Day Jobs, Creating, and the End of the World
Posted on February 8, 2019 Posted by John Scalzi 62 Comments
Because I assume most people lead full, rich and happy lives that do not revolve around the Internet, some of you may not be aware that a couple of days ago Writer Twitter blew up because a writer and editor named Jason Heller wrote a thread about day jobs, the first post of which was this:
(click on the tweet for the full thread)
Writer Twitter blew up at this advice and thread because the general mass of writers on Twitter consider this absolutely terrible advice (including, in the interest of disclosure, me). Things got testy, as they do on Twitter, because it’s Twitter, and a bit of the plot was lost. But now, a few days later, I think it’s worth looking again to see why this is still pretty bad advice in most cases, and also to note the few circumstances when it is not.
Let me preface by saying I’m pretty sure that the place Heller is coming from is something along the lines of “don’t let fear keep you from the work you’re meant to do” and also “seize the day.” Which, if that’s indeed where he’s coming from, is not bad advice! The time you have now is all the time you will ever have in the world, so if you’re not making the time within it to do the things you want to do with your life, you’re cheating yourself. Don’t do that. Do the things, creatively, you want to do. It will take time to get to the level you would want to be at, so starting sooner is better than later.
However (and this is where Heller is giving bad advice, and why Writer Twitter blew up at him), not only are having a day job and following your dreams not mutually exclusive, much of the time a day job is the thing that allows one to continue working toward those dreams, because it provides the things people need in order to live life generally, including money, health insurance (in the US, at least) and the relative stability that alleviates stresses in one’s life. Stresses like “oh, shit, how am I going to pay for rent this month” or “I’m out of my medications and can’t afford any more, which means I might die” or “I can’t feed my children, what’s up with that, the state frowns upon starving one’s progeny.” All of which can, in fact, put a damper on one’s creative drive.
Now, Heller addresses this by noting that he was punk and had been poor and didn’t expect a middle-class standard of living anyway. Well, that’s fine for Heller. But not everyone wants to be punk, and not everyone romanticizes poverty as an acceptable lifestyle if you have the ability to make a different choice. As it happens, I also have stretches of poverty in my history, occasionally of the “we don’t have a place to live and also here’s a box of Raisin Bran, let’s try to make it last a week” sort. I find valorizing that sort of scenario as an acceptable lifestyle choice odious, especially if other people are involved and are essentially hostages to your choices. Desperation almost never leads to art (and especially, good art). It mostly leads to making poor choices to get through one’s life because poor choices are the options one has.
But at least you have time to work on your art if you quit your day job, yes? Well, no, not really. Speaking again from experience, poverty and desperation are really time-intensive. One still has to live in the world, and when you’re poor and have limited resources, navigating a world designed to cater to people who can solve problems with money takes effort, and time, and the willingness to thread through all the barriers that are put up against the poor in our society. At least if you have a day job, the hours that you aren’t able to fill with creative work are exchanged for money (and health care, and 401(k)s, and such).
(Not to mention that even people who are full-time writers and creators aren’t always exactly clocking in eight hours a day on art. I do four hours a day max when I write because after that my brain is like “I’m done being creative for the day.” Sometimes I’ll get two hours. Sometimes less. So what do I do with the rest of that time? Shit, I could do a day job with that time — and did, for years, because I was working as a freelance writer and consultant. It was fun making money after my brain turned into a flan!)
Heller says in his Twitter thread that “You can and should say ‘fuck you’ to conventional wisdom and throw yourself off the cliff and see if you can learn how to fly on your way down.” Okay, but here’s the thing about that: Never in the history of the world has anyone ever thrown themselves off a cliff and learned to fly on the way down. Physics is not conventional wisdom. What people who fling themselves off cliffs do is accelerate, falling faster and faster, until they hit the ground and die, or if they’re lucky, merely break every bone in their body and take months or years to recuperate, if they do at all. Jesus, Scalzi, it’s a metaphor, I hear you say. Sure, it is, but look at the actual metaphor and what it says: See if you can do the thing literally no one else has ever done. It’s gonna be awesome! Meanwhile, right here by the cliff is a trail that will lead you to the bottom safely — sure, it’ll take longer to get to the bottom, but your arrival will not be occasioned by a broken, shattered body, and along the way you may have time to think and plot and strategize, so that when you arrive where you want to go, you have a plan for where to go next. Sexy metaphors are sexy, but there are better ways to actually lead one’s life.
“It’s so fucking harmful that we’re instilling writers with this dull, gray terror of taking risks or hurling themselves recklessly into their passion,” Heller writes in his Twitter thread. But I think his position is, intentionally or not, disingenuous. First, and again, it’s not either/or — one can take massive risks and live dangerously in one’s creative life, and still have a day job, and a comfortable material existence. Indeed, when one’s basic physical and psychological needs are met, one does not have to expend mental cycles on those needs and has them available for one’s creative work. Second, it’s not actually “fucking harmful” to tell writers (or any other creators) it’s all right to acknowledge they live in the world, and the world is set up in a way that they have to navigate, and also, can navigate and still have time for their passion.
Third, as noted by Annalee Flower Horne in her own Twitter response, some people like their day job and find it a source of validation and inspiration. That’s right, you can actually enjoy your day job and find it fulfilling! You might even use it as a wellspring for your creative life! And even if you don’t, you might still decide that as a person, you are living your best life with your day job and a creative job. It’s possible! And for some people, even essential.
The short version of this is it appears either Heller doesn’t know you can live dangerously and passionately in art and comfortably in world, or is aware of it, but is kinda contemptuous of it. If the former, well, he’s been told now, by lots of people, over and over, and it’s up to him to internalize it. If it’s the latter — and it might be, as his thread comes off as dismissive of people who aren’t willing to throw themselves off a cliff — then, as he might say, that’s a choice. It’s also not a choice everyone else has to make, or is often the best choice they could make, either for themselves or for the other people whose lives are tied to theirs.
Mind you, Heller may also believe his advice is predicated on a ticking clock. As he declares at the onset of his thread, “The world is ending.” So, here’s the thing about that: The world’s not ending, either physically or with respect to humanity. Physically, the world will end in five billion years when the sun, as a red giant, expands to engulf the planet. You will probably not be around for that. Before then, the world will still be here.
