Writing With a Day Job

It’s what I want. But it’s difficult–writing with a day job.

I just came back from a vacation to Portland, Oregon, where I spent a week eating a lot and whistling “Colors of the Wind” while hiking to hidden waterfalls. It was awesome–but no writing for me.

Now, it’s back to commuting and working. I wake up at 6:00 a.m. to get to work at 9:00 a.m., work quite diligently until 5:45 p.m., and return to my abode by 7:30 p.m. I try to use the commute to New York City as writing/reading time, but I’m often just too tired and fall asleep to the gentle swaying of the train. I try to use time after work or weekends to maybe submit a story to a magazine or do something productive, like maybe write a blog post, but alas, I’m tired. Sometimes I get these things done, but not with consistent ease or finesse–because I’m so darn tired.

Granted, I live much further away from my job than most people. It takes about an hour and forty-five minutes each way. So now, I am saving money and hoping to move out of my parents’ house this fall and into a place twenty to thirty minutes away from work at a maximum. I think that will definitely help with my time management and my energy reserve.

‘The grass is always greener’ though. I couldn’t wait to graduate from college just so I could have some free time. College days consisted of only having time to sleep, work out, eat, go to club meetings, and socialize a bit on weekend nights. The rest of the time was used to get homework and papers done. There was certainly no time to work on my writing, unless the writing was for a class. I did get winter breaks and long summer breaks, but I needed those for internships and to just sit around and shut off my academic brain, willfully turning it to mush.

I now miss that constant intellectual stimulation from college. I’ve heard so many recent graduates say they feel dumb without positive reinforcement from teachers and the interesting heights our brains were forced to reach in school. It’s true–I feel stupid! And I miss those long breaks. Going away last week was not enough–and I realized that as long as I am working a day job, I will only be using my “vacation days” for real vacations. Unless I plan it all perfectly, I won’t be getting a week at home to do stuff for me, for my writing self.

It bothers me because I wanted this writer-with-a-day-job life–and I still do. Although a day job sabotages my energy and time for writing creatively, I’d go a little crazy–and be extremely impoverished–sitting at home writing. In fact, from what I know, only a small percentage of writers make their living by solely getting stories or novels published. Most have some kind of full-time/part-time job. I don’t think I can afford to be a starving writer and rely on winning a contest now and then or getting into a magazine that might pay upon publication, all the while banking on the possibility that I might, might, get a huge advance from a major publisher for accomplishing the next great American novel. Risky.

For my sanity, I need a steady income and a stable schedule. It does help that I work in publishing, but I’m basically starving on that salary too.

I don’t know. I just keep wanting more and more. What I would love is to one day be working a day job that stimulates my creativity, pays well, and allows me live comfortably close to the office (or maybe even work from home sometimes). I want that to balance with time to write and submit my work consistently. Maybe land a spot in a great MFA program at some point. I want to be persistent and send my stuff out there so I at least have a chance.

Or maybe I’m going about this wrong. Maybe I need to be writing because my livelihood depends on it. Maybe I need to go crazy to get this story or this novel done and out into the world, or otherwise lose my grungy apartment and be living on the streets like an addict. Maybe I need that fear and anxiety to force my brain to quickly spew good art that’s beautiful and lasting and powerful.

Ack. I hope not. I don’t know. The anxiety of authorship.

What works for you?