Writing What You Love & A Case For Keeping Your Day Job

We all want to do what we love for a living, right? I know I do. They say (and we all know who they are) that if you choose a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. I think I might make a poster of that, complete with a picture of my cat sleeping on the radiator.

Writers are often asked, especially when they are starting out, if they plan to make writing a full time career. You know, quit your stultifying 9 to 5 job and live off the fat of the advance and royalty checks that will shower upon you like rain in Dublin. Naturally, we’d all love to do this. That dream is right up there with winning the lottery. Getting your first book deal feels even harder than hitting Lotto.

The truth is, only a small percentage of authors can rely on what they bring in from their writing as their sole source of income. Next time you go to your bookstore at say, 11am on a Tuesday, pay close attention to all of the names you see on the spines of the books. The vast majority of those folks are slaving away at some office while you’re out browsing.

Where’s the glamour in that? What’s the point of struggling to get published if I still have to clock in every day and stare at my cubicle walls?

I’m here to tell you that there is an upside to this. When we commit to being a writer, we’re basically juggling two full time jobs. The day job pays the bills and hopefully gives you some sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. Writing feeds the soul and puts you in touch with your passion. Keeping up with both jobs also gives you freedom and peace of mind. That’s right, I said you’ll have more freedom, even within your cloth covered cube!

What’s this upside I seem so hellbent to profess?

• Publishers don’t give writers benefit plans or retirement savings. Anyone over 30 with kids will understand the importance of this. In fact, a lot of people consider this more important than salary when considering a job.

• Your day job gives you a steady paycheck. That means you can plan your finances, count on buying groceries every week and paying the rent every month. There are no cash dry spells when you have a day job.

• Because you don’t depend on writing to keep you and your family from living in a cardboard box, you have the FREEDOM to write about the things you love and are passionate about. You take on assignments and book projects that you want to do, not just ones that you need to do in order to survive.

I write horror. Unless your last name is King, Barker, Koontz or a handful of others, you’re confined to being a midlist author, which means the financial payoff will not have you putting a down payment on that pretty Jaguar.

Of the few horror writers I know who make writing their only career, I see their stress and have been told by more than one to treasure my day job. It’s stressful when you have to produce a prodigious output and hope that publishers will accept it and pay something worth the effort. There are no guarantees. Writing in genres they’d never read in becomes a necessity. Did I mention the stress?

Look, we all should dare to dream about landing that game changing book or movie deal that will put our 9 to 5 days behind us. It’s the carrot that keeps us chasing the stick. But don’t fret that you’re on published book #7 and still saying hi to your boss every morning. When you go home at night, you get to dive into the world you love most, and you get recognized and rewarded for it. Not too shabby.

Now, what’s your opinion? Do you think I’m crazy to embrace my day job or spot on? Have you managed to become a full time writer? Share a war story.

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About Hunter Shea

Hunter Shea is the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal – he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. Hunter’s novels can even be found on display at the International Cryptozoology Museum. His video podcast, Monster Men, is one of the most watched horror podcasts in the world. You’ll also find him every week on the Final Guys podcast, available everywhere. He’s a bestselling author of over 30 books, all of them written with the express desire to quicken heartbeats and make spines tingle. Living with his wonderful family and two cats, he’s happy to be close enough to New York City to gobble down Gray’s Papaya hotdogs when the craving hits.

11 responses to “Writing What You Love & A Case For Keeping Your Day Job”

  1. hookofabook says :

    I suppose it depends if you have a good day job or do something remotely what you want to do. I only want to write. I guess I am thankful that I can do PR, but it is stressful to try to sell myself to others. I love to write, I just want to write and I’ve not ever understood why creative people can’t be paid what they are worth since we all enjoy books, movies, art, dance, etc. so much. We would be a lost humanity without them. But yet, i am one of those over 30 with 3 kids too and understand the necessity. Which makes it doubly hard to be a writer since you have to work, write second shift or whenever, AND make time for your kids AND market yourself. How are we breathing? LOL But I totally get your point, just wish it weren’t so.

  2. Maria D. says :

    I happen to think you are right – it’s always easier to look at the big name authors who only write for a living and think why can’t my life be like theirs but they are under a tremendous amount of pressure to create output – the truth is no one really likes to work but we all have to eat and have a roof over our heads – it’s nice to win the lottery but most people that win the lottery are broke within a short time because they don’t know how to manage their sudden “freedom” and it becomes a burden they can’t manage. Enjoy what you have and make the most of it is what I say:)

  3. Nina D'Arcangela says :

    So what you’re saying is that we’re not all going to be independently wealthy in a matter of 6 months or less on Amazon’s latest selling scheme? LOL

    Psst… I would still work anyway, life offers creativity, but then again, I’m not a 9 to 5’er 😉

  4. Paul D. Dail says :

    Some good points that I hadn’t thought of. Although I keep putting stuff in the can for future story ideas, I’ve also worried about running out of ideas. What would I do if this happened to me as a professional, writing-for-a-living writer? It’s hard to look at someone as prolific as King and not have this fear, I think.

    So you’ve got some good ideas. I think I need to change my day job, though. Being a teacher means that you don’t really get to leave the job and go home to your writing. It means leaving the job and going home to grade. Or work on lesson plans.

    Or plot the deaths of teenagers.

    Oh wait, maybe I do get to work on my writing 🙂


    • Hunter Shea says :

      Too funny. I haven’t worried about running out of ideas…until now! Being a teacher does have the advantage of summers off and breaks for winter, spring and Christmas. Gotta pack it all in.

  5. @JasonDarrick says :

    Excellent post, Hunter. While I think we all still have the dream of living comfortably as a result of our art, it comforts me to know that many of us get by doing what we’re good at during the day, and what we’re best at, at night.

  6. the happy horror writer says :

    Hunter, hi!

    I am one of those rare writers who does not dream of living off of my writing; I prefer to keep my writing separate from my need for security and all the stresses that go along with that need. Would I like to have more time to write? Of course. But I love my day job! I work with fascinating people who are so smart, outspoken, and unique – which makes me look forward to seeing what is going to happen next! At work, I’m a valued member of a team. I am liked, even though I’m really silly, somewhat strange, and often the closest thing we have to an airhead on the tech team. I write code for a living, and the discipline and intellectual rigor of that is good for my writing. The nice paycheck is good for that whole “security” thing. As much as I wouldn’t have picked this at the outset, the accidents that have led me to this field turn out to be happy ones. Also, coding taught me git source control, a skill I directly applied to my writing by using git as my remote backup/ disaster recovery plan (no Dropbox or a thumb drive, not for this nerdy girl!). Best of all is that my coworkers are some of the biggest supporters of my writing. I keep writing just so that next time they ask me how the second book is going, I can finally (FINALLY) say I’m finished! 🙂

    I have a blog post on this topic in the hopper (the draft has been done since last October). When I post it, i will link back here. Don’t know when that will happen, but thanks for the reminder at how lucky we are to have both the creative spark and steady jobs!


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