The ‘struggle’ of being an ‘author’ with a ‘day job’

Finding the time, energy and motivation to write novels when you have a full-time job is hard, but when you have a full-time writing job it can seem almost impossible.

I’m ridiculously lucky to have spent my career thus far either proofreading or writing for a living. Not many people get the opportunity to do something they love every day, and I often have to remind myself to be grateful for what I do. I mean, I write for a living. I write and get paid for it. It’s insane.

When I first started out as a copywriter, I learned a heck of a lot. The first company I worked for had never had a copywriter before, and I had nothing more than an English degree and some proofreading experience behind me. That job taught me what it meant to write professionally; how to meet deadlines, how to cater to different audiences and how to be creative even if I didn’t feel like it.

Although I learned a lot, the company definitely didn’t need a full-time writer, and I ended up having a lot of time on my hands. This gave me the brain capacity to write my first novel (*cough* These Unnatural Men, available on Amazon and Kobo *cough*) and to keep my blog updated (no shameless plug here, you’re already reading it). I even felt able to do these things on my lunch break and go to the gym before work and spend time with my boyfriend after work and socialise at the weekend. Looking back, I achieved an insane amount in those formative years.

After almost two years I decided to move on to a slightly better role in a slightly better company. In London, no less. Again, I learned a lot, but office politics got in the way. I was still able to blog and write short stories after work, but I wasn’t satisfied. I felt that if I liked my day job more, I would be more productive and happier outside of it – a theory I still feel has legs.

So I moved on again – but this next role made me lose all motivation to write. The role was supposed to be creative, innovative and fun, a big step up for me, but from my very first day I felt unnecessary. I also didn’t fit in. I doubted my ability and self-worth. The company had hired me with big plans, but poor management meant I spent most of my time trying to justify my existence there. The toll on my confidence was so bad that I stopped doing anything outside of work. Personal projects were started but never finished. I no longer enjoyed reading. I drank and ate too much. I had to leave.

After searching for ages for something that would make me feel valued as a writer, I found my current job writing for a charity. This role has a lot of responsibility, is challenging, meaningful and creative. I’ve thrown myself into it, and while it’s taken some adjustment, I finally feel like my confidence is returning. I’m achieving things and I know I’m giving it my all. Knowing what a huge opportunity this is for me stresses me out a lot, but overall I know I’m heading in the right direction.

The only downside is that when I get home in the evening, all I want to do is watch TV, read a book (yes, my love of reading has returned!) and go to bed. And on weekends I want to do the same. I no longer have the brain capacity to forgo lunchbreaks and work on personal projects. I read as much as I can and watch as many movies and TV shows to ensure I’m consuming inspirational fiction, but I don’t feel like there’s anything left in me to create my own stuff. And I’m heartbroken about it.

It’s a privileged problem to have, that’s for sure. I’m doing a job that matters while becoming a better writer, but I feel like I’m lost in a fog when it comes to creating my own stuff – I can’t see or think creatively unless it relates to my job. I should be fine with that, shouldn’t I? I shouldn’t be resenting such an incredible opportunity, yet in some ways I do.

Why can’t I just have a great career and be happy? And if I can only be happy writing fiction, why couldn’t I allow myself to work in a mediocre job while pursuing my own projects outside of it?

Maybe I’ve compromised my dream of becoming an author for financial security. Maybe I’m too ambitious, or not ambitious enough. I simply don’t know.

While I feel I should just get on with things and stop complaining, I’m also curious to know how other people deal with it. Can you afford a mortgage, go on holiday, feel like you’re making a difference in the world and write novels? Or is that too much to ask?

Perhaps the problem is that both my job and personal projects involve the same form of creative expression. Too much of the same thing. If I were a graphic designer during the day and an author by night, for example, would that make the balance easier to achieve?

Or maybe I’m not utilising all those spare moments I used to in my first job. Maybe after writing one novel, the drive I had to create has been spent. Maybe as I’m getting older my energy and motivation has been replaced with a desire for domesticity and normalcy, and my brain just hasn’t caught up with that yet.

I don’t know what the solution is, or even fully know what the problem is, but I know I’m not happy. I want to do something creative other than what I’m paid to do. I want to have ideas and run with them. I’m not ready to let any of that go yet…but I still find myself watching Netflix and going to bed at ten, the schedule of my next working day burning in my mind’s eye.

If you’re in a similar position I’d love to hear how you fight the nine to five, if it’s even something to fight. If you don’t fight it, how do you deal with it?

Because I’m certainly not the first author with a ‘day job’, and I know I won’t be the last. Not in this economy (thanks, Brexit).

E.J. Babb created Dystopic in 2012 after requiring an outlet for her love of dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. She is the author of These Unnatural Men, FOREGROUND and The Festivities of Morkwood.

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