Should Writers Ditch The Office Job?

I left my comfortable desk job for a position doing manual labor, and my writing benefited as a result.

Think about it: You just spent the past eight hours hunkered over a computer, and now that you’re off the clock you’re going to go home and plunk down at your own computer and try to write?

I don’t think so.

There’s a reason that bestselling authors don’t put it long, mentally taxing hours at another job and proceed to write in the evenings after work. It’s because it’s too much for your brain.

Creativity, productivity, and the writing process can’t flourish when you give them what’s left of you after a draining day managing emails and office tasks.

Sure, maybe you could get up early and write before your shift, then fall asleep on your dinner plate when you get home. After all, people do make it work.

But here’s another idea. If you want to be a more motivated and inspired writer, ditch the office job — or whatever job is draining you of your ability to write — entirely.

In one of his BYU creative writing lectures available on YouTube, bestselling author Brandon Sanderson joked that the ideal job for a writer is laying bricks. It might sound silly, but a job that’s more demanding physically than mentally actually supports writers in a surprising way.

If your job doesn’t require you to use a lot of brain space, that’s more mental energy you can put toward creative writing — or even freelance work. I’ve known for a long time that this was definitely the case for me.

I’ve worked a lot of jobs since I first turned 16 and got my first position as a stable hand for a horse ranch. During that time I put together a portfolio of my writing that earned me a small creative writing scholarship.

My viral articles and many of the book reviews that helped build my substantial social media following were written while I did customer service for a bookstore. It turns out that running a cash register and shelving books are perfect activities for daydreaming about writing.

When COVID-19 started and I found myself looking for work, I secured what I considered a “grown up” job as the part-time manager of a small office. But now I’m transitioning out of that position to help manage a horse stable.

Instead of answering emails and phone calls, I’m cleaning stalls. I handle horses instead of fielding customers or clients. I’m learning to drive a tractor and haul hay and manure. I’m learning more about horse behavior and barn management.

This job might seem inferior to the comfort of working inside an office seated at a desk, but I don’t see it that way at all. It’s related to my personal interests, but it also involves physical exercise which helps me get in shape and feel healthy. I spend more time outdoors, breathing in fresh air and soaking up sunshine (and rain, too).

Not only is this good for me physically, the mental difference it has made is startling. I feel clearheaded and focused. Don’t just take my word for it, either. There are plenty of studies that substantiate a link between exercise and better mental health and improved memory.

According to WebMD, “Aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, or gardening may help your brain’s hippocampus — the part that’s linked to memory and learning — grow. It also might slow the shrinking of your hippocampus that can lead to memory loss as you get older.”

When I get home in the afternoon after an early morning at the barn, I feel eager to sit down at my computer and write the stories and articles that have been churning in my brain all day.

This is what Brandon Sanderson meant with his joke about brick-laying. We writers spend a lot of time in front of our computers already. If we tax our mental energy all day at work, we don’t leave enough in our reserve to indulge our writing. Writing becomes a hobby we have to make time and find energy for instead. It also competes with exercise and outdoor activity, which we need to replenish ourselves for our writing.

That’s why I’m excited to have a job that allows me to get in physical exercise and outdoor time so I feel more motivated to sit and write when I’m at home. Instead of being brain-dead after a day at the office and subsequently zoning out to Netflix, I actually want to sit at my desk and make my brain work.

This isn’t to say that manual labor doesn’t involve your brain — I have to problem-solve and be smart about my tasks all day long to prevent overexertion or accidentally put myself in a dangerous situation.

Construction, customer service, and even bussing tables all involve your brain in some capacity. And other jobs are both physically and mentally demanding, which I learned during a six-month stint caregiving at a nursing home, during which I never found the time or energy to write.

The point is to avoid jobs that are so taxing mentally and/or physically that you aren’t able to write.

Because if you really want to be a writer, you have to prioritize writing. Obviously this advice comes with its caveats. What about someone who has managed to secure an office job as a writer, for example? There are plenty of examples of bestselling authors who work full-time as reporters, tv writers, and creative writing teaching positions.

This advice doesn’t necessarily apply to reporters and people who already write for a living. I’m talking about office jobs that aren’t related or support your writing goals. This advice is also not meant for writers with physical disabilities who may be more limited in which jobs they are able to choose from. People who are the “breadwinners” of their families may not have the choice to leave a demanding job that pays the bills.

But speaking generally, a job that is too taxing for you to work and write on the side is not the right fit for an aspiring writer. You have to assess the sacrifices you may need to make in order to pursue your goal. By avoiding these jobs, you can set yourself up for success by motivating yourself to sit and write when you are at home.

Choose your work carefully. If it isn’t your dream job, and if it drains you too much, then it may be interfering with your writing goals.

Science writer wrangling words and horses in the Pacific Northwest. | she/they

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