Writing, Community & Government

Having a Day Job

Roxane Gay

Lesson time 03:07 min

Roxane talks about how having a day job can take the pressure off the art-making and create the space necessary to make great work.

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Topics include: Having a Day Job


[MUSIC PLAYING] - The most important thing to remember is that a day job is the greatest gift you can give to yourself as a writer. I find that it's so much easier to be creative-- to want to be creative when you're not worried about money. Even during my 20s and 30s when I was writing and freelancing, I had a day job. I worked in all kinds of environments. And it was just great to know that that took care of my needs, and then the writing took care of my emotions. Trying to make it as a writer-- I never discourage young writers, because it's ridiculous when successful writers say it's not possible anymore, because what you're saying is that I've closed all the doors behind me. And that's no way to be. It is possible, but it takes a long time, and most successful writers are also professors. If you look at them, they're all teaching. Claudia Rankine is at Yale. Zadie Smith is at NYU. Toni Morrison was at Princeton until her passing. People have to teach, if for nothing else, health insurance. So never think that the job is failure. The job is what makes your writing possible. The other thing is that you have to make your writing a priority, which means that you need to write regularly and make appointments with yourself and keep them. You don't have to write every day. You don't even have to write every week. But consistency goes a long way. The job is not in the way unless you allow it to be. And that's why I also encourage writers-- get jobs you can leave at the job but that will cover your expenses and also, in the best of all worlds, even though it's so rare for most of us, have a little cushion. When you try to write full time, you are being paid inconsistently and irregularly and you have to chase down money. You spend so much of your time chasing down money, because people don't want to pay you until 60 days after you've turned in your work. And some companies are now moving into net 90 and net 120, which just-- who can wait four months for payment when rent comes due every month? The going rate for a 2,000-word essay can be $300. That's a lot of writing to get to a living wage. And so if you don't have to support yourself on those $300 increments, you can take more time with your writing, and you can be more selective about what you do with your writing, and you can enjoy it instead of the writing becoming this obligation and the whole of your existence. It's not healthy when everything relies on the writing and you're not being paid well. Once you start getting paid well, of course, everything changes. But even then, it's not consistent. You don't know what your next royalty check is going to look like. Every year is precarious. And it's a great life, but I mean, you have to be willing to live that. And I can't imagine doing that as my only source of income. No thanks. I mean, I love writing, but not that much.

About the Instructor

Bestselling author, professor, and New York Times columnist Roxane Gay has connected to readers around the world with her unyielding truth-telling and highly personal feminism. In her MasterClass, she teaches you how to own your identity, hone your voice, write about trauma with care and courage, and navigate the publishing industry. Learn how to document and narrate the world as you see it—and then demand change.

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Roxane Gay

Bestselling author and cultural critic Roxane Gay teaches writing for social change and arms you with the skills needed to make an impact.

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