Ah, the good life! Waking up, sitting down to work, no responsibilities but to create! This is the life that many creative people desire but very few are actually lucky enough to get. Most of us (those without immense private fortunes or incredible luck) have to have a day job. Sometimes those jobs can seem boring or stifling. We’d rather be home writing that novel, painting that picture, or composing that music. But unfortunately the reality of money can get in the way. But have no fear creative types! You CAN do your thing and have a day job. It may mean some sacrifices in the free time department but it’s doable. Many famous creative people have done it successfully. Here is a list of some of those figures who did their work while keeping their day job.
The celebrated poet of The Wasteland and Four Quartets is remembered for his revolutionary innovative style and his involvement in developing modern poetry. But the American transplant in London was notoriously conservative and middle class in his lifestyle and world view. This extended to his job as a banker. He worked in the foreign transaction department of Lloyd’s of London where he worked an eight hour day, with only two weeks of vacation a year. Even after The Wasteland made him famous, he continued to labor away as a banker. And apparently, he was really good at it, his co-workers noting that he could’ve gone on to a long successful career as a banker. Eventually, he went on to work at Faber & Faber publishing house where he later became a director. He never gave up on his poetry, which he believed only got better with time and he helped foster whole generations of British poets and writers.
Serra is regarded as one of the most important sculptors of the twentieth century for his huge and impressive minimal steel works. These sculptures now fetch millions of dollars. But he didn’t always have his artistic work to fall back on. He started a moving company before he became successful, Low Rate Movers, and worked along with such creative luminaries as Steve Reich and Chuck Close. He enjoyed the job because it meant he didn’t have to work any more than a few days a week and had the rest of the week off to do his artistic work. Since there was such a variety of creative types working in so many disciplines at the moving company, Serra said there was a ‘cross-fertilization’ between everyone which allowed them all to foster a ‘new kind of language’ between their disciplines.
James Joyce was the writer of one of the most famous and difficult novels in the English language, Ulysses, along as such classics as Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Finnegan’s Wake. He was famous for his disorganized nature and his enjoyment of the French café life. But that didn’t mean he didn’t need an income outside of his writing. For many years, he worked as piano teacher from 2:00 to 7:00 pm or later, smoking long Virgnina cheroots throughout. Before hand, he would sit down to practice and would often need to be reminded by his wife Nora, who would have to tell him to change his shirt. If he had time, after his lessons and before his usual late night drinking sessions, he would work on his writing. With his work and other distractions, he maintained that it took him approximately 20,000 hours to actually write Ulysees.
4. Philip Glass: Plumber and Taxi Driver
When people thing of the term ‘Minimalism’ in reference to music most (if they’re not like me and
immediately of Steve Reich) will think of Philip Glass. It is hard to watch a movie today featuring modern Classical music and not hear either Glass or something influenced by Glass on the soundtrack. He has become the poster child for a whole generation of post-war American composers. But Glass wasn’t always able to live off the proceeds of his music. Early on and for a long time he was struggling.
Besides working alongside Richard Serra at the sculptor’s moving company, Glass worked as a plumber in New York. On one occasion, while installing a dishwasher, he looked up to see the art critic Robert Hughes ask him puzzling, ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ Hughes was puzzled that someone as important to the musical and art worlds was degraded to doing this kind of work. Glass replied that he should go away and let him finish the installation. Glass also worked for three years as a cab driver just after finishing his landmark opera, Einstein on the Beach.
Anthony Trollope, author of a series of novels based on mid to late nineteenth century topical subjects, known collectively as the Chronicles of Barsetshire, is not widely read today. But they were immensely popular during the Victorian Age. He was however, not lucky enough to be able to work only on his novels. For years, he woke early, working from 5:30 to 8:30 am on his writing with his watch in plain view. This was because he mandated himself to write 250 words every 15 minutes. This incredible stamina was what allowed him to write so many books. After he had completed his writing for the day, he would go off to his job as a postal service clerk.
Although he worked as a clerk for many years, he started off as a failure, often arriving late and fighting with his boss, who detested Trollope so much that he would try to thwart the future author’s career for many years to come. After working for the London General Post Office for 7 years, he realized he could move up no further in his current position. He decided to move to Ireland where he became a Surveyor’s Clerk for the Central District of Ireland, and his career and his skills began to improve. It was during these years that he began to write. Trollope is also famous for popularizing ‘pillar boxes’ or public mail boxes in Britain, which allowed people to quickly and privately send letters without going through a mail clerk at the Post Office.
Many people believe that to do creative work effectively you need freedom and limited distractions. For this to happen, your creative work needs to become your job. While this system may work for a lucky few, the rest of us don’t have such luxuries or we work better when our lives are compartmentalized and organized. For those of us who need to pay our bills while we do our art, at least until our art pays our bills, it is comforting to know that we can still be successful AND make a living.