Let’s get physical!

Author Joanna Cannon appeared to have it all. Written during snatched moments in car parks at the hospital where she worked as a psychiatrist, Joanna’s first novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, garnered the lifestyle that many a writer would aspire to and an £300000 advance. But she has surrendered all that. As reported in the Guardian newspaper, (30.03.17), she is now returning to healthcare. Now why would a writer do that?

Writers have always needed day jobs. The idea is: you do something which does not interfere too much with your creative process but pays the bills and, in this uncertain world, the idea of your writing supporting you and your growing family is an attractive one. But quite often, it remains just that, an idea.

The idea of a financially-supportive day job is, of course, not new. In a New York Public Library blog – The Day Jobs of 10 Famous Writers written by Nicholas Parker, Communications (05.07.17) – George Bernard Shaw is revealed to have been a telephone demonstrator; Charlotte Bronte was famously a governess and Arthur Conan Doyle performed surgery. Kurt Vonnegut sold cars.

But, if, when not writing, you need a day job, make sure it has the special features which are designed to prop up your real work, the work you were put on earth to do, ie writing your magnum opus. According to corporate lawyer and ‘Sorcerer to the Crown’ author Zen Cho, (writing in the Writers’ Digest (30.07.16) some of the crucial questions could be:

  • Will this job be flexible enough to give you time and space to write?
  • Will your working hours’ schedule/routine be predictable?
  • Will you be allowed to move away from your desk?
  • Will your job be too intellectually and socially stimulating and take the edge of you?

Too much rigidity on these points and you can kiss goodbye to your creativity.

Even more attractive may be the health benefits that a physical day job can offer a sedentary writer who sits, without moving, for hours on end, gazing crookedly at a computer screen with the uppers of coffee laced with the downers of shots of hard liquor.

Writer and woodland community leader Tobias Jones, in the Society of Authors publication, The Author Vol ccxxvii no 3 (Autumn 2015), describes some of these health benefits. Jones lauds, for example, the endorphin-rich effect of sinking thirty stakes in a field. This activity, he implies, could counter some of writing’s harmful effects. These may range from musculo-skeletal problems related to seated inactivity to physical stress symptoms which can include anything from a headache to chronic indigestion and worse. As he says of this stake-sinking, ‘You get the buzz, but an end result as well.’

Tobias Jones also commends some of the ‘quick results’ manual labour can deliver. These may include:

  1. Self-esteem – which comes from having something to show for your efforts
  2. Enhanced problem-solving skills – Consider the problem-solving skills needed for a plot twist. Practice in carpentery can only help.
  3. Quality standards – you can’t fudge. For example, if you are an electrician, you stand or fall upon fact such as ‘Do the lights go on and off?’. If you’re a writer, there is a grey area between success and failure.
  4. Companionship with a sense of purpose – you’ll notice this at ship launches.
  5. An opportunity to ‘observe’ – We’re back to ‘content’ here.
  6. Humility – a check and balance to the delusion of grandeur required of writers.
  7. And there is of course the delights of the stable income!

Nevertheless, for all this – along with loneliness, melancholia, lack of spiritual balance – writers still want to write. So it’s worth adding a suitable day job into the mix. The right day job can also give your writing, substance, relevance and content and may just save your sanity. What would you choose as yours?

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About Elizabeth Gates

When I was four, I wrote my first story - mainly because no-one else had written the story I wanted to read. Later, with two degrees in English Language & Literature and Linguistics, I toured Europe as a creative writing tutor and then went on to work as a public health journalist for twenty-five years. Writing has always played a huge part in my life, coupled with history and travel. So my debut novel, The Wolf of Dalriada, seems a natural part of my progression through life. And when not writing, l like to spend time with my family and friends and the livestock that delights in trailing after me.