At the beginning of 2019, my employer offered me a different job within the same company. I quickly transitioned out of my position as a writer and into a different role — one that was a better fit for me but would no longer require me to spend eight additional hours a day writing articles.
At first, this both worried and discouraged me. Could I even still call myself a writer if it wasn’t what I did “for a living”? When people asked me what I did for work, could I even still say I was a writer? The title was so embedded in my identity that I was almost afraid I wouldn’t be the same person — the same “me” — without it.
That was a silly thing for me to worry about, of course. I do more than enough writing outside of “work work” to be able to still say I’m a writer. Writers write, and I still write almost every day. Nothing much has changed. If anything, I have more energy and motivation to work on my own projects outside of work than I ever have before.
It was just an odd sensation, having worked so hard to earn a position writing full-time only to realize I was no longer doing that anymore.
But did it really matter?
Many writers dream of making writing their full-time gig. It’s all they want. But many never achieve such a feat — and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Do you?
Sure, you might dream of waking up whenever you please, staying in your pajamas all day, and writing thousands of words before lunch, but this just isn’t the reality for most people. That doesn’t mean you can’t still achieve your writing dreams.
If you were never officially paid full-time for your work as a writer — if you always had a day job where writing was not always your primary focus and had to do all your writing outside of work hours — would it really be the end of the world?
Success in writing is not defined by how many hours a day you spend writing or whether or not you are employed by someone who pays you to provide content for them.
And there are plenty of writers who never make enough money from their own projects to go full-time, but still arrange their schedules so that they can generate the income they need while also putting in the time and effort required to write, edit, revise, and publish things outside their jobs.
It’s really a matter of not only being grateful for the opportunity to do that, but also allowing yourself to take pride in the fact that you’re Making Writing Happen even if you still have to spend eight or more hours a day sitting at a desk doing work for someone else.
Of course, the exception here is working at a job that either doesn’t allow employees to do contract work for other organizations or it wouldn’t be wise or practical to do it. I’m fortunate enough, for example, to work for a company that only discourages contract work with direct competitors — but that’s it. As long as they’re aware of my other income streams, I’m allowed to publish what and where I please, under my own name, as long as I’m not doing it for a publication that would create a conflict of interest.
There are many organizations that only permit you to do work for them and nowhere else. That can create an interesting dilemma depending on the kind of writing you’re interested in doing. But at the same time, no one can stop you from at least writing a book on your own time. I suppose you could figure out all the logistics later — or quit your job? — if anyone ever offered to officially publish it.
Those circumstances aside, though, there are many different ways someone can “be a writer.” Many of us, when we think of professional writers, have this vision of hanging out in coffee shops all over the country, traveling constantly, writing all day every day unless we choose not to.
But what about the writers who put their kids to bed after a long day, brew a single cup of coffee, sit down in the dark at the kitchen table with a laptop and write until they can’t keep their eyes open? What about the ones who wake up three hours before starting their commute to work, write until they’re almost late, continue writing on the train, and scramble to get a few more sentences in before their shift starts?
Are they any less successful than someone who gets up, gets to write nonstop all day, and finishes by dinner time?
If you are actively working on a project, regardless of when and where that might happen throughout your day, you are a writer. It doesn’t matter if you continue to write “on the side” for years to come. Isn’t that better than never writing anything at all?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.