a few moments to write during the work day. Now, I worked a lot, six and sometimes seven days a week, without taking a break or vacation for five years. But those stolen moments during the day were wonderful. It made each work day somehow more alive.

The carrot factory, however, was not so fortunate for the writing life. I worked even longer hours and lhad even less time off, and there was no time to write during the work day (which was often 14 hours or longer). Only scraps of writing slipped off my fingertips in that period. Which is okay. Sometimes this is the way of things. Paying the bills comes first (otherwise the ferocious wee ones and the vampire infant might devour me). But the work certainly wasn't conducive to writing.

Now I'm editing and writing all day. This makes me pretty jazzed, but there's also the risk that the day job will soak up all the writing energy that used to go to my personal writing. It hasn't yet. I'm still excited to see that blank page. But you never know. I've met a lot of people who've found this to be true, this conflict between professional and personal writing.

And there are other elements, too. Work can influence writing in other ways--subtle and almost subliminal ways. The relaxed, bookish atmosphere of my old shop? Good. The weariness and physical discomfort resulting from the carrot job? Less good. Doing something you love? Good. Doing something you don't? Less good.

And yet each job has its own experiences, its own unique practices and people. Writers are usually observers, watchers, and friendly (hopefully) voyeurs. We pull in life around us, twisting and tinkering and transforming. Transmuting it, really, into something utterly new upon the page. And yet familiar, leaking a personal reality, a personal tone of experience. And when the 9 to 5 job (or the 6 to 6 job, as it might be) forms so much of your waking life it can't help but influence what you write. Won't some of that work experience, however changed, find its way to the page?

So... what do you do for a day job? (Or, what have you done in the past?) And what does it mean to your writing?

37 comments:

jbchicoine said...

It makes me happy to picture you in your new job! I hated that you had to give up the book store (I rather enjoyed the infamous tales of the City of Windsor, amongst so many others).

I'm a Domestic Engineer (okay, whatever--HouseWife) by day...Oh yeah, and I paint...

Yes, it definitely influences my writing--the painting that is, though I suppose I do write more about domestic situations than espionage, intrigue and fantastical places.

Tom M Franklin said...

i spend my 40-hour work-a-day life as the IT Manager for a well-respected university press.

it's a good job, working with good people who are all committed to producing quality books. it's also a job i can, for the most part, leave behind when i walk out the doors each night.

and that's very good for my writing.


-- Tom

Jennifer Davis said...

I tried teaching for a while, but teaching has a lot of homework (Especially as an English teacher, grading all of those essays). I found that I had no time to write, and when I did, I was too stressed out to concentrate.

Now, I'm a legal secretary. I have a wonderful boss, and plenty of off-time where I actually can write at work when the actual work gets slow. My nights are totally clear for writing, too, except for date nights with the SO. This job has been wonderful for my writing.

aspiring_x said...

i work in a hospital cafeteria. while being a physically laborious job, it gives me thinking freedom to plot and develop characters and form scenes in my mind. and my coworkers are constant inspiration!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

You found a carrot factory picture! Awesome.

I think writing can be fed by your dayjob, or be a release from it.

My day job is being a mom (when I'm not wearing the Elected Official hat). Since I write for kids, I find myself immersed in my audience every day. Since Eldest Son is now a novelist (he finished his first here recently), and all the boys enjoy stories, we have lots of writerly conversations. I'm lucky to have that kind of resonance for my writing, I think.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ Susan

Plus, the whole NASA thing is good for sci-fi. :)

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

These are all interesting. I'm a former teacher as well, and it was definitely a job that came home with you at the end of the day. So I completely understand what Tom is saying about the importance of being free from that.

And painting! That's always interesting, too, the interconnection between different arts.

And a hospital cafeteria seems an interesting place for people watching...

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Bryan Yes, I have a lot of mis-spent youth to draw upon as well. :)

Jessica Bell said...

