The Day Gig

by Deborah Atherton

Most of us have them.  They may not be full time; we might be able to do them from home. But relatively few of us are able to support ourselves purely on our creative projects.  Some of us teach the art we practice, but although it’s wonderful to share what we’ve learned with others, we all know that this is not the same thing as doing your own work.

I am truly inspired by fellow writers and other artists who accept the lower income and lack of health insurance that often comes with pursuing your art full time.  I wish we lived in a country where health insurance and housing was affordable for everyone, and more of us could work at what we love 40 or 60 hours a week without penalty.

But given that we don’t quite live in that world, how do we handle our day gigs?People striving to make time for creativity take widely different approaches.  I work for a nonprofit whose work I believe in that offers me an opportunity to do some writing and research. Some people prefer to work jobs that have absolutely nothing to do with their art.  I know a writer who is a locksmith and another who is an iron worker. The actor or filmmaker who is currently a waiter or barista has become an American cultural icon. We are postal workers and lawyers and bankers and taxi drivers.  We teach grade school and work in giant box stores.

But whatever our day gig, balancing it with our creative life is a perpetual challenge.  People often ask me the following question: “How do have the energy to work on so many different projects?  I’m exhausted when I come home at night!”

Well, me too. Honestly, 50% of the time I come home from work, eat dinner, and flop in front of the TV.  I know far more about criminal investigative techniques (as least as presented by CBS) than any honest person ought to.

Most of my creative work I do, not at night after work, but in what I think of as little pockets of time I extract from the rest of my life.  I have developed the habit of keeping a notebook or netbook by the bed so I write for a little while last thing at night and first thing in the morning. Lunch time is sometimes social, but at least a few times a week I find a place and moment to myself to do some work.  Weekends offer many little pockets of time, although perhaps not the luxurious stretches you might hope for—after all, there’s the rest of your life: laundry and grocery shopping and going to the drug store and hanging out with your family and friends and picking up the dry cleaning.

The biggest trick (and one that often eludes me) is keeping yourself open to creative ideas and opportunities while you are functioning in the rest of your life.  Keeping the notebook or sketchbook or camera (or handy double duty i-Phone) at hand for random inspiration.  And never letting go of the idea that your creative life is at least as real and important as the one that supplies health insurance and groceries and maybe even helps save the world.  There’s more than one way to save the world, and, at least in my eyes, staying on course with your creative goals and projects is one of them.

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5 Responses to The Day Gig

  1. Great post, as usual.

    I don’t know if I could sit home 8 hours per day and work on my creative stuff. I’m fidgety. I work in spurts, divided by snacking, staring, and thinking. 🙂

    My day job, which is technical writing and instructional design, is so different than writing fiction it doesn’t steal any of my energy for my creative work. In fact, I think it may do just the opposite.

    I have notebooks everywhere to capture ideas that may arise while I’m doing something other than writing.

    • marcusbales says:

      I don’t remember who said it but I think it was one of the Algonquin types: The hardest part of being a writer is convincing your spouse that when you’re staring out the window you’re working.

    • deborahatherton says:

      Thanks, Margaret. I can’t sit at home and write for 8 hours either – I have to get up, wander around, watch a little TV, play a game, empty the dishwasher – anything but sitting still for hours on end! I know from having tried it that if I have days to write I do almost anything but–unless of course I’m off somewhere without any of the distractions of home. Even then I almost always find a way!

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