Focusing on Your Creative Goals When You’ve Sold Out by Marina Shugrue

I’ve been a sellout since I was twenty-two, technically. That was the year I turned a seasonal copywriting job in the fashion industry into a permanent one—one that included health insurance and benefits and paid time off. It wasn’t the career I’d planned to have, and it definitely wasn’t the industry I expected to work in, but it paid well and I had student loans and I’d already suffered through a measly six months of freelancing.

Four years and a new marketing job later, and I can safely say that I’d sell out again if given the choice. And truly, you should too.

I won’t sugar coat it: it is difficult to find the time (and frankly, the energy) to write or draw or create after working a nine to five all day.

So how to you do it? How do you balance the day job with a creative life?

I’m still figuring it out myself, but I have just two tips that I’ll pass along.

Number one, above all things: say yes to every opportunity that comes your way.

Take on those short term projects that build your creative resume. If your friend is starting a critique group, join it. When your favorite author is speaking in your town, go see them.

Why say yes to these? Deadlines and accountability.

Day job life and creative life balance is tough, but boy is it easier when you have to show up or lose out. Working as the Communications Coordinator for The Metaworker has always been one of those things for me. Our small team can’t always make every meeting we have—life gets in the way, of course—but we all have responsibilities that we’re expected to perform, and we do them because we’re relying on each other to get it done.

With my day job schedule, I’m able to volunteer as a writing mentor for teens on the side. It’s a bit of philanthropy that is a hugely motivating source. Whenever I’m feeling creatively drained, being surrounded by other writers gives me the boost I need. When I first started volunteering, I wasn’t sure I was ready to be an authority like these girls needed. I took on the mentorship role anyway, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Having the opportunity to enrich my life with hundreds of creative people around me is hugely motivating, and having people in my life who need me to show up for them made me all the more willing to take in that creative energy.

I even had the opportunity to edit a novel, all because I said yes when it was offered. It was a whirlwind of turnaround—we got it done in about a month—and I had plenty of late nights of editing the book followed by early mornings to get to my job. But now there’s a real, actual book out there that I got to have a small hand in, and to me, that’s more than worth it.

The second tip—and boy do I hate this one—you’re going to have to be self-motivated.

There’s really no way around it, especially if your vision for your creative life includes any sort of publication goals. This one is tough. As the Communications Coordinator here, I’m the person who talks to every writer who submits to us. For every acceptance letter I send, there are plenty of rejections as well. I’ve had my fair share of personal rejections—from other literary magazines, from anthologies, from agents, you name it. I’ve been there too.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to do nothing, and that’s what makes this part difficult, especially since creative industries tend to be slow. Submitting a piece, waiting months for an answer, and having the answer be no is more than a little disheartening. Hearing “no” gets draining, and I so admire the writers who push past and keep going anyway. Someone, someday, is going to say yes. But here’s the thing: until they start saying yes, you have to dust yourself off, take a second glance at your work (or have a trusted friend do it), and submit again. And again. And again. Even when you don’t want to. Especially when you don’t want to.

No one can give you an opportunity in a creative field if they don’t know your work is out there.

So find some opportunities, and go for it. But get that day job first.

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