Doing what you love, doing what you can

balancing-actI am a writer. I write fiction for fun, and code for money.

My goal is to be writing fiction for money, too.

This is where many people would lay into their jobs. “I hate my job!” they will exclaim. “It’s boring, and the people are awful – especially the customers. OMG, if you saw the things people wear!” Or there will be some complaint about doing the same thing over and over again, chained to a desk. “I wish I could write full-time,” they’ll continue. “Then I would be happy.”

Leaving aside the incongruity of wanting to escape the drudgery of a desk job with another desk job, you won’t hear those kinds of complaints from me. The day job is at a terrific company working with great people on interesting and involving problems. Long ago I took up software as a hobby, then as a career, and that career has been good to me. I still enjoy software a great deal – it was certainly what I loved once, and I am still excited to be able to make a living at it. Software is a terrific thing to do for someone as addicted to problem-solving as I am.

But I find myself more drawn to writing these days. Writing is not always easy, but it is wonderful to make stories, to imagine characters and their lives – to solve problems of plot and setting.

Then there’s this piece in The Onion: “Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life”

Nights and weekends? I want to write all the time.

Do what you love is the advice, isn’t it? So why don’t I do that?

Because I can’t make a living at writing. More precisely, I can’t make a living equivalent to my day job from the outset*.

Switching careers is hard: it’s difficult enough when you’ve been doing one thing for a few years, but it’s exponentially harder when you’ve been doing something for twenty five years, and it’s what’s keeping your family in heat and health insurance**.

It really comes down to time and opportunity. Software is a solid occupation***, but every hour I spend on that is time I am not spending on my writing. The day job also occupies my most creative times.

I need to figure out how to do more of what I love while still paying the bills.

Do what you love only works if no one is relying on you to feed them – then you have to do what you can.

How do you balance your writing life and your day job? Have you already leapt into the wild air?

Update: Also, check out this candid post about the oft-unacknowledged factors contributing to some writing success.

[*] In truth, the economics of the profession are such that there are not many authors who make a living wage just from their writing at all. Notable exceptions are John Scalzi and his splendidly diverse portfolio, and Charles Stross who takes a hard-headed approach to how fast he can actually produce the novels that provide his income.

[**] earlier versions of this piece had a lengthy digression on the evils of the US health insurance system, but I’ll perorate on that another time.

[***] heaven knows there is more software to be written than developers to write it.

2 Replies to “Doing what you love, doing what you can”

  1. Willow says:

    That’s the thing a lot of people fail to ‘get’ — that in the arts, it’s quite rare to be able to make a living (above poverty level) with what you do. It’s not like other careers, where there is a measure of stability to be had.

  2. Stevie says:

    Authors making a living from writing one genre is a very recent and likely short-lived phenomenon. For most of my life the writer was either someone who had “a day job” or someone like Ellison or Silverberg who wrote in every genre and outlet they could get their work into.

    That said I hope you are one of those who can catch a wave and ride it to fame and fortune.

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