July 26, 2016KR BlogBlogWriting

Going Corporate: Writing After the Job Offer

Earlier this week, I visited my friend Liz Breazeale in Kansas City, where she recently moved after accepting a corporate technical writer position. In her new apartment, above her writing desk, she had hung the following quote (commonly attributed to Aristotle, though it appears to be paraphrased): “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Liz was a member of my cohort in the Bowling Green State University MFA program, and I have seldom met a writer so dedicated and hard working. She wrote fiction consistently even while teaching sixty students during a stressful MFA semester, while on a road trip with her family, and throughout the transition from the MFA into various forms of employment. So I wasn’t surprised to see a quote celebrating diligence hanging above her desk.

But when Liz accepted a full-time corporate job within a year of graduating from the MFA, she experienced some surprising reactions. Namely, people from all corners of her life—both writers and not—asked her the same question: “Now that you have a job, are you going to keep writing?”

This question frustrated Liz, who considers writing an important part of her life, and not one she plans to abandon anytime soon.

“I think it’s difficult for people to comprehend that someone who has an MFA and is driven to write would want to go into the corporate field, so I’ve had a lot of negative reactions,” she says. “Some people have an idea in their minds that a writer can only be someone who sits down and writes for eight hours a day, or they think of a writer as a professor at a university. That idea is ingrained in people’s minds, as though you can’t be a writer while also working a 9-5 schedule.”

While I agree that in some cases, it can be construed as rude to ask a writer if she’d stop pursuing her lifelong goal once a “real job” enters the picture, I see where this question comes from. Many people do stop writing over time once real life and all its drudgery kicks in. I’ve written before about my own writing schedule when I worked a corporate editing job, and I know how easy it is to feel too exhausted at the end of a workday to consider writing creatively. (Or to feel unable to wake up early and write then.) That one too-tired-to-write day turns into a week, then a month, then a year, and then you look up and realize you’re not a writer. Or, at least, you’re not actively writing, and haven’t been for a long time.

But to believe that this happens to all writers seems unfounded. Most writers are compelled to earn a living outside of their creative work. A job isn’t an ultimate barrier to creative work, but rather a common obstacle we all have to overcome. And let’s not forget the hierarchy of needs. As romantic as the starving-artist concept seems, it’s difficult to produce creatively if you’re worried about being evicted because you can’t pay your rent. For all the demands of her new job, Liz says a lot of her other stress—such as worrying about money, health care, and her future—have evaporated thanks to this job, which takes some pressure off her writing.

“Maybe some writers feel their own writing schedule isn’t working for them,” Liz says when considering why she repeatedly gets this “Will you keep writing?” question. “But a writer is a person who will find a way to write no matter what their day job is.”

I’m of the mind that people spend their time on what really matters to them. True, having a career and a family might mean you only have an hour or two of free time a week. If you spend that time playing on a co-ed soccer team while lamenting your lack of time to write, maybe the reality is that you’d rather spend your time playing soccer. That’s perfectly fine. Someone who wants to write, meanwhile, will find a way to make that happen eventually. You might experience some lean (or nonexistent) writing years due to family, financial, or health issues, but in the long run, if you want to write, you’ll make it happen.

But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Liz acknowledges that her writing routine has shifted now that she’s working a corporate job, and that the process can be a struggle.

“It’s hard,” she says. “I think young writers need to understand that if they truly want to be writers, it’s hard. No matter what career you go into, you’ll always have days when you do not want to write. It’s not easy. But if you’re willing to suffer through the hard days, I do think you’ll be successful.”