It’s that time of year again: the time when the media tell you to ditch your job and follow your passion. This year, they’re even throwing in the added bonus attraction of several impending apocalypses to get us up off our posteriors to change our lives.
It’s tempting, but I’m not buying it. I know a lot of people hate their day jobs. There are many reasons for this, ranging from idiotic bosses, to boring work, to nasty colleagues, to that weird smell in the break room which started to worry you after you did that horror movie marathon in November.
But regardless of how many articles I see (or even write) about the holy grail of full-time writing, I don’t think that anything will convince me that deriving a living solely from writing can match the comfort and general framework of mental well-being that even the world’s most boring day job can provide.
Picture the scene.
Monday morning, 9am. You arrive at your desk at Writing HQ and are greeted by John, the guy who sits next to you.
You: Morning. Good weekend?
John: Not bad. I went out because it was payday. I know it happens every single month, but I still love it. You?
You: Yeah, it was good. Quiet.
John: Did you do any writing?
You: Good grief, no. I was off the clock. Unless it’s 9-5, Monday to Friday, I don’t even think about writing. I think I slept the whole weekend.
John: Greta was around earlier. She wants to see you in her office.
You: Ugh. She’s always on my case. When is she going to learn that being my agent doesn’t make her the boss of me?
John: When they stop paying you so much money?
[You both laugh]
5 minutes later, you sit in Greta’s office, clutching the coffee which is provided free of charge from the staff canteen. You brush the last crumbs of Peter’s birthday sponge cake off your lap.
You: You wanted to see me?
Greta: It’s your most recent work. I’m afraid it’s not selling enough.
You: I thought as much. It’s the guys in Marketing. The campaign they ran was woeful.
Greta: I hear you. They’re such a shower of eejits.
You: Remember John’s last book? They didn’t bother running a campaign at all. Which was a pity, because it could have been a prizewinner, for sure.
Greta: For sure.
You: But we’re still churning out the stuff. No matter how badly they foul it up.
Greta: Yeah. They were trying to blame us, but there’s no way we’re taking the fall on that one.
You: Even if what we’re writing turns out to be shite.
Greta: Especially then.
[You both laugh]
Greta: Seriously, though, while I’m happy to deflect the blame everywhere but here, I was a little concerned. Your last piece of work. It was – how can I say this? Uninspired.
You: Really? I thought it was just deathly boring.
Greta: Well, that too. But is there anything you need to tell us?
You: Yeah. I’ve literally got no new ideas. I’m afraid I’ve just been rewriting old stuff for months now. Haven’t a clue if I’ll ever have an original idea again, in fact.
Greta: We thought as much. Look, we think you should take some time off. Go and see the company doctor and stay at home for 3 weeks on full pay. Come back to us when you’re better.
You: Thanks, Greta.
Greta: Just write a few reviews for the papers in the meantime. Keep your name out there.
You: No problem. I’ll just recycle the ones I wrote for last year’s literary fiction titles. They’re vague enough to go around again.
For some, the idea of security isn’t all that attractive. But that’s all fine until you can’t pay the bills, and you’re still marketing all your own work, despite having a contract with a big publisher who is ploughing their entire budget into just 3 terminally best-selling authors, and you know that if you don’t sell enough books, the only person who will be blamed is you.
The point I think I’m making (I’m never quite sure, so feel free to check in with me again later when I’ve probably changed my mind) is that nobody can be brilliant all of the time. Every human being is going to be mediocre at some point in their lives. And while non-creative jobs may not inspire much passion, they at least allow for things such as sickness, and bereavement, and poor marketing campaigns, and uninspired effort, and even failure.
I’d also rather try to find time alongside my bill-paying day job to write, than spend my writing time trying to find side jobs in order to pay the bills.
With that in mind, I’d like to buck the January trend, and raise my glass to boring, safe, uninspiring day jobs. Long may they inspire us to seek our creative outlets elsewhere.
What about you? Do you see day jobs as a cure or a curse?