My Secret Writing Life: Does Your Day Job Kill Your Artist Self?

Katie Creativity, Writing Leave a Comment

I wrote this post a while ago. When I was several years in to yet another 9-5. When I was not married. When I had a consistent yoga practice. When I wondered what would happen if I was given a million dollars? If I did not have a 9-5, would words would flow on the page? Would a book contract emerge? Would be able to be the writer I have always dreamt of being? The answers were simple then. If I could focus on writing, with no distractions, then things would fall in to place. The last year and a half of writing has confirmed some of my earlier musings: Building self and voice is key to good writing. Creating takes courage to slay the dragons of fear and doubt. Writers write, with or without a day job, with or without a million dollars, with or without a partner, and with or without a yoga practice. Writers write.  

It has been painfully real to me the last few weeks I live a dual life.

The publication of my essay The Unspeakable Gift in the Washingtonian has made several things clear. I have kept my writing life hidden from my colleagues at my day job. I do not balance my day job responsibilities with my artistic goals very well. My artistic goals are the first things I sacrifice when I am busy, tired, scattered, scared, hungry, dirty, or angry. There are many days when I don’t write. There are many days when I break the pacts I make with myself to sit at the computer and find words. I want to be a writer. I know that. I have proclaimed it for years to anyone who will listen. I am reminded of the John Lennon lyric, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I wonder how I have gotten to this place. I wonder how I can get out of it.

I am not happy about this duality. It feels fake. On my best days it makes me sad. On my worst days it is downright painful. I get angry that my days can not be focused on creating. I get angry that my mind is so spent at the end of the day that I can’t manage to write. On my path in which I seek to live my truth, it does not feel honest. I am not a fan of secrets and the silence of my writer self feels like a secret. The publication of the essay has provided the opportunity/forced me to share my writer self with a much wider audience. The secret has been shattered. After weeks of angst, I shared the publication with colleagues at work. I included the publication in a profile that was prepared for the Dean of the college. The publication was announced at a staff meeting. I posted the link to the essay on Facebook and Twitter. The fact that my first widely shared publication tells a deeply personal story is not lost on me. In many ways it feels like I took a sledge hammer to silence. Interestingly, is has been difficult to write since.

Is money the only reason I put my writer self second, or third, or fourth? Is money truly why I soldier into work day after day? Don’t get me wrong, money is important. I am just asking are their other forces at play, like fear of failure, or lack of courage, or old tapes that say words like “Can’t” or “No” or “You Suck” that prevent me from running full speed toward my writer self? When I saw the print version of the Washingtonian, I broke down in tears and called my mom. I was truly upset. She asked if I was sorry I had written the essay, and I said yes. I said that I thought I would eventually feel differently, but right then I was knee deep in self doubt. I asked myself what the hell had I done. That signaled something deeper to me than just financial constraints chaining me to my desk. I was faced with a question about being willing and able to fully explore my truth. I was left to ask if I really wanted to be vulnerable in the way making art demands.

I was left to question why I write.

It is easy to think that if I had a million dollars I would simply write, but my reaction to the essay publication asked me to examine my artistic motivation alongside the reality of my daily priorities. It gets complicated. There is a direct connection between showing up, thick skin, and the tender heart necessary to create that has nothing to do with money and everything to do with a laser-like understanding of self. To be clear, my silence and lack of sure footedness is born of something other than lack of time or money. If I truly believe we choose our priorities and are never stuck, then to move forward as artist I need to continue to look in shadows, kick the tires, and wrap myself in soft things that make me feel safe enough to explore and create.

I know I am not the only artist to experience living a dual life. Why do some many artists live that way? Do some artists simply choose to call their artistic passion a hobby to remove the sting of the day job bee? Do other artists resign themselves to letting their creative selves die when the time to feed the soul is too often sacrificed? Does criticism of artistic expression become internalized so deeply that any energy to persevere beyond the 9 to 5 is quickly killed? Do some artists retreat into a dual life out of the shear terror of the blank page or canvas? I am not sure. What I know for sure is that to be an artist takes profound courage. It takes fearlessness and tenacity to create. It takes a willingness to wrestle demons while at the same time preserving a gentle spirit. It takes money to live, and that is the reality, too. Simply understood, there are probably many reasons some artists live a dual life.

So what is next for me? What would it look like to surrender completely to my writer self? I think back to the writers who I sat alongside at Politics and Prose during the time I was writing my memoir. They were professional writers. They were slasher novelists, translators, young adult fiction authors. They were living examples of how people can make their way as creative souls in the world. They capitalized on the shifting sands of the publication world. They sat down and wrote every day. No exceptions. They were all voracious readers and lovers of life. Travelers. Skeptics. Seekers. I think I could live like that.

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