The Day Job

Over at Tamboblog, author Tamara Siler Jones discusses the problem with trying to balance writing and a career that involves similar creative endeavors. It’s an interesting discussion, and one that strikes home for me, because what I do most in my job is writing. Not fiction, but advertising. (Insert your own joke here.)

Jones says:

“I believe that creativity is like a muscle. Use it or lose it. And there are a variety of different types, some possibly connected. Visual creativity – like painting; Auditory creativity – like music; Muscular-skeletal creativity – like a gifted athlete; and so on and so forth. Lots of different kinds of creativity. If you keep using the same creative muscle over and over and over at your job, my personal experience indicates that doing the same type of activity is probably not gonna happen in your spare time.”

There are times when I get home from a particularly long day, the kind of day when there have been “Too Many Cooks” Syndrome when it comes to fussing over a script, when the last thing I want to think about, much less do, is write anything else. This is the biggest reason why that old advice about writing something every day doesn’t work for me: if I force myself to write something when I don’t feel like it, I produce crap. Crap so bad that I wouldn’t even post it anywhere anonymously.

The funny thing is, it is during periods when I’ve had the most frustrations in the day job, that I feel the need to write, to get my creative juices simmering, to work out my frustrations on other aspects of the day while (hopefully) spinning them into a decent narrative.

There is no doubt in my mind that I would have finished my novel long ago had I not worked in a writing-intensive job. But I like my job, and I like writing. So since the day job is the one that pays the bills, I have little choice but to show up. In my case, when something has to suffer, unfortunately, it’s the writing. Until I get the writing done, and until the magical day when I can make more with that then my current income, there are times when it will have to take a backseat.

I do disagree with one point she makes: I don’t believe that there is automatically the “use it or lose it” dynamic with the “creativity muscle.” When it comes to writing, I believe that you can learn as much, and at times, more, from reading. Reading isn’t using the creative muscle to come up with words of your own, but you are getting a look at how other authors have successfully or unsuccessfully told their tales.

I’ve learned at least as much from reading other people’s writing than I have at attempting my own. When I sit down at the keyboard to write or revise my work-in-progress, even if I haven’t touched it in a week or more, I find that I don’t have to gradually pace myself as I would if I were restarting an exercise routine: the passion to write is there, every bit as much as always, and it’s ready to take control whenever I find the time to allow it. That’s one of the things about writing that I like best.


  1. I write for my day job and for some reason, I don’t mind going home and working on my novel. That’s a major reason I bought a laptop so I wouldn’t have to sit in front of the computer just like I do all day, but I could sit on the couch with my family surrounding me.

    Very interesting post. I know that having a full-time “dayjob” that involves writing has improved my overall writing ability.

  2. The brilliance of the “Head On” campaign is in the fact that virtually no one picks up on the fact that they never actually tell you what it does. That is, of course, because it does absolutely nothing. There are no active ingredients.

  3. You’re welcome! (I’m an INFP … I wish I were naturally more “J,” because then I might be better at finishing some of these writing projects!

  4. The advertising industry houses the most creative people on the planet. It has to, the competition is scary-bad.

    There is a good bit of competition, but fortunately, not quite as much in the television promotions area.

    I have very mixed feelings about the “Head On” spot…on the one hand, I am amazed that it got such a response and boosted sales so much.

    On the other, it’s just so damned annoying…

  5. The advertising industry houses the most creative people on the planet. It has to, the competition is scary-bad. Just witness:

    “Head On! Apply directly to the head. Head On! Apply directly to the head. Head On! Apply directly to the head…”

  6. Just wondering … are you an INFJ or an ISFJ? Your bio mentions both.

    Both mentions should say “ISFJ.” Can’t believe I didn’t catch that. Thanks for spotting it.

  7. Reading is a very creative process … you’re looking at symbols on a page and imagining entire worlds, getting emotionally involved, etc.

    I worked as a technical writer for about 10 years and finally quit. I was writing all day, and the job actually improved my writing drastically, but I *never* felt like writing when I was away from the job.

    Just wondering … are you an INFJ or an ISFJ? Your bio mentions both.

    Have a good week!

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.