Now, that’s probably not where Heller is going; he’s probably suggesting that “Creeping fascism + global climate change = end of the world for humans.” And to be sure, it’s not a great combination. But then, in the 1980s, “Cold war + Mutually Assured Nuclear Destruction = end of the world for humans.” In the 1930s, “Rise of fascism + economic ruin of nations = end of the world for humans.” In the 1910s, “The First Global War + virulent supervirus = end of the world for humans.” In pretty much every era the equation is “[social/political issue] + [existential threat to human supremacy on the planet] = end of the world for humans.” It’s not to discount that creeping fascism and global climate changes are serious problems we need to address. Please, let’s. It’s to say there is always a potential end of the world.
And yet in every era, people created and held down day jobs! It’s possible to do, even when staring down the gaping maw of nothingness and oblivion. You can do it! If you want to! Also, the world’s probably not actually ending — it’s changing, but that’s not the same as ending — so maybe don’t use that as a serious assessing factor. Even with global climate change, it will take several decades for it to suss out. You’ll probably be dead for the worst of it anyway. Meanwhile you still have bills and need to eat (and also, hey, maybe agitate politically against global fascism and climate change denial, that would be awesome of you).
So, in sum: Yeeeeeeah, you don’t usually have to quit your day job in order to throw yourself into your art. And in fact, most of the time it’s probably not a great idea. So maybe don’t.
After all this, you may ask, when should you quit your day job to throw yourself, recklessly and passionately, into your art? Well, alone or in combination:
1. As Nick Mamatas notes in his own Twitter thread, if your day job (whatever it is) is giving you a life no better than what you would get being a starving artist anyway, why the fuck not?
2. If you have a spouse/partner/family who has a stable income/benefits and is willing to support your freeloading ass while you whittle away at your creative work, then, sure. But also be sure to acknowledge, to yourself if not to anyone else, that you’re catching a hell of a break here.
3. If you hate your job with such a passion that it sucks your will to live no matter how well it pays or how awesome the benefits, then you should probably consider leaving that job regardless of any creative aspirations. However, maybe see if there’s a different job with similar pay/benefits you could move into, one that doesn’t make you want to collapse into a ball, before just ditching it all. It’s amazing how fast the money runs out.
4. If you’re already financially doing so well with your creative work that your day job is acting as a drag to your income (which can happen!).
5. You are independently wealthy and you’ve been keeping a day job mostly as an affectation and/or have been awarded a grant (or book advance!) large enough to cover your life expenses for years as you create.
6. You have no dependents, are of a social demographic where taking years out of the labor pool to fuck about on a creative endeavor will not be taken as inherent flakiness (hello, straight white men!), and think starving in a cold-water bedsit is a cheeky adventure to be experienced, not a fate to be avoided.
Otherwise? Consider your day job may be a positive, not a negative.
In the end, the enemy of creativity is not a day job, or indeed, anything else that might exist in your life other than your creative impulse (which includes but is not limited to family, friends, spouses, pets, hobbies, politics, entertainment and the world in general). The enemy is you — and your choice to use any of the above not to engage in the creative life you believe you should have. The world is not ending, but you will. You will not be here forever. You have to make the decision to throw yourself into your art, with whatever time you have. If you decide it’s important, then you’ll find the time. Even with a day job. And all the rest of the world, ending or otherwise.
1. Play nice, and especially let’s avoid slagging on Mr. Heller. As noted, I think he was coming from a place of trying to be helpful. Focus on the points, not the players.
2. One aspect I barely touch on above but is worth noting in a more expansive way is that I think Heller’s advice touches on the fact that he is white and male and (as I understand he’s married to a woman) at least benefiting from social advantages of straightness. And that does matter in terms of his assertion that “there will always be other day jobs.” Will there be? And will they be of the same income level/social quality as the one’s he suggests one leaves behind? I think for him (or, say, me), possibly. For everyone else? Well, that’s a good question.
3. I noted on Twitter, and it’s worth noting here, that I wrote a baker’s dozen of books, fiction and non-fiction, either when I had a full-time job with a company, or was operating full-time as a freelance writer and corporate consultant, and those books include award winners and New York Times bestsellers. So, it really is possible to live a creative life and do other work as well. I’ll also note that through most of that, Krissy had a full-time job which included our insurance and benefits, so that definitely helped.
Some of the best advice I’ve seen all week.
I feel very lucky and blessed to have a day job, that pays my expenses, is emotionally fulfilling and to my mind useful. I am a librarian.
1. Mmmmmmm, flan.
2. I think it varies from person to person, but I have noted as it applies to me and told my 25-year-old writer son this (his mileage may vary), sometimes it seems very advantageous to have a good “day job” that pays bills, etc., and be a novelist on the side because writing your book is one thing and promoting it is another. And, barring the luck of a generous advance and a publishing house that does more than list your book in their upcoming catalog, you’re probably going to have to fund the promotion thing yourself, whatever it might be. And since my “day job” is as a freelance writer and editor with the novels part of the income, but a much smaller part than I would prefer, promoting those books in the traditional way–conferences, book signings, etc.–takes time and energy. And in this case, takes time and energy away from the “day job.” But if you have a “day job” with paid time off and a regular salary, particularly if the “day job” doesn’t make your life miserable, you can afford to do these promotional-type things and take some time off to do them, as necessary, without actually taking away from your livelihood (which I enjoy). And as I said, everyone’s mileage may vary.
Glen Cook is probably an outlier, but he gave us the Black Company and Garrett series while working full-time at a GM truck plant.
Glen Cook is not an outlier. Nearly every writer (and most creative folks) have day jobs, including full-time unrelated work. It’s the writers who don’t have day jobs who are the outliers.
The idea that you can always get another day job is fine if you’re willing to work the jobs punks work, but if you want, I don’t know, *health insurance* and *job stability*, well, day jobs offering those aren’t so easily acquired. Especially in 2019.
I more or less followed Heller’s advice. Generally, I’d work at a job for a number of years then I would take a “sabbatical” to do something, some project, such as a long distance bicycle trek. It worked out, mostly because I rarely had much in the way of debt, was single, and no kids… at most, two cats. Ultimately one sabbatical to learn elementary programming skills turned into two decades of free lance / part time gigs, most of which were interesting and educational in one way or another. The down side is that now, officially retired, I probably shouldn’t plan on living much past my mid-70s (still a ways off) as Social Security ONLY pays the rent and my other income covers only medical. Look for work? The last job interview I did was back in 1988 and that was pro forma. Obviously I now have an “opportunity cost” of wardrobe, resume and interview skills to deal with. This is not a bad place to be, even so, but it’s also not an incentive to look for entry level abuse.
