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Why To Keep Your Day Job

(This is for my friend, Matt T. And for y’all, but especially him.)

I’ve noticed a trend in my life: I end up seeing some out-of-town friends more often than in-town friends. Why? Because with out-of-town friends, time is more precious and so planning happens, as does committing to follow-through. With in-town friends, we can always see each other, so vague and cancellable plans happen. This isn’t because people are horrible, but because life is full on random, busy shit. When something comes up, you might want to ask “hey, can we meet up next week?” With out-of-town friends, it’s a definite no. With in-town ones, it’s more likely yes. So a busy life gets to impact plans that can be remade.

(Of course, once you need to see a friend, the plans stop being vague and cancellable.)

Writing is similar. When you can put off writing, it’s easy to do. “Crap, I’m not feeling well. I can write later.” “Man, I have a ton of chores that should get done. I can write. later” “Tim & Lisa feel like grabbing a movie, and I haven’t seen them in a bit. I can write later.” Etc. etc.

One excuse on its own isn’t the problem, but when you constantly reschedule your writing time–time that can also was “yes” to “can we do it later?”–then you’re running into the same problem as with me meeting up with in-town friends.

I often hear people say “man, if I didn’t have a day job, I could get so much writing done.” And every time I hear it, I ask them when they last wrote. If it not yesterday or the day before, I tell them they’re full of shit. They won’t get more writing down when they leave a day job. Once you have a space where you have more time to write, if you’re used to giving yourself excuses to not write, you’ll just keep giving excuses–because you have more time in the day to put off writing.

“Oh, I should go shopping for groceries. I can write later.” “I haven’t watched the new Colbert Report. I can write later.” “It’s a nice day for a walk. I can write later.” Etc. etc.

If you can’t give yourself thirty minutes a day to write, saying “fuck it, this is what I’m doing,” then you aren’t ready to give yourself eight, ten, twelve hours to write. Before talking about the hellish parts of the business like taxes and chasing down jobs & payment, before talking about how little pay you’ll make and the insane cost of health insurance, the reality is: if you aren’t writing now, you won’t write then.

But there’s hope. The day job brings with it a structure to your day — maybe it changes week to week, but there’s some structure. Use that structure. Commit to writing. If you can do that until it becomes second nature, if you can say to yourself “fuck, I haven’t watched the new Colbert Report. I’ll get some writing done for half an hour and then watch it,” then you’re closer to the point where you can ditch your day job–if that’s what you want.

If you aren’t constantly writing, but that’s where you want to be, keep your day job. It’ll train you to find all sorts of time in the day to write. It’ll make you a fierce wordsmith. Because if you aren’t writing, it’s not your day job holding you back. It’s your lack of commitment and follow-through.

– Ryan

P.S. Of course, if you won’t be keeping your day job for other reasons, like being laid off, my comments still stand. You’ll have to do the difficult thing of learning how to give yourself structure. From experience, I know that’s hard when you’re used to others imposing that structure on you.

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6 Responses to Why To Keep Your Day Job

  1. Matt T. says:

    Valuable insight my friend. And you’re way more polite to your readership than with your friends. I think that’s the love part coming through.

    You’re really a mouthy fuck with a heart of gold. (Had to put in mouthy fuck again to help your Google stats. Don’t want the political pundits to usurp your title.)

    -Matt

  2. Totally agree, Ryan. I try to write 2 hours a day. Sometimes I hit 4-5, sometimes I hit 30 minutes. But that is my target.

    When people complain about not having the time to do anything, I want to smack them in the face. They are wasting their time watching Colbert (to stick with your examples) rather than getting off their ass. It is a matter of motivation.

    • I also believe it is a matter of priorities.

      Sometimes, people say this one thing is their main priority. Most of those times, they are lying. Sometimes, they are even trying to lie to themselves.

      This thing is actually not that important for them. If it were, they would be more willing to pay the price. Since it is not, they are not.

      What’s wrong is not that people have other things that matter more to them. The problem lies in people not accepting this one precious thing is in reality not all that important down deep inside. (At least not important enough to be willing to face change, risk and possible failure.)

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Greg,

      Right on. I usually say “you don’t have thirty minutes to write tonight?” as a way to push that. And then I just stare. Sometimes I get push back, and that’s cool, but usually I am met with sheepish looks or shame, when the person I’m talking to realizes that they’re less committed than they imagined.

      Sometimes that’s good for kicking people into gear.

      Damián,

      Totally. There’s that middle space that people find themselves stuck at, between committing to something or accepting that they aren’t. That’s a crap space to be in, having remembered when I was in that space.

      – Ryan

  3. @ Damian and Ryan

    Exactly. I am reminded of Sir Ken Robinson’s story of Wayne Gretsky. It wasn’t that Wayne Gretsky wasn’t good at hockey, he was. It was that he thought about hockey all the time. When other players were thinking about other things in their off-time, he was thinking about hockey. How to be better at hockey. Constantly. Over time, he just became better than everyone else mentally. The physical part was not the important one.

    If you don’t truly have passion for something, you shouldn’t pretend that you do. Or fool yourself, which is the worst part.

    Most people cannot accept that they are just floating along doing nothing creative. They want to tell themselves that they are. They want to believe they are doing great things. Then when the time comes to do serious work, they veg out on the sofa.

  4. Charlton says:

    When I was in graduate school, I *never* felt like writing. And so I made myself write for 15 minutes a day regardless — and some days I would spend 15 minutes forcing words out before giving up, but far more often I’d agonize for five minutes and then look up several hours or a couple thousand words later.

    Real writers write.