Writer's life | How not to hate your day job

Many writers have a sticky, conflicted relationship with their day job. It takes several years to forge a career as a writer, and even then, only the lucky few can write full time. The day job gives you the money to survive, but the more you follow your passion as a writer, the harder it is to go in every day and pretend that it matters. 

Disliking your day job can actually spur you on

My first ever short story was written in a fit of rage in 2010, when my boss wouldn't let us leave early to watch the opening ceremony to the FIFA World Cup. This established a sort of pattern: when I felt overlooked, slighted, bored or underpaid at work, I would go online and research short story competitions, write a new paragraph or two for a short story or brainstorm book ideas. This helped me focus on what was important to me (my writing career), and often would give me the power I needed to get through the day. 

Everything is copy

Since I started writing in 2010, I have worked as a communications manager, PR consultant, corporate writer and ghost writer. I specialise in tech and financial writing, but have spun messages for everyone from fashion and food brands to engineers and investment firms. This is sometimes boring as hell but it gives me specialist knowledge in weird niche fields that can serve me in fiction. All the randomness builds up to something and helps you form pathways to connect with readers. 

It's sometimes hard to love both worlds though

This year, I have experienced the dizzying high of an overseas agent offering to represent my manuscript and then receiving an email half an hour later asking me to revise a 300-word press release because I don't sound 'excited enough' about a client's marginal trade event. I've had the joy of collaborating on my manuscript with editors I really look up to, pouring over their helpful, insightful comments, and then a few minutes later opened up a Google Doc where a PR Exec has questioned my ability to write at all. Maybe the humiliation is meant to keep you humble, to remind you that you're only as good as your last book or short story. I use the conflict to spur me on. In fact, I usually write the most words on my next book or story when I'm on an excruciating corporate deadline. 

This is all your making

While I've had my fair share of dud clients, I will always remember the people who I have worked with in my day job who have taught me new skills, supported my dreams, and taken an interest in my creative writing. Hell, this year my corporate clients have been the first to wish me on Christmas Day and on my birthday (I always wonder what that says about me!). Every day spent working gives you the resources you need to keep writing. It is a privilege many do not have. Every boring day, frustrating meeting, difficult character and humiliating encounter helps you realise what is really important, and drives you to define your destiny. These days, I take on less corporate work because I would rather live with less and write, than spend on superficial things. 

It's all a work in progress anyway

I remember about four years ago when I had just started a new job at a PR firm. I had a manuscript in the acquisitions phase at a local publisher and things were looking good. The editors were so excited to share the book and had said to me it was pretty much in the bag. Then, one quiet afternoon, I refreshed my email and saw a mail from the publisher that started with, "We regret to inform you..." I didn't even know the names of my colleagues yet, let alone have any friends! I walked very quickly to the bathroom and sobbed for a while. At the time, I thought that book was my ticket out of corporate life, I thought it would save me. 

These days, I realise it is messier than that. The life of a writer is a calling, and is often decidedly unglamourous. No matter how many personal successes I celebrate (and I feel particularly proud and celebratory of certain successes at the moment), I will never, ever support the idea that writing brings instant fame, or that any success is down to me alone. Writers are born in the sickly glow of overheated open plan offices, supported by loving, patient partners and enthusiastic friends. Writers aren't marinating their ideas in a coastal cottage somewhere along the Indian Ocean - they are writing notes for new scenes on their phones during their daily commute or when their boss turns the other way in a meeting. Writers are gritting their teeth through the email notification of yet another rejection (and they always come in packs) while saying, "Yes, of course, I will have the presentation to you by close of business today." 

It's tough, but many careers are far tougher. And, at the end of the day, when somebody reads your writing and connects with it, it's wonderful.