I don’t know if Heller’s advice is good or not. First, define your criteria for “good”. In any case, it’s free, so take it for what it’s worth.
Oh yes… the world WILL be ending soon. Just not for everyone at the same time.
“But not everyone wants to be punk, and not everyone romanticizes poverty as an acceptable lifestyle if you have the ability to make a different choice. As it happens, I also have stretches of poverty in my history, occasionally of the “we don’t have a place to live and also here’s a box of Raisin Bran, let’s try to make it last a week” sort. I find valorizing that sort of scenario as an acceptable lifestyle choice odious, especially if other people are involved and are essentially hostages to your choices. Desperation almost never leads to art (and especially, good art). It mostly leads to making poor choices to get through one’s life because poor choices are the options one has.”
Good lord yes. I have moments of such poverty in my very recent past, (like, earlier in this decade when I was in my early 30s) and I live in *utter terror* of returning to it. I have done very little writing or creative work generally since crawling out of that because, even six years on, I still don’t quite feel safe enough to take a serious break from reinforcing the barrier I’ve built against such a return (mentally, I mean, not like actually taking days off work to write). However: I did manage to make my first short fiction sale in 13 years because I *did* finally have the headspace and the health left over at the end of the day to take some old things out, dust them off, and turn them into something that works. (I am also one of those lucky few who genuinely like their job–I’m a production editor for online learning materials at a university–though I resent the fact that I *have* to work inside a specific kind of labour system in order to have the right to live, but that’s a whole other thing.)
I am deeply, deeply suspicious of any advice that doesn’t come with a kind of “this works for me in X circumstances, and may apply to you if your circumstances are similar” rider attached. Much like all that money-saving and investing advice in newspapers that should mostly begin with “first, be middle class…” I understood the urge to make bold, universal pronouncements when I was 20, but I’ve lived a life since then and I understand its complexities a lot more. Back then I couldn’t even grasp the shape of how much I didn’t understand, never mind the scale of it. I so often think of writing as the art that is very often capable of helping us develop a deeper or more sophisticated understanding of those complexities, and it’s troubling to see someone who creates some of that art and shapes the art of others be so caught up in the limiting “one true path” narrative.
I have no idea if it was intended or not, but there’s a strong whiff of the old “Real writers are sensitive lonely souls starving in a garret” idea. Which is, as it always has been, a load of utter ballocks. Or the other one that goes with it “suffering produces better art”. Both nonsense, both nearly unkillable.
Point of possible interest re: jumping off of a cliff: Jim Harrison (of Legends of the Fall fame) fell off of a cliff and, while convalescing, wrote his first novel Wolf: A False Memoir. Not that this is a preferred (or repeatable) method of freeing up time to write.
Coincidentally, some of my most productive creative time in recent memory happened between being fired from my previous job and being hired for my current position.
My lifetime favorite work experience was after Apple laid me off, sneaking in to continue working six months unpaid powered purely by passion and stubbornness. But they paid me well beforehand and I had no dependents so I could afford to be reckless. http://www.PacificT.com/Story
You have no dependents, are of a social demographic where taking years out of the labor pool to fuck about on a creative endeavor will not be taken as inherent flakiness (hello, straight white men!), and think starving in a cold-water bedsit is a cheeky adventure to be experienced, not a fate to be avoided.
I get that you’re being a bit facetious here, but in all seriousness I think this is problematic advice too. I only nitpick because my elder brother has had – suffice to say – major mental health issues off and on for most of his life, and after a particularly bad spell – in which he was out of a job for over two years – he had real difficulty re-integrating into the labor force. No matter who you are: if at all possible, I’d recommend avoiding gaps on your resume. The economy is better now than it was back in 2011, so maybe his experience would be different today, especially because he is a white man, which – I agree – probably would help… but nonetheless, I wouldn’t bank on it.
Assuming you’re not independently wealthy – in which case this whole discussion is moot – in my experience the only people who can afford big resume gaps are going to be very well-networked – usually via parents or perhaps (if you’re very lucky) good friends or a spouse. That would be key, in my opinion. Can someone get your foot in the door, if you ever need to come crawling back?
Point 2 SO MUCH.
The farther you get from the fabled Lowest Difficulty Setting, the more actually dangerous it is to live “punk”. Like, actual physical danger.
Claiming that people are too wedded to the status quo to do a thing while ignoring that the thing is WAY MORE DANGEROUS for them than it is for you is not a good look.
Great dose of reality vs the world of inspirational quotes (which I have learned to hate!)
Re the partner supporting you while you get to be creative, would that cover getting housekeeping or nanny help just to get the 4 hours of creative space, if there are children? I got to hear a lot of “you don’t go to work, I can’t figure out what you do all day long” while caring for 2 children born a year apart.
If I had one chance to advise my younger self, I’d say, make sure that “day job”, that “side workl, that “alternate occupation” is unlikely to drain your energy and your creativity; otherwise it will become your identity. There is no second life.
I just got thrown off the metaphorical cliff: was notified yesterday that I will be laid off effective March 31. That seven-week notice is, as I told a friend, a silver wrapper around a box full of shit. I’ve been advised that if I clean everything up and hand everything over next week, I still get till 3/31 to come in, draw a paycheck, and search for a job. It’s a golden parachute in my line of work (paralegal).
However, I’ll have to get another job. Because I’m 53, and I’m married to a self-employed person, and one of us needs a job with benefits – or at least a steady, predictable paycheck – and that has always been me.
I’ll be eligible for unemployment insurance payments, which a lot of disemployed people aren’t. Another silver wrapper. Because of that, I’ll probably use most of my notice period NOT looking for a job, but trying to get an agent, and otherwise powering up on the publication next-steps and the marketing for my book series.
I really appreciate having a place like this to read advice from a real person about the writing life and all its challenges.
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
I work in a library and LOVE my job. I just happen to love writing a little bit more. Turns out, the two are pretty complementary, since the library keeps me knowledgeable about new releases and sales trends in publishing. Even if writing could replace my income, I don’t think I would stop working entirely. It’d feel… weird.
His advice kind of came across as borderline ‘Suffering for your Art’ trope in real life, and that idea needs to die. As you said, when you’re hungry, cold, and/or homeless, those are all you can focus on. All those stories of how this creative person or that made it through one hell or another and ‘look, they wrote/drew/painted/composed all this art’ always seem to overlook one thing: the creative either survived it and is now comfortable, or they’re dead.
