Once last year, at a party, I was talking to some people about my new-at-the-time job. As you might recall, I was (and am) very excited about this job. I write things, and I get paid for it. What could be more awesome? Anyway, this person I was talking to asked me what I wrote at my day job, and as I was explaining it, he cut me off and said, “Oh. So you don’t get to write about what you want?”
Now, who knows…maybe this guy genuinely didn’t mean for his comment to come off as dismissive. But still, it was a little bit of a slap in the face. “Well, no…not really,” I stammered, trying to figure out what he was getting at. Here I was, clearly excited about my job, and all of a sudden it wasn’t good enough for this dude because I was writing about business instead of, like, blog posts about television shows?
I felt bad about it for a little while without really knowing why, but pretty soon, I realized I wasn’t the one with the problem. This guy was. There are a lot of people (I used to be one of them!) who think that real writers or artists are the ones who make a living entirely from their art. You know, the ones who live in fashionable poverty while working on their artistic visions.
Newsflash: you know how many writers/artists make a living off their art? Very few! I mean, sure, everyone would love to be JK Rowling, but that is not a very realistic dream for most people. While I do make some money off the “fun” writing that I do, the vast majority of my income comes from “practical” writing. Writing about business. Writing blog posts for large companies. Copywriting. Those jobs might not be as creative as writing a book, but they are interesting and enjoyable, and they greatly improve my writing (seriously, doing this sort of writing will teach you loads about being clearer and more concise).
In the moments when I’m not at my day job or doing “serious” freelance work, that’s when I do the purely fun stuff. The blog posts. The HelloGiggles column. Pitching to various websites and magazines. Working on that book. This part of my writing life, the purely creative part, is the part that really makes my heart sing. But just because it isn’t the only thing I’m doing doesn’t mean it isn’t valid.
So what I want to say to you creative types out there is this: do you have a day job? Good for you. Seriously. There’s nothing lame about supporting yourself financially, about having insurance, about paying your own rent. That’s called kicking ass at life. Your creative work is what makes you who you are, but its value has nothing to do with the money you make from it. That might be a slightly Pollyanna thing to say, but I truly believe it.
And anyway, the best writers/artists had day jobs. I mean, William Carlos Williams was a doctor. A doctor! I bet he never felt shitty about his job, either.