A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Day Job

Last week I wrote about “wasting” my talents as a librarian. I think the sentiment behind my friend’s comment was this: the time I spend working a job takes me away from writing. And that is a dilemma that all but the financially independent must grapple with, as I have throughout my writing life.

Anyone who has been writing for any length of time has heard – and experienced -- the harsh economic realities of the business. The vast majority of writers do not support themselves by writing. At the SCBWI conference I attended a few weeks ago I heard it again: one agent estimated that 85 to 90 percent of his clients hold outside jobs. I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard the phrase “keep your day job” uttered by some guest expert at every writing conference I’ve ever attended.

Of course, some writers do manage to make their living by their words alone. But every writer’s situation is unique. Some have private sources of income to rely on, spouses with jobs and benefits, or other financial back-up systems in place. Others don’t. The personal risk factor figures in, too. Some writers can tolerate financial instability, while others find it overwhelmingly stressful.

In the U.S., having health insurance is huge. Many people work primarily for those precious medical benefits. I wonder – though I’m not sure how one would figure this out – if writers in countries with universal health coverage have an easier go of it? Are there other challenges, such as smaller markets and higher costs, to contend with?

All of which gets me to wondering: how do you balance the need to write with the need to make a living? Which challenges do you find most difficult? Does your country or region do anything to support and encourage writers?


  1. Ann, as a artist who does eek out a living, the trade offs are big and sometimes scary,( like the health insurance thing)but, I did finally get my flush toilet at 50 years old and really at this point there's no turning back. Doubt if anyone would hire me now even if I wanted a job! lol Kate

  2. I truly admire artists and writers who are able to live by their art. I know enough of you, and from my own experiences, to understand the trade-offs. I'm not sure the general public does, though, or they see it in a romantic light, "the struggling artist." But not being able to go to the doctor or dentist when you need to is far from romantic!

    Yet how poor in spirit we would be as a society without artists, musicians, and writers! I have a hard time imagining it.