One morning I sat at my desk at work, staring at a mistake I’d just made.
It was the kind of mistake that makes your vision go black in your periphery for a moment, the kind that causes people to whisper behind your back.
The kind of mistake that makes you want to stand up, yell “I QUIT!” and waltz out of the printer-paper-prison cell, leaving a trail of paperclips and used k-cups in your wake.
That was the morning I decided I was finished.
One thing people don’t tell you about having an English degree is that you’re actually going to have to work a lot harder post-college to figure everything out. Unless you’ve had a plan from day one, like journalism or pre-law, then chances are you chose English because you love to:
b) write, or
c) hurl yourself onto the path of most resistance, where you’ll have little to show for your effort but a handful of grown-up book reports and a giant bowl of tear-salted Lucky Charms. Enjoy.
While there have been moments when I’ve wanted to personally hunt down every single person who told me it was a GOOD idea to major in English and shake them (shake them hard), I’m beginning to feel grateful for the gamut of work experience my degrees have…forced upon me. I’ve had jobs I never would have imagined, and I’ve hustled to get my writing, creative or otherwise, out there in the world.
But let me tell you: That morning, the finance job just wasn’t working for me anymore, and I wasn’t working very well for it, either. There’s a reason I chose to major in a field devoid of numbers. And when you give something a fair shot and realize it just isn’t right for you, it’s actually a good thing to admit it and move on, whether it’s a job, a relationship, or the manuscript that’s been collecting dust on your laptop.
If you can’t move on yet, though, try not to be discouraged. You might need to keep that job for now, but that doesn’t mean you should dread every moment. It’s much more useful to use your time there to fuel your creativity and your writing career.
First, the single most useful thing you can do as a writer with a day job is to use your that job as fodder for your writing. If you are a writer, everything that happens to you is your job. The spreadsheet you forgot to save at work. The dishwasher that overflowed. The fender-bender. The crazy coworker. The hangnail. If you want to be serious about writing your book, then it’s time to stop looking at everything as separate. There’s no more writing and everything else because everything else is research. Whatever happens to you or around you is extra material, whether you like it or not.
Daily action: Keep a notebook, Word document, or notepad on your phone where you can write down the most interesting or useful parts of your workday. You’ll be thankful for all the notes when it comes to writing your book, and you won’t have to rely only on your memory.
Second, stop looking at your dissatisfaction in the workplace as something to get over, and start looking at it as the necessary opposition you need to stay motivated. If you shift your perspective a little bit, then your dissatisfaction is exactly what you need to propel you away from where you are and in the right direction. (Which is toward your writing desk. Maybe Starbucks.) I’m convinced the two best sources of motivation are necessity and unhappiness, so if you got ’em, use ’em well.
Daily action: For each task you dread or mistake you make at work, write down one thing that task or mistake could potentially help you with in your career as a writer. That income and expense report you don’t want to do? Well, you know how to do it, so do one for your freelance writing business or blog, too. That awkward confrontation with your coworker at the copier? It’s going in your book. (Just, you know, change some names and stuff.)
Finally, learn from others who have been in your situation. Believe me, even though you may feel like the only one, you definitely aren’t. There are people all over the place who have big goals they never quite accomplish because they get too comfortable where they are. They don’t use their dissatisfaction as a motivator. The just hide from it on the weekends.
On the flip side, there are others who intentionally move toward their goals every. single. day. (Except maybe Sundays ’cause LAWD WE NEED TO REST!) Do you know how many authors held down day jobs before they wrote full time? Or even while they were writing? Look it up sometime. It’s pretty inspiring. For starters, check out this short interview with Lindsay Cameron, author of Big Law. Yet another example of a successful author using her workplace as inspiration.
Daily action: Find five snippets of advice from successful authors, write each on a pretty Post-It, and put it on your cubicle wall, bathroom mirror, or whatever else you see every day. Let it inspire you to keep pursuing your writing goals.
I know how easy it is to get discouraged. Everyone gets discouraged. What counts is how you respond to it. If you feel stuck in a job you dislike, use it. Write about it. Lean into the dissatisfaction, because the further you push, the harder it will push you back.
And when it does, let it push you right into the place you’ve always wanted to be.
Do you have a job you’d like to quit so you can write? How do you deal with the discouraging days? Leave a comment below or join the Ladies in Read on Pinterest to share your best writing advice and inspiration.