In my previous post I talked about the challenges inherent to freelance writing, and why journalism is an unwise career choice in today’s marketplace. I am at a point where I am leaning towards giving up freelance writing to focus on writing fiction while I work a regular day job. It would introduce some stability to my life and also provide a venue to interact with other human beings every day. This would be a refreshing change from the solitary confinement of my apartment. Many great writers before me have done this and made it work. Here are a few examples.
Stephen King worked as a high school English teacher in Bangor, Maine while writing his first book, Carrie. He also did this while raising a family and drinking heavily every night. It should be mentioned that he had been publishing short stories since high school, but if one man can write a novel while taking on all that responsibility despite being an alcoholic, surely it can be possible for anyone else.
One of the greatest American writers of the 20th century worked at a power plant at the University of Mississippi where it was charged with the task of shoveling coal into a furnace. During the night shift he wrote As I Lay Dying, one of his most celebrated works. The published version of that book is as it was in the rough draft, and Faulkner said that he would not want to change a word of it. In 1949, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for “his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel.”
Kafka worked as the chief legal secretary of the Workman’s Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia. The job involved writing up boring reports of on-the-job accidents, but it did provide a decent salary that allowed him to pursue his writing goals. The German language writer is also considered one of the most influential authors of the 20th century. His most well known work is The Metamorphosis, a story about a man who wakes up one day to find he has transformed into a giant cockroach.
This prolific playwright, essayist, and poet worked at Lloyd’s Bank in London working on foreign accounts. Even after maintaining his day job became unnecessary, he still kept it. He later joined the publishing company Faber and Faber in 1925 and continued his great works. His poem, The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock, published in 1915, gained him widespread attention and is regarded as a work of pure genius today.
The American master of satire is a staple of university English undergrads. He came from a family of artists, but his father always wanted him to go into something else because the arts were such a poor way of making money. Vonnegut studied chemistry at Columbia University, and worked at General Electric while he was writing his first novel, Player Piano. It’s a story about a future where the means of production and labour are all done by machines, so many people have no way of finding employment. His time at the GE plant shaped this seminal work. Even after becoming a known author, he still worked as a university English professor.
I will still take journalism assignments if they’re offered, and pertain to subjects that interest me. But the process of brainstorming ideas, pitching to editors, and praying for a response has gotten old. Far too much of my time gets spent on sending out pitches that go nowhere. If I can break away from doing this with a real job, I can devote my writing time to novels and poetry and this only requires an investment of 1-2 hours a day.
I look forward to returning to the workforce. If all these immortalized authors can do it, so can I.
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