Well said, as usual. As far as the original quote goes, the notion of throwing yourself into your passions is a good one, since what is life without something to be passionate about? The “throw yourself off the cliff” thing may be a misunderstanding of one of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” stories, in which the young playwright protagonist has dreams of falling (a close typo for “failing”). Morpheus points out to him: “You know what happens when you dream of falling? Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.” He’s not suggesting that this is a great choice IRL.
I think this comes down to the hoary question of work/life balance. For 30+ years as a scientific editor, I’ve spent my days helping other people write. With what I learned along the way, I published a few hundred “here’s something cool I learned that you can use in your work” nonfiction pieces and done a lot of teaching of same. Very satisfying. But the combination of the day job and my nonfiction writing left very little time for fiction. Now, as I’ve been slouching towards retirement, I’ve been making a conscious effort to free up more time for fiction. I’m still a baby fiction writer (6 pro sales to date), but can see being a toddler fiction writer not so far away and maybe even a grownup at some point. Very satisfying in a different way.
Speaking of boring jobs, one of the odd effects of my first summer jobs was that boredom at work was directly correlated with creativity after I left work. I did some of my most creative work designing role-playing scenarios for our D&D group afterwards. It was like my creative brain was building up a head of steam all day until it could be released when I got home. So like John says, having a day job doesn’t necessarily stifle creativity. On the contrary.
Apropos of nothing, Franz Kafka wrote The Metamorphosis while he worked a day job at an insurance company, so… there is that.
Personally, I like not having to situate my art in a money-oriented space. I don’t think I’d enjoy creation as much if it was tied to “Is this going to pay the bills?” With my day job handling money and fulfilling other aspects of my life, my art stuff can avoid a bunch of things I’d rather not have it associated with.
And because this is the internet, I feel the need to add: There’s nothing wrong with making money from your art, wanting to make money from your art, or wanting your art to be your full-time job.
It should also be noted that creativity is FUN and, financially speaking, there are way too many talented people doing it. Large publishers receive 10,000 unsolicited manuscripts every year, and publish less than 1. That 1 usually makes a loss for the publisher, as there are more people creating books (even good ones!) than there is a market for.
This reminds my of something Guy Debord said that I’ve tried to live by, paraphrasing: We must be organized and structured in our life so that we can be creative and wild in our art.
I didn’t read Jason Heller’s tweet, nor dd I follow the Twitter thread. I do, in fact, enjoy my day job for a variety of reason (well, most of the time anyway) so I do not feel tempted to quit it. You make some valid and wonderful points. I love to write, but I feel my day job supports my creative impulses rather than limits them. Dreaming about a life where I can kick back and indulge my passions is a sweet pastime that I do take pleasure in from time to time, and then reality sets in. Nope, not gonna quit my day job and live on a wing and a prayer – not given to throwing myself off cliffs either.
I enjoyed this post – lots of food for thought.
avitzur, from now on you are my hero. Seriously.
I have a blue collar day job. Pays well, benefits are great (keeping in mind the health benefits of living in Canada not requiring all that’s needed in the US), but it can be damned exhausting. My wife has an academic/administrative career that pays significantly more than mine. So we are doing quite well, thankyouverymuch. After my novel I had a couple of books come out, a collection and a co-written novella from PS. And a few shorts sold along the way. But for a good long time I had seriously considered walking away from this biz, partly because of frustration with certain people, partly with certain aspects of the industry (all of which may explain why I have not attended a con for 5 or 6 years). But more because I chose to throw myself into my sons’ lives and was feeling that more than I was feeling the words.
But the boys are grown now, and the words are creeping out again. I didn’t expect them to, but I wrote and sold a story without really meaning to. But while they’re still in university I’m still going to need to keep working, and therefore the writing will always play second fiddle. And I’m happy with that. I don’t write with speed, and so the odds of lightning striking for me are even longer.
Thanks for posting this, John!
I’ve recently actually just self-pubbed my first novel, and honestly? I don’t know if quitting my day job would help me be more productive or help me get more done with my creative work. There’s a Bukowski bit I often think of:
“if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your
you’re going to create blind
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
the whole city trembles in earthquakes, bombardment,
flood and fire.
baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
And that is so real! I would love to make a living off of selling my books, but that really isn’t the driving force behind doing it. I’m not going to quit my day job — and my work is not going to suffer for it!
Two anecdotes to bolster points you made. Before I got to your third point about liking your day job I was thinking about how when I started following N.K. Jemisen on twitter, she still had her day job, and liked it a lot. When she finally decided to quit, she missed it quite a bit. I wonder if another piece of the puzzle is that the phrase “day job” carries the idea that you are more genuinely an artist if you hate what you are doing for money. Maybe it’s healthier to aspire to having a day job that feeds rather then drains you.
The other story I love is Terry Pratchett’s talking about leaving the PR for the nuclear industry only when he realized that he was loosing money. He jokingly said it only took him two days to start saying “I hate those bastards”. Whatever I publish or not, I’d just love to love the process of writing as much as he did.
” That’s right, you can actually enjoy your day job and find it fulfilling! You might even use it as an inspirational source for your creative life! ”
A number of examples come to mind, where it seems that an author’s “day job” had significant influence on their art. Many of the stories of Louis Auchincloss, particularly those in _Powers of Attorney_ seem influenced by his day job. This is even truer of john Grisham and Robert Traver (John D. Voelker), both of whom used legal cases they had been involved in as the basis for best-selling novels. Perhaps I had better think of some non-lawyers here. Well, what would Ring Lardner’s fiction have been without his work as a newspaper man? The same might be said of Damon Runyon, or in the SF field, of Clifford Simack, Frederick Brown and Cyril Kornbluth,. Issac Asimov’s background in biology and history surely informed some of his work, and more formal credentials in history are behind the work of Harry Turtledove and Katherine Kurtz. In short, a “day job” can give a writer something to write about.
As to “The world is ending” I take that as merely a metaphor for “it is later than you think” — the simple fact that none of us lives forever, and creative time is limited. Perhaps an overly dramatic way to make that point.
