How Having an Office Job Made Me a Better Writer

I thought having an office job would mean I wasn’t a “real” writer. Turns out, it made me a better one.

Person walking with leather briefcase. Photo from Unsplash.

When I first started writing professionally ten years ago, my dream was to do it full time. But after a few years of trying just that, I realized my dream wasn’t tenable — I had a family to feed. And health insurance sure would’ve been nice. So I decided to go back to office work and freelance on the side. The first few months of this felt like a crushing defeat. But then, I started to notice something. My writing was actually getting better. And moreover, I was just happier. As it turns out, having a day job actually made me a better, happier writer. So if you’re in a similar position, don’t worry — a day job is not the end of your writerly dreams. Here are some of the ways in which having a day job helped me to become a better writer:

This might seem obvious at first, because everyone needs an income to survive. In my case, I have a family to feed, so the pressure to earn a living is pretty intense. But it’s not just the fact that I have more money that makes a day job worth it — it’s that I worry less about money. For years I cobbled together freelance writing assignments and hourly jobs, always worried about whether I’d make enough to pay my rent or eat a filling meal. Even when I wasn’t working, I was worrying — which meant my writing suffered. In retrospect, all that worrying was actually more of a time suck than an actual full-time day job. These days I don’t have money worries (well, at least not intense worries), so my time spent writing is focused on actual writing.

The best advice I ever received was from a writing teacher who said that to be a good writer you had to spend at least as much time living as you do writing. Back before I had a day job, I would spend most of my hours at home, at my desk, trying to come up with something to write. It was hard. Because I didn’t have that much to write about (except being lonely). Now that I have a day job, I see people every day. I have conversations, see interesting things, and am exposed to new ideas. Sure, the day job can be endlessly frustrating some days. But you know what? Even that frustration is fodder for a good essay.

This one seems counterproductive, right? But it’s true — I actually get more writing done now that I hold a day job. The reason is because the day job forces me to set aside time to write, something I didn’t do back when my days were essentially structure-less. Ever morning I get up at the same hour, before my family, so that I can get my writing done. I’m churning out almost twice as much writing as I was back when I was a full-time freelancer. Who would’ve guessed?

An added benefit is that I’m also more productive at the day job, because I’m not feeling guilty about not writing! I can focus on the task at hand, because I’m confident that all my writing tasks are on track.

Before I started my day job, I had post-it notes all over the place, at least three calendars going, and more half-filled notebooks than I knew what to do with. The only way I could add on a full-time day job was to get myself organized. So I did! I consolidated everything into a single online calendar, started carrying around one (or two) notebooks, and did away with the post-its altogether. I feel so much more on top of my schedule — for work and for fun — and I wouldn’t have done it had I not started a day job.

There’s no doubt about it — taking on a day job means less time spent on your writing. But it can also mean that the time you do spend writing you’re more focused, more organized, and less worried about things like money. Starting a day job was probably one of the best things I ever did for my writing career, and hey, if it’s good enough for Agatha Christie, it’s good enough for me.

Freelance writer and editor; dreamer; a believer in helping others to write better and be more creative.

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