I do exactly what you do at home for FirstEditing.com, but only with fiction/non-fiction novel length works. I also write ELT material for various publishers: Pearson Education, Macmillan, Cengage Learning, Education First and Hellenic American Union. I've been doing ELT for the past 6 years and to tell you the truth, I hate it. LOL. I've just started at FirstEditing.com this month. I earn less money, but I think it's going to make me happier, and I also think it's going to help me SO much with my own books, editing other people's. SO yeah, that's my work situation in a nutshell! :o)

It hasn't affected my writing time. Yet. But I think that's because I work from home, so I"m lucky that way. But the downside is, I kinda miss interacting with other people face to face!

Scott said...

I have found that my writing directly benefits or suffers from my dayjob's stress level. If my imagination is free and happy, I'm productive. If not, it dies quickly.

Worked in a super-stressful online-retail startup for a year and got almost no writing done. I was just too stressed and unhappy to write (it was NOT the kind of unhappy that makes you a Tortured Artist-- I was just Tortured, no art.)

Now I'm a tech writer for a successful little software company and find myself more productive than ever. I write during lunch and at night.

I have heard that a writing dayjob can cramp your creative writing in the off-hours, but I have not experienced that at all. And it was a university professor who told me that, so what would he know?

As for job influence on writing, the only thing I've noticed is that my writing is tighter and I have an easier time cutting it down to be more Concise and Clear (since that's my mantra for the software manuals at work).

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Glad you're enjoying your new job! I work with websites and designs and text. (Too many details.) It's feast or famine, so there's days with nothing to do but write and blog. (And watch NetFlix movies!)

Nate Wilson said...

I'm a web designer, which is great for blog hopping but horrible for writing productivity. After sitting in front of a computer all day, that's the last thing I want to to when I get home. And I'm not a longhand kind of guy.

Best of luck with the new job! May it invigorate your own writing, rather than suck away your energy.

Simon C. Larter said...

I've got a job that's not particularly conducive to daytime writing. But I *do* look forward to those days when I have to drive long distances for work. Perfect for the brainstorming.

N. R. Williams said...

That carrot picture is stark, I wouldn't want to do that for a living. Years ago I had a customer service job. Each day was 10 1/2 hours because I got a half hour lunch. The commute one way was over an hour. I was exhausted. No writing in those days.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Marsha Sigman said...

I'm an accountant/accounting manager for a computer software company.

Soooo, all my creative juices are saved for my writing. And finding new ways to irritate my co-workers. Because that's just fun.

Marlene Nash-McKay said...

For 7 years I worked a soul destroying job, far from home and some days spent as much as 5 hours in traffic getting to and from the office. I stopped writing - completely. Then I had a fight with my boss last year and basically walked out on them. That was in April. In August I started working on my first fiction. I now work on a Biological Remediation project for a dam (corporate communications) and write every single day, for work and for myself, and I absolutely love it. The only enemy I now have is time and I often find that there are just not enough hours in the day to work, write, blog, tweet, blah, blah, blah. As a result I am down to 5 hours sleep a night. Not ideal but workable - for the moment at least.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I'm a domestic goddess by day and night, though while the kiddies are in school I spend my time writing. Once hubs gets home my creative day has ended. So I have no cause for complaint, and no excuse for the blank page!

I can't believe you really worked at a carrot factory! I thought that was just a joke during the blogfest :P

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Tis true! I spent time blasting carrots with a giant water cannon. The world is a strange place.

Paul Joseph said...

I was a 7th grade history teacher for three years and a learning support teacher for one (grades 6-8). My classroom experience has played a rather large role in my writing since I focus on the YA genre. It's given me some good insight into contemporary teen culture - the buzz words, slang, styles, music, etc. they are using. I also have character material and I know the daily issues. So, although I no longer feel teaching was the path I was meant to take, I can't regret the years I spent in education.

Donna Hole said...

I work in social services - ok, I'm an eligibility case worker. I process applications for cash aid. Not very prestigious, but I do actually enjoy my job. Lately, I've started enjoying working the cases more than interacting with the people.

I get burned out on people, and yes, that affects my writing. I write darker characters and themes when I've had too many bad days in a row. But, I find some unique character models in my day job also.

I'm so happy you got this editor job. It fits my imagery of you. I was so sad when you closed your bookstore. I hope this work is a fulfilling as bookstore owner was.