There are different kinds of creativity in life, and giving over to one kind at the cost of another is not a terrible thing. I do many things well. I had the potential for many different avenues in life. I do other things poorly, like take big risks or suffer from instability in my life. I am a children’s librarian. Every day is a massive combination of skills, creativity, energy and cultivation of collection and readers. I am a mom, working to raise two kids who have creative souls and the confidence to use them. Back when I was a kid, I thought I’d be a published author. That hasn’t happened–yet. But I’ve never stopped writing. When I was too exhausted to do much creative writing, I wrote blogs and reviews and book talks. I wrote poems. I’m creative even if its never going to pay the bills or be noticed on a large scale. It works for me. And now that my kids are older , I’ve been working on the writing again. And what the hell, this year may try submitting some stories. If I succeed, great. If not–I’ll still write for the rest of my life.
But some of the greatest creativity I have goes into others–every day. Into my kids, into my patrons. I’ve inspired new readers and given parents confidence in sharing books with their kids. I’ve helped new teachers find their feet with books and most of my regulars are certain I have superpowers in knowing where everything is and what they’re talking about when no one else does. That matters to me on a scale I can’t even fathom. Because I get to participate in other authors creativity by sharing them, connecting new readers, listening to my patrons tell me about the books they love or the books they want. I never want to stop. The world may end, but I’ll still plant my apple tree.
As we use Heller as a springboard to our own discussions, let’s remember that, as noted, “he was trying to be helpful.” I say that not for him, but as a reminder for all blog cases in future.
So Glen Cook works at a GM truck plant? The day job of Algis Budrys was selling trucks.
I like what I have read of Budrys. (to varying degrees) I just wanted to say that Budrys sacrificed a lot of man-hours, when he could have been writing, in order to read sf and reflect and write his book criticisms (not mere reviews) for Galaxy magazine. He performed a service for the sf field by doing so, but at a cost to his own work.
Only to the extent that you consider a criticism not to be “actual” work of his. Also, you are suggesting that possibly the time that he was using for criticism was time that he would have otherwise used exclusively for writing fiction, which is not necessarily the case.
I appreciate this thread!
Also, I really appreciate Nick Mamatas comment. There’s a huge difference between a “day job” that’s three 16-hour-a-week gigs at fast food and telemarketing mashed together, and a day job that’s like what I have now: emotionally fulfilling work with benefits in a comfortable setting.
Heck yes quit your day job if you come home every day crying from physical exhaustion, and being berated, and after you cover your basic needs you can’t afford to leave the house (let alone, like, go to therapy).
“Quit your day job and follow your dream” helped me when I was utterly miserable, because I was able to figure out that the worst case scenario if I quit and couldn’t afford rent was, I’d have to move back in with my parents or sister. And, I’d probably have to connect with a social worker, get on Medicaid and SNAP. But I wasn’t going to be homeless or starve.
Whereas worst case scenario if I kept doing what I was doing was, possibly, I might die. I felt sick all the time: my jaw hurt but I couldn’t go to the dentist, my mind hurt but I couldn’t go to therapy, and my heart hurt becaue my life felt increasingly meaningless. And I ended realizing like, frig, okay. If I get Medicaid, I can go to the dentist and therapy. I can say I’m a self-employed writer making $0 per year, and I can make the best of it. I can write every day if I want to.
It’s not what I ended up doing in the long haul. But there was a time where that dream of, “Writing and living off my parents and government benefits” was an attainable hope, and that hope kept my from making far worse descisions. I think there’s a lot of shame around living with family as an adult, and getting government benefits, but there doesn’t have to be. For me, “follow your dream” was about letting that shame go.
And, nowadays I have a better day job, plus I write creative things; the only government subsidy I get is for housing.
tl;dr I know there are wealthy / priveleged people who use ‘follow your dream’ as a bludgeon, and that’s awful. Also, having kids is a huge reponsibility and it *has* to change your priorities. And I know not everyone has parents or family members they can live rent-free with.
But, I also think “follow your dream” can empower people to make choices that really help heal themselves, especially when others belittle those choices (and, worse, try to take those choices away from people politically). I can think of a few people who would say that I “mooched” off the government because, technically, I could’ve held down a job but chose not to. But, I don’t think of it that way.
When Neo went to the Oracle, he said he’s not the one, and she told him he has the gift, but he’s waiting for something, his next life, maybe. Afterwords, Morpheus told Neo the Oracle told him what he needed to hear. That’s the rub about advice: good advice for one person could be horrible advice for someone else. There is probably someone for whom Heller’s advice is just the thing he needs to hear to pursue his dream. And for others, quitting their day job to pursue their dream of underwater basket weaving would be a terrible path to take. It might be that if the Oracle gave the exact same advice to spoon-bending kid, it would have destroyed his path to mastering the matrix. Her advice wasn’t instrinsically good for all, it was what Neo needed to hear, it was good… for Neo.
It seems that folks criticizing Heller are criticizing it as bad advice -per se-, independent of who reads it. And that seems a bit unfair. In his fifth tweet Heller makes clear this is advice for those who need to hear it, that its not for everyone, and that its OK if you don’t follow his advice: “It’s fine if people don’t want to take risks with their creative lives. But realize it’s a choice, not a reality that’s set in stone.”
His only sin really then is demanding that his choice exists. In this he is uncompromising, and that seems to piss off his loudest critics, who are howling that there is only one choice, keep your day job, and its a reality set in stone for everyone. Its impossible to criticize Heller’s message without either ignoring the fact that he says its not for everyone and its fine if you dont follow his advice, OR, taking that into consideration and critizing his message anyway implying that there is only one possible path to life and all should follow it.
Also, Heller’s critics want to ignore his literal spelling out that this is an option and no one has to follow his advice, but then those same critics want to take other parts of his advice entirely literally, but out of context of the whole message. “The world is ending. Quit your day job.” ZOHMYGAWD HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT!?!?! Which would be fine except, a sentence later, he says “If for some reason the world doesn’t end”, at which point, Heller has made clear this is not literal, this is metaphor. And criticizing him because one refuses to see the metaphor and insists on taking some of his words literally (world is ending) while ignoring entire swaths of his other words (“it’s a choice, not a reality that’s set in stone”).
It seems a little disingenuous to grill Heller for a literal interpretation of something clearly metaphoric, while simultaneously ignoring his literal acknowledgement that his advice isn’t for everyone and that its ok if you don’t follow it. Also, I don’t think Heller literally suggested people throw themselves off cliffs, the moment I read “throw yourself off the cliff and see if you can learn how to fly”, I assumed it was a reference to Hitchiker’s Guide, something something throw yourself at the ground and miss something something. Whether this was a HHGTTG reference or not, it seems pretty clear it was never intended literally.
