Writing by Moonlight

Writing By Moonlight

By Mary Anne Hahn

Four years ago, on a May afternoon bright with promise, I lived every writer’s dream – I packed up nearly a decade’s worth of office belongings, hugged my co-workers good-bye, and walked out of a secure, stable, stress-filled job to make my mark as a full-time freelance writer.

I hated it.

Okay, I didn’t really, at least not in the beginning. That heady moment of leaving a restrictive nine-to-five job behind and the weeks that followed rank up there among the top five high points of my life (I’ll save the remaining four for other articles…suffice to say they are not all writing-related…). With the wind in my sails, my pride at stake, and a truckload of excellent work habits developed during my “day job” days, I established my home office, organized files, picked up the necessary tax forms, set daily schedules and developed weekly goals. I chased after leads, sent off queries, and even landed a couple of meaty writing assignments with local companies.

But as queries came back to me stamped “Rejected,” and local projects petered out, so did my enthusiasm. Days became long and very empty. My fountain of writing ideas, which I’d once thought was endless, dried up for lack of outside stimulation. I found myself longing to be very, very busy again, with work that was being delegated to me, rather than having to go find it myself. Plus, I’ll admit, I missed making money. So after several months I went back to work part time, just to see a regular check with my name on it. And after several more months, I abandoned the dream completely, and returned to work full-time.

Now I’m writing more than I ever did.

I’m not telling you this to discourage you from living the freelance dream. In fact, like an ex-lover, I think about giving it a second chance someday, a little wiser from my first go-round. But there are advantages to moonlighting as a freelance writer that I hadn’t appreciated before, benefits that I want to share with you before you, too, decide to quit your day job. Read them and reap.

  1. Time to write remains special, precious, when we don’t have all the time in the world. In her book Writing From Personal Experience, Nancy Davidoff Kelton suggests that we view writing like an illicit love affair, savoring the moments, relishing the time. When we “ought” to be collecting dust bunnies or “should” be running errands, we can spoil ourselves instead with a few stolen moments of writing time. After all, if the world ended tomorrow, would the dust bunnies really matter?
  2. A regular paycheck frees us to practice until we’re perfect. A full-time freelancer may need to look for the sure thing, because writing literally is their bread and butter. Moonlighters can bet the long shots. You are more willing to take chances, walk the tightrope, experiment with new writing styles or markets, with a financial safety net of a full- or part-time job beneath you. Rejection letters sting less when you are not counting on an advance to pay next month’s rent. But when you succeed as a moonlighter, the satisfaction is still as sweet, and the any financial payoff actually becomes an added bonus, not a life-or-death necessity.
  3. Your day job actually can add fuel to your writing fire, rather than extinguish it. My own article and story ideas spring daily from snatches of conversation overheard in the employee lounge, discussions with friends over 45-minute lunches, or disgruntled employees who drop by my cubicle to vent. Newspaper headlines or tidbits that capture the attention of my co-workers enlighten me as to what interests them, and what could interest my potential readers. Newsletters and magazines that float around the office become possible markets for my work. When I left the office environment previously to pursue full-time freelancing, I had unknowingly severed myself from this incredible wellspring of writing ideas. Be sure you are tapping yours to the fullest.

So while moonlighting may be, for many writers, a necessary fact of life, it brings its rewards as well. Working our desire to write into a schedule that includes full-time jobs, families and never-ending to-do lists of other responsibilities forces us to truly assess our priorities, organize our time, and seize our moments. But when we get up in the morning a few minutes earlier, stay awake at night a few minutes later, or sneak out to a quiet place during our lunch hours to pursue our “illicit love affair” with writing, we have the dual benefit of exploring one of our greatest passions, along with the security of jobs and loved ones to support and accept us when we return.