Why you should keep your day job and follow your passion at night

Many people dream of the day where they can quit their day job and do what they love – write a novel, start a business, take pictures full-time. But an essay on Aeon by novelist (and hedge-funder) Thomas Maloney urges us to keep the job and moonlight.

After taking the sensible route and joining a hedge fund after college, Maloney wrote a letter to himself, two be opened in two year’s time. When he read it, he didn’t quit his job and use his savings to write his novel, as the letter urged him to. He decided he needed to work more and save more. He also decided to stop waiting to write and began drafting his novel.

That’s when he became one of the “bifurcators,” as he called it – people splitting their time between a job and a passion.

“I wrote my two novels during brief spells of part-time work painstakingly negotiated (and generously granted by two different employers). I wrote in the evenings, on the train, and in a bookshop cafe when colleagues thought I was a the gym,” Maloney wrote.

There was a comfort in this setup, he added, and having a job took some pressure off the high-stakes pursuit of creativity. “Pursuing such a self-indulgent long-shot too formally, too publicly, seemed ill-advised.”

While Maloney succeeded twofold in his dream of writing a novel, he’s an advocate not for leaping blindly after a passion, but to compromise instead. “There is another group of achievers, less celebrated but perhaps happier on average, whose central accomplishment is a balancing act.”

There are too many famous writer-moonlighters to count, but here are a few: Short-story master George Saunders spent eight years working technical writing jobs; David Sedaris cleaned Manhattan apartments for years. Kurt Vonnegut worked at General Electric in the public relations department; Charles Bukowski worked for the Post Office as a mail carrier.

… and the other side of the coin

Sometimes, even full-time writers decide that writing can’t be their day job. This week, veteran freelance journalist Rebecca Schuman made a splash on Twitter when she’d announced that for the first time in four years, she’d made enough to support herself and her daughter… by writing less and doing other things to earn a living instead.

The national media outlets she had been writing for, she went on to say, simply didn’t pay the bills, especially in terms of the time and research that went into each article she wrote. So instead, she added other revenue streams: translating and project management consulting. Schuman estimated the new breakdown in how she made her living as 60% consulting, 30% translating, and 10% “writing things that matter to me.”

In short, the grass is always greener – legions dream about wanting to be a full-time writer (or wedding photographer, or DJ), but there may be a harsh economic reality that makes you long for the security of moonlighting once you get there.