Back when I went to art school, my mentor (a nationally famous artist), had a different version of this advice. His was:
“Get a job pumping gas”
What he meant by this was:
“Get a day job that pays you slightly above subsistence income and requires no mental energy whatsoever, so that you can spend your entire day thinking about the artwork you’re going to make on your own time. Also a job that you’re happy to walk away from as soon as your artwork starts to pay enough to get by on.”
This is not advice that I ultimately followed, and it was also given at a time when the US’s social safety net was a lot better. But I still find it interesting from the perspective of “if you primarily want to be an artist, you want a day job that doesn’t use up your creativity.”
I noted elsewhere that I work full time and yet still managed to write over 160k words of fanfiction last year. I’m not interested in being a published writer of original fiction – that’s not me. But I do love the writing I do and I know other people read and enjoy it. Plus, my day job is also fulfilling, even if it is also at times frustrating. I work in the public sector and I feel like I’m being useful in society as well as being creative.
Also, because this is bothering me, the original quote is this:
“If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go in business because we’d be cynical: ‘It’s gonna go wrong.’ Or ‘She’s going to hurt me.’ Or ‘I had a couple of bad love affairs so therefore …’
“Well, that’s nonsense. You’re going to miss life. You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
It’s a Ray Bradbury quote, a metaphor he used in more than one of his stories. Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams were both really influenced by Bradbury, and in both ‘Sandman’ and HHGTTG, their riffs were intentional.
The stories with this metaphor were all about finding hope in bleak-seeming, impossible moments. It’s about making the choice to envision a better future and then choosing to pursue that vision, because without it, we’re just going to get stuck here. He used it when talking about acting towards racial equality and protesting Jim Crow laws, in one instance, in an interview in the documentary ‘Story of a Writer’ in 1963. At the time, they seemed impossible to overcome. And some people who chose to pursue a racially equal future were killed over it. But the dream lived. Jim Crow laws were overturned. We have a long way to go, but the people who died for that vision didn’t die in vain.
Bradbury intentionally evoked the image of how deadly the reality of pursuing a dream can be, while also inspiring people to pursue it anyway. Because sometimes dreams and hope fuels a kind of change that previously seemed miraculous.
It’s frustrating to see the metaphor applied to an individual, personal life-goal, rather than a big dream for all of us. But that doesn’t make the metaphor bad or foolish; it just means we need to dream bigger. What’s worth risking my life for? A writing career? Probably not. But, love? Or, a movement towards equality? Or…the answer to a question. I think finding that is vital.
I actually didn’t start writing until after I was laid off and reemployed by the same company (I’m a state guv’ment worker), so I did find something of a silver lining in a pile of shitty stress. I actually do enjoy my job (now) and some of the people I deal with on a daily basis for my job are for the most part, not self-centered (now).
For 10 years my job gave me enough inspiration for at least 33% of my blog posts and some of the people that I’ve met in that same decade have been my inspiration for the many stories that I do write.
So ultimately, my day job doesn’t stifle my creativity one iota. More often than not, it inspires my creativity.
Greg says: His only sin really then is demanding that his choice exists.
No, actually, his sin is insisting that the people for whom his advice is not a good choice are just angry and bitter that they didn’t follow his advice.
Also, people whose ability to chuck it all and devote themselves to writing has been the result of their spouse being willing to work a full-time job and pay the bills should just not give other people advice like this. Ever.
I’d take Jason’s thoughts as Scalzi suggests, “don”t forget your dreams in the midst of making a living”. Still, you get married and make kids and you need to provide for them. Responsibilities come before dreams, don’t ya know it. My best “just before I die” image is; “Love you dad, glad we could spend time together.” My boy is my heart and my dream.
Excellent essay. Like a lot of us, I’ve got a day job that doesn’t require very much mental effort. I think about more interesting things while doing it, and sometimes find time at the office to work on my own writing projects.
Ten years ago, I did in fact quit my day job and focus on writing, but the quitting was because a wretchedly poor boss had made the job intolerable. I didn’t know how long I’d be between jobs, so I used the free time to get back to serious writing after a gap of many years. But, I did get new day work as soon as it was available. (Temping, then eventually the steady job I have now.)
I’ve been poor to the point of homelessness before. It doesn’t provide an environment for good creative work; the poverty becomes the overwhelming fact in your existence.
JJ: “his sin is insisting that the people for whom his advice is not a good choice are just angry and bitter that they didn’t follow his advice.”
Heh, right. All the criticism against Heller has been “We’re not bitter!” No one has criticized his advice as universally wrong. Oh wait:
“should just not give other people advice like this. Ever.”
He is just wrongity wrong wrong and no one under any circumstamces can ever possibly benefit from his advice. Ever.
As I said, his sin is insisting his path is a valid path for some, and his loudest critics insist that their path is the only way. Ever.
I recently reread Damnation Alley; it’s brilliant, and it underlines very clearly the fact that writers have been responding to ‘the world is ending’ for quite some time now.
There are weird echoes of the ‘throw yourself off the cliff’ advice on this side of the pond; our politics has reached the point where Twitter rants are sources of fact-based rational analysis by comparison with some of the (apparently) serious statements made in Parliament by our major political parties. And thus we stumble towards a cliff edge Brexit, urged on by howls about resuming our rightful place as an imperial power and exhortations to starve Ireland so they can’t foul up our manifest destiny.
Yes, really; they haven’t noticed that the last time we starved Ireland it didn’t turn out too well, for the Irish and for the British, and yet large numbers of people have convinced themselves that if they just leap off that cliff edge there will be a paradise awaiting them at the bottom. This is, to put it mildly, unlikely.
I’m with Colin; I think I would take significantly fewer risks in my writing if I depended on my income from it to survive. As it is, I have a comfortable day job and can spend my free time writing weird little stories that I’m passionate about because it doesn’t actually matter if I make much (or any!) money off of them. If my writing was my main source of income, I would have to write for the market, which isn’t something I want to do (not intended as any disrespect to people who do want to do that! I’m just not one of them). This marriage of economic risk to creative risk seems very weird to me, and seems like something that’s largely only accessible to people with an extremely robust safety net.
Also, I find people who talk about poverty as a ‘punk’ choice that a person can make and then leave the moment they want to entirely tiresome. Because that isn’t poverty the way poor people experience it. That’s slumming.
Greg, et al:
What did I say about making this about Heller? Stop it, please.
