Thoughts on Day Jobs and Writing

I wrote my first novel in about fifteen months, and I didn't even know what I was doing. I wrote my second novel faster: in a year.

But by the time I'm done, it will have taken me about two years to finish my third novel.

What changed?

My day job.

For eight years, I did a combination of strategy work, data analysis, and program management. I telecommuted most of the time, and although I had a painful number of 6am meetings, I was free to manage my own time. I kicked butt in that role too, delivering over fifty million dollars of value to the business.

Then I decided to switch jobs (even the best job can get repetitive over time), and went back into web development.

The roles themselves are very different. In the first role (strategy & management), the impact to the business is not in direct relationship to the hours invested in the job. Picking the right ideas and effectively executing them meant that I could have a tremendous impact in a very small number of hours.

Software development, on the other hand, is effectively a sweatshop for smart people. At a given level of effectiveness, twice as many hours will produce twice as much output, and half as many hours invested will produce half as much output.

The other major difference between the two jobs is that I telecommuted for the first with relatively flexible hours, and had to be in the office at set hours for the second.

Telecommuting saved me an hour a day of time not spending driving, getting gas, etc. A flexible start time meant I could start thirty minutes later. In my old job, between those two, I could get ninety minutes of writing time before I went to work. (Anyone who is writing knows that getting consistent, daily writing time is absolutely crucial.)

I recently polled people at the Codex Writers community about the effect their day job had on their writing. In particular, I wanted to know whether it was beneficial or not to have a writing job as your day job. It was a small sample size, and I interpreted open-ended to place them into these categories, but I still found the results interesting.

  • The respondents universally agreed that limited job hours and stress helps you as a writing, while having an all-consuming or soul-sucking job really hurts writing. 
  • Furthermore, for people who mentioned it, they found that menial jobs that allowed them to think while they worked, helped them significantly.
  • Respondents were split as to whether a writing job is helpful or harmful when it comes to creative writing projects.

Case Votes
Writing job drains you 6
Writing job helps you / is fine 8
All-consuming job drains you 5
Limiting job hours and stress helps you 7
Soul sucking job drains you 5
Menial jobs help you 6
Menial jobs hurt you 1


The lessons that I take from this:

  1. It's tremendously helpful to be able to telecommute, because it puts time back in your pocket.
  2. It's ideal to have a job where achieving business goals doesn't have a 1:1 correlation with hours invested. Ideally you'd want to be able to be a star performer and still do it in less than full-time, freeing up time for writing.
  3. Short of that, limiting job hours is helpful, going to part-time if necessary, although it's important to remember that what you really need are blocks of time to write. Freeing up thirty minutes here or there isn't enough to get into flow.
  4. Stress and all-consuming mental jobs will drain you, such that even if you have the time to write, you still may not do it.
  5. The effect of writing in your day job is dependent on the person, and you need to experience it to know what effect it will have on you.
What are your thoughts?
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