Writers who can make a living wage from writing are far outnumbered by the ones who can’t. I’m one of the latter. While I’ve been getting paid to write things since the mid-1990s, I’ve never made enough that I could quit my day job and write full time. I have, however, been lucky enough to work as a copywriter in a cubicle farm, trying my damnedest to make insurance benefits sound interesting. I’ve also worked in communications and marketing offices, which is more about spin than understanding. In between, I’ve done freelance copywriting, grant writing, and reporting. Oh yeah, and I’ve had a few stories published.
But this isn’t about having a full-time office writing job. I’m referring to the writers who work from home, have to hustle to find gigs or magazines to submit to, who have to market themselves and their output. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and it ain’t easy.
So at the moment I’m just like the multitude of other writers who work a day job and write in their free time. I’ve pretty much given up on the freelance stuff. After eight or nine hours in the office, I don’t have the patience or the energy to spend another couple of hours looking over job boards and submitting bids. I rather spend my time writing fiction. Besides, I’ve found that experience and a nice portfolio don’t mean much when someone undercuts your bid. Money is all that matters.
I’m okay with that. I don’t feel the need to hustle for writing jobs. I’m happy writing fiction, posting to my blog, and now podcasting. I have creative outlets to offset the drudgery of the nine-to-five office life. It took me a while to get to this point. I had a lot of inner dialogues with myself – Should I freelance? Do I need the extra cash? Will it help to get my name out there?
It’s true that I had more publishing success as a freelancer. I wrote quite a few articles for the local paper. I had a non-fiction book published (writing as a contractor). All that helped me to get side jobs copywriting for a Fortune 500 company and grant writing for a couple of national non-profits. In the end, however, that stuff isn’t much fun. I tried to make it so by challenging myself, setting goals, or trying to make a game out of it. Like, “I was able to secure $50,000 dollars with that last grant request. Let’s see if I can get $100,000 this time!” And a lot of those gigs paid well. The bigger the company, the deeper the pockets. But again, it wasn’t satisfying.
And it cut into my creative time. I think that was more annoying than anything else. I need to create. I need to express myself. I need to get the words and images out of my head and into the real world. It may sound weird, but I’d rather be poor and creatively happy than rolling in cash and miserable. Although I’d like to try that latter one for a while, just to be sure.
So I worked on finding balance. Yin and Yang. I have to work a nine-to-five job since I’m not naturally wealthy and haven’t won the lottery. The bills must be paid. But now I have my creative time. I can write or draw or make music in the mornings (I’m up at five a.m. every day) and in the evenings, and there’s a lot of time on the weekends. And I’m much happier in this routine. I don’t have to worry about deadlines or scheduling interviews. I don’t have to stay up until two in the morning because the person paying me wants their marketing campaign to go in a different direction. I can work at my own pace. Take my time. Man, it’s nice.
Finding a balance between work and creativity can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. I’ll talk about this in an upcoming episode of the Prometheus Project Podcast. Until then, I hope you’ve found your balance. If you haven’t, I’m sure you’ll find it soon.