It is truly amazing how many “I quit my day job and now I can make Art for a living!” dudes I know coincidentally just so happen to be married to women who have conventional, full-time jobs. Most of them are upfront about their good fortune, rather than shouting “jump off a cliff, whaddaya CHICKEN?!” while comfortably ensconced in a parachute harness.
[Deleted because Greg either can’t follow directions — they’re in the first comment — or thinks they don’t apply to him. This is not the first time for Greg. So Greg is in moderation until he learns he’s not special — JS]
The romantic (and generally rebellious) starving artist exerting authentic artistic authenticiy trope was at least a century old when I was young. I wonder whether it’s a mildly secularized version of sell-all-you-have-and-follow-me, an artistic twist on a moral-purity stance.
I have noticed among artistically active folk of my acquaintance the following: I-need-to-write, I-want-to-be-a-writer, and I-want-to-make-a-living-at-writing (or insert any artistic activity), all of which may or may not apply at the same time. And sometimes the want/need and activity/status tensions can make for emotional discomfort and/or strange choices. (Many of my wife’s creative-writing students seemed to aspire more to having-written [preferably with fame & fortune attached] than to writing itself.)
Anecdotage from an adjacent territory: A friend is a very accomplished musician who, finding himself single parent of a toddler, worked day jobs while maintaining a paying/playing life in bar bands. When his son became independent, Dad decided that *all* he wanted to do was make music and accepted that he would never have a nice car or the rest of the impedimenta of middle-class life, so that was the end of day jobs. And there’s an extra twist to this artistic life: he ran a rock band, playing mostly in venues where the customers wanted familiar tunes, so he diligently worked up acceptable (and ingenious and effective) versions of the desired repertory. He told me that that he had all kinds of material of his own devising that would not go over with his audiences, so they weren’t in the band’s repertory. But he did love playing for people who enjoyed listening, even if it meant “covers” (a term he never uses).
An addendum that’s not a twist: this guy is an authentic bohemian who probably never would have settled for a conventional middle-class lifestyle in any case–music and art and books are what he cares about. Freedom from the responsibilities of parenthood meant he could live whatever kind of marginal existence he chose. He’s the closest thing to a starving artist I’ve encountered personally, and he’s made his peace with it. (Though lack of medical insurance damn near killed him a few years back.)
We are finite creatures, and as another friend used to point out, alternatives exclude.
One of the most prolific writers I know is a woman who started an internet newspaper for her own small corner of the universe after the local print newspaper gradually became nothing more than an advertising circular. She attends every single county and town committee meeting and reports on them, writes feature articles about people and events in her community, writes hysterical garden and cooking columns, and uses the paper to serialize her fiction. She lives by selling ads for the paper and on donations, and she actually makes enough to support herself because her community values her contributions.
This is not the writing life she envisioned for herself 40 years ago when we were in college. But it’s a way of making a living doing what she loves, in a place she loves.
She didn’t do it by jumping off a cliff – during the first 25 years of her career, she did everything from journalism grunt work (obits, for instance) to copy writing, and too many odd jobs to list. All of it has been fodder for her fiction writing.
I think everyone should be able to follow their dreams, but I think anyone who wants a career in a creative field needs to be flexible about their definitions of success, particularly now that technology is changing how art is created and accessed.
(Also, just for the record, my friend says that occasionally she realizes that what she really wants to be is a “wroter” not a writer, because the best part is when you’re done.)
I have more than one friend who, when Obamacare started being actually available, were able to quit their day jobs because they now had a way to get affordable health insurance without them. Some are writers, some are programmers, at least one is a lawyer who now has her own firm with a couple of other partners instead of working for a big law firm. But the writer I know best had already gotten published when she had her day job, so she knew she had the skills and liked the work of writing, and wasn’t just sending her stuff to slush piles hoping it would get discovered.
I also wrote scads of plots while “taking notes” in meetings–and actually did a lot of writing at various day jobs themselves. Most office-style work involves a certain amount of downtime, and writing is a less obvious form of keeping yourself occupied during that than is surfing FB.
I think there’s definitely a place for rethinking what your life “should be,” and sometimes that can include taking a less demanding day job and/or living a little closer to the bone than might be the case otherwise in order to pursue whatever your thing is, whether that’s creative work or travel or parenthood. (My current day job pays 5K a year less than my previous one did, but it’s also all-remote, which means a lot to me.) But, first, that’s more along the lines of “eat more lentil casserole and put on a sweater when it’s 60,” not “starve in a garret.” Second, framing any particular manifestation of those choices in terms of personal courage and fulfilled dreams versus dull gray blah blah blah and bad cliff metaphors is not the way to express that.
(Also, I got less “trying to be helpful” and more “trying to show the world how PUNK ROCK!!! I am, MAAAAAN,” but I am cynical about that kind of guy.)
I’m calling BS that it’s somehow your fault if you’re not consistently creatively productive with a day job. My creative work is extremely intellectually demanding as well as creatively demanding. My day job is intellectually draining because it is extremely boring but requires a lot of focus. As a result I have essentially nothing left for my creative work unless I burn the candle at both ends. I’ve been doing this for a few years and it is not sustainable.
Believe me, I get the importance of a regular paycheck and health insurance, but it’s costing me what’s really important to me. I’m at the point where I need to either quit the job or the creative work for the sake of my sanity and well-being. It’s a tradeoff someone shouldn’t have to make in a wealthy Western country.
““If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go in business because we’d be cynical: ‘It’s gonna go wrong.’ Or ‘She’s going to hurt me.’ Or ‘I had a couple of bad love affairs so therefore …’
“Well, that’s nonsense. You’re going to miss life. You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
Bullshit. My intellect told me it was definitely right to move 1,000 miles and marry my (then) long-distance girlfriend. Heart and head aren’t automatically in opposition.
Some people really do seem to get a buzz of energy off living on the edge and hustling to survive. I’ve never been one of them. So yeah, the advice definitely doesn’t work for me.
I remember back in the 1980s, I read a couple of articles that took another slant on this: if you can’t afford to give up your day job, give up everything else in your life. The writers recounting this positively bragged about how they had done nothing but write — no hanging with friends, no family events, nothing but their art! That didn’t work for me either.
It’s reeeeally nice to have something to fall back on while you’re trying to make a Living From Your Art. Starving and having a sinus infection with no insurance and worrying about rent will put a major crimp in your ability to crank out art of whatever flavor. The physicality of survival is going to override whatever creative impulse you might have, even if it’s “I’ve run out of ways to make ramen noodles tasty.”
