May 3, 2013

Writing a novel? Don’t quit your day job.


“Gotta make that paper!”

In his new book Daily Rituals, Mason Currey examines the creative processes that have kept writers, composers, and artists going throughout history. One secret to success? Keep your day job.

As Currey writes at Slate, some of the greatest works of literature were written in off hours, many by authors with long and successful professional careers: Joseph Heller, for example, was an advertising copywriter (alongside Mary Higgins Clark), and Toni Morrison spent many years as a Random House editor and university professor.

Others held jobs they hated because they felt they had no choice: Anthony Trollope worked begrudgingly for the post office for 33 years even though it interfered with his writing. And still others phoned it in: As I Lay Dying was written in the afternoons before William Faulkner‘s graveyard shift at a power plant, through which he slept.

Regardless of how successful a balance one strikes, sidelining can certainly take a toll. In Morrison’s words,

[T]he important thing is that I don’t do anything else. I avoid the social life normally associated with publishing. I don’t go to the cocktail parties, I don’t give or go to dinner parties. I need that time in the evening because I can do a tremendous amount of work then.

Sounds to me like too great a price to pay, but then I haven’t won a Nobel or Pulitzer.


Christopher King is the Art Director of Melville House.