Wishing you best of luck :)

........dhole

The Survival Mama said...

Hmmm....what hasn't been my day job??!
Right now, I'm a technical writer, and it makes my fiction writing much better.

swinging by from the blogfest, and following to make sure I don't miss any of the good stuff.
The Survival Mama

Ted Cross said...

Heh, wait until you get a technical manual to edit! 'The Joy of Writing Machine Code'...

I think my day job will leave me a lot more time to write once the kids move out to college, though that will be another eight years.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

You know, I'd probably be worried, too about editing influencing my writing life. Then again, it may also make you more excited to get to your own work! I stay at home with my kids and that can make it pretty tough to write at times. I normally write late into the night and get very little sleep. But like most writers, I guess you just do what you can when you can!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Also, congrats on your new job!

Matthew Rush said...

Well you already know what I do, but I can't talk about it online because I could be fired for doing that. That's not the point though.

I generally spend between 45 and 50 hours a week in the office, which sucks, because being a dad leaves little time for writing at home.

Luckily I have some down time in the early mornings at work in which I can write and blog. Shhhh.

I'm so happy for you and your new job situation. I can't wait to hear more great things about it.

D.G. Hudson said...

In the past I was a technical writer and support person for a corporation for quite a few years. I did all my writing at night or early in the a.m. before going to work. Before that, worked in a variety of jobs - educational TV station, music library on campus, & did a summer pre-school teacher stint to name a few. Am still artist and photographer in my personal life.

Writing is my job now. Time will tell how it goes.

Steve said...

Congrats on the new gig. Colour is spelled color.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

It's only spelled "color" in some backwater country down south. I forget the name.

Lenny Lee* said...

hi mr bryan! in the day im a super spy with super powers. whoops thats my wip. ha ha. in the day for real im a school kid and thats a big help for making my writing better specially when i gotta research stuff and do essays. that research gets me dreaming on stuff i could wanna write for my stories. at night is mostly when i do all my writing for my stories.
im just real happy you could like your new job. sounds colourful. :) ...smiles from lenny

Matthew Rush said...

So cool to see you finally getting the traffic you deserve.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Yeah, but it's getting very expensive trying to bribe everyone. Man. Who knew?

Jennifer Hillier said...

Your job sounds SO COOL.

Writing is my day job now. I quit my other day job (at a university - the University of Waterloo back in Ontario) to move to Seattle for my husband's job, and decided that since I had nothing better to do while waiting for Homeland Security to approve my work permit, I might as well start writing again. Best thing I ever did :)

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

That's funny, Jennifer, my dad used to teach right down the street from you at Laurier University. Small world.

Marlene Nash-McKay said...

In our 'backwater country down South' we spell it 'colour' and incidentally we spell flavor 'flavour.' Why, I wonder do we need more letters? Anyone? :)

JM Leotti said...

I've been wanting to read this post since you posted it, but my jobs got in the way! First, congratulations on the new job! Sounds perfect for you!

I used to work as an artist agent's assistant in NYC. After that I was an art manager, also in NYC. In those days I didn't have a lap top, so no writing on the train, but I loved reading during my hour and a half long commutes to and from the city. Read so many novels during that time. After 9/11 I stopped working in NYC and decided I wanted a simpler lifestyle.

Now I work at an arts and crafts store part-time (the store is full of characters!), and I sell my own art and sculptures online. I set deadlines for myself, and so there are actually days I don't write due to my work schedule--gotta make that weekly cash. However, it's pretty flexible, so writing time is finally not a problem!

Best of luck to you, Bryan!

Jane Steen said...

I write communications and fundraising pieces for nonprofits, and also do web content which involves a bunch of non-writing tasks. I applied to Scribendi once and was rejected right at the last fence... must have been having an editing off-day.

How did a spelling argument get into the middle of this thread? Lighten up, guys. Britishisms are creeping into the American language, I read, so one day you'll all spell like us BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA actually I've forgotten how to spell in English English after 30 years away :(

Libby said...

I just did a post on this myself. I have had a series of jobs including: waiting tables, working at starbucks, making commercials, working at a theatre, and now I work at a specialty running store. I'm a customer service girl, what can I say?