Two words: Anthony Trollope.
@Platypus: Oh, I agree with that, but the “FFS we need national health care and a UBI” conversation is separate.
Also, I think there’s a difference between “look for a day job that gives you more time/creative energy, even if it doesn’t pay as well,” which seems totally reasonable, and “eat Ramen and couchsurf while you wait for your garage band to make it big,” or whatever RENT-esque nonsense.
One of the things the Reality Bites guys overlook is that “extremely demanding but well-paying job” and “totally freelance AAAAAART, baby!” are not the only options. Plenty of people look for lower-paying-but-still-steady jobs in exchange for less stress or a more flexible schedule, or fill in the freelancing gaps with temp work (a lot of agencies, like PSG or Adecco, give you health insurance after you’ve done a certain number of hours), or put in a couple years at The Grind while saving up enough to have a cushion for some unpaid time between jobs.
@isabelcooper It’s not a separate conversation if the main benefit of having a day job is reliably having your basic needs met. I don’t have a high-pressure or abusive job, but just having to show up, go through the motions and pretend to care still taps me out. It’s not so easy to put together temp or flexible work that provides both a reasonable level of bill-paying security and room for creativity. I was unable to find such a job for a year–One. Entire. Year.–with no savings and no income other than SNAP, Medicaid, and whatever I could beg or borrow. I finally applied for jobs that I knew I didn’t want but fit my educational background, at least from the point of view of the people doing the hiring.
Please don’t tell me I’m making excuses. The system is completely and needlessly fucked and saying that there’s room in the margins of a full-time job to do your creative work if you just try hard enough is just victim-blaming. Some people are screwups who aren’t serious about what they’re doing, but other people are already in a lot of pain that they don’t deserve.
@platypus I feel you. I’m sorry you weren’t able to find an emotionally fulfilling day job; that’s really an awful feeling. I’ve been there, and honestly I think I just lucked out finding my job.
Everybody has a different level of endurance and stamina / energy, and I don’t think it’s fair to compare one person to another. Just because a lot of people are able to create art before they go to work in the morning, or on the weekends, doesn’t mean that therefore everyone “should” be able to. I don’t know if you struggle with chronic / mental illness, so I’m not really trying to presume anything about you personally with this, but I really feel like there’s an ableist element to this.
Some people have to sleep or rest twelve hours a day, or even more; they get twelve good hours and then they’re in a brain fog, or in too much physical pain to concentrate. One of my favorite short story writers is an adult, older than me, whose parents are still his caregivers (he also has a part-time professional aide). Writing is his only job, and he doesn’t make enough money off it to pay rent.
And then people back up and they’re like, “Whoa, well, I didn’t mean someone with a serious disability. Of course it’s okay to have your bills paid by family and SSDI if you’re disabled. Of course you have something valuable to contribute if you’re making art that doesn’t pay the rent in that circumstance.”
But it’s like, first, you can’t insult the concept of having your needs met by other people and finding your value in art-making and then assume that disabled or chronically ill people don’t internalize that message when they hear it. It’s either a shameful act of entitlement, or it’s a valid choice.
And, second, who gets to draw the line of “disabled enough” to make un- or under-employment (and, thus, dependency on other people’s financial resources) cross the threshold from entitled to understandable? What if the government says, “yeah, you’re sick, but not sick enough for SSI”? Are we allowed to disagree with that assessment? Are we allowed to be under-employed, and use our ample down-time to make art, as long as we’re suitably ashamed of ourselves?
Quasi-related, I know it’s controversial, but I actually really liked Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk about asking without embarrassment. And she was criticized because she’s already wealthy, but honestly, maybe taking up the courage to tune out the people who are like, “you don’t deserve to live in a safe place with food and meds because you can’t push yourself to work 40hrs/week” is noble. Maybe there’s more to our value as humans besides money and “producing.” It can be a more worthwhile use of one’s time to create something lovely, or tend to an important relationship, or take care of a kid or elderly parent, than it is to labor only in the ways that we can monetize.
So. Yeah. I dunno, I’m all for UBI and Medicaid for all. And, in the meantime, I’m all for figuring out the best way to meet the basic needs and also make art, and letting everyone’s solution be different. Not judging anyone’s choice. Day job for one person, familial support for another, government benefits and seasonal grants for someone else. Maybe someday the art makes money too, maybe it doesn’t.
Just. I feel you a lot. It is so, so hard. And it really, truly isn’t your fault if you’re exhausted all the time just from a “regular” job. I’m not sure what the right solution is for you, but I really hope you find it.
@platypus: No, that’s fair. And I think you definitely fall under 1 or 3 in Scalzi’s point above.
I would still say it’s a separate conversation in that “wow, we really need to change society to recognize and allow contributions outside the capitalist model” and how to navigate around that is a different and more valuable statement than “just follow your heart maaaan!” and why that doesn’t work as advice, especially phrased in that particular Fight Club-style idiom.
But otherwise, same sentiments as lgmerriman.
My son is an artist. It took him a while to get the training he wanted, traditional drawing leading into digital art, first in community college, then in a graphic design program in a (basically) engineering school where his father taught and he could go for free, and finally in an art college where he worked to pay his living expenses. When the economy crashed in 2008, he was unable to find a job that could fit his class hours and pay him enough to live on so he came home after 2 years of a 3-year program and finished with a year in the graphic design program again. He constantly worked to educate himself and improve his skills and he was selected as a recipient of a grant for new artists to spend a period of time creating art for a joint gallery show. He worked on his school work all day and his artwork for the show practically all night. All through this, he had completely bought into the idea that an artist puts his art first and that working at a ‘day job’ was somehow corrupting. He did get an entry job at an ad agency but was laid off after a year. He tried to freelance but couldn’t get jobs consistently enough to support himself. He rejected the idea of any job outside of the art world (he hated the ad job and felt like a sell-out). Even contact with well-established artists (while working on the grant project), all of whom had other jobs didn’t change his mind. He finally became so stressed that he had a breakdown, cut ties with his family and was actually living out of his car for nearly a year. Finally, he got back in touch and has taken a more realistic approach; he landed a good job as a museum guard at our nationally known art museum, which included health insurance and a retirement plan. Unfortunately, getting back to his art is still too painful for him. He’s taking it one step at a time, and I hope one day he will be able to resume it. He is good and received excellent reviews for the work he did. The opinion of the original twitter post may help some, but it may be very destructive for others.