Telling People at Work You Are a Writer

If you are a full-time writer without a day-job, this post is not for you. But if, like most writers, you have a day-job to pay the bills and provide affordable health insurance (at least until those Nook and Kindle sales begin to whir), whether to tell people at your day-job that you write on the side is something we all have to face.

Sure, when you are first starting out and haven't published yet, it is an easy secret to keep, but when you start getting published on a regular basis (books, magazines, websites, anthologies, or whatever), not only is it a harder secret to keep, you probably don't want to keep it secret, at least not on an emotional level. You want to tell people "Hey there, guys and gals [insert other salutation, as appropriate--e.g., "mindless corporate drones," "people who NEED to use spellchecker on their emails," "friends, Romans, countrymen,"], I just got my story/book/poem/comic/x-ray/rap sheet published, 'cause I'm a WRITER!" while secretly wishing they will shower you with adulation and pay to buy copies at regular retail rates. And, of course, even if you don't shout it from the roof-tops, it could be noticed sua sponte or you might, just might, have at least one friend at work you would like to tell and then, well the train has left the station carrying the cat that is out of the bag.

Sure, you could use a pseudonym or just hush up about your out-of-work interests while your co-workers talk about sports, needle-point, and Justin Bieber, but it is hard to keep your pride in authorship down, so what are the issues in telling people you are a writer?

Well, depending on what you write and how successful it is, there can be many issues. First, some people (most likely your boss or that dweeb you trained who is angling for your promotion) will think or say (to others--never to you) that you write on company time instead of doing your job. Second, some naive, deluded people will think that you are making money hand-over-corporate fist and worry that you are about to quit your job or hate your job or don't need your job. Third, some people will read what you wrote and find it appalling for any of a number of reasons, including that it deals with sex, drugs, violence, crime, drugs, dwarves, hookers, vampires, science fiction, a person who reminds them of themselves, mature themes, bad language, dark themes, fantasy, unicorns, horror, a company or job too much like your own, client confidences, romance, kittens, orcs, time travel, politics, Justin Bieber, or, worst of all, a drugged-out dwarven hooker time-traveling back from the future on her unicorn to shout outrageous political slogans while kidnapping and ^%$#ing Justin Bieber and holding him in your client's boiler room while someone who looks suspiciously like your boss feeds live kittens to toothless orcs. This will affect your relationship with people at work, resulting in pointing, whispered conversations, careful documentation of everything you've ever done wrong, and, potentially less (or no) money in the pay envelope in the future.

Despite these drawbacks, I've always been very upfront at my dayjob that I'm a writer. I keep copies of my three novels at work available for sale and I have set all of the anthologies in which I have stories above my shelves, facing out and available for borrowing for anyone who isn't scared off by the cover of "Zombie Racoons & Killer Bunnies." Some people at work think its cool. Some clients, too. Some people think its cool to tell prospective clients without asking me, which is a bit aggravating.

But there is no doubt in my mind that writing on the side has cost me money at work. (The big question is whether it has cost me more money than my ponytail. It's hard to judge--I'm sure that the oddball gestalt that is me is self-reinforcing in its negativity to some people.) But then, I was always right upfront at work about my tournament RPG gaming and my 15 year reign as the top-ranked tournament player of classic RPGs, and that probably cost me money, too. (Although I did get at least one assignment because the partner wanted someone to use game strategy to find a way out of a losing position--which I was able to do using a game strategy from my days of playing Diplomacy.) But, then, I decided long ago to be who I am and not be afraid to show it. But, even at that, when I send out an email to the office about my latest book (I don't bother for stories), I always note that I never write at work, I am getting less money that J.K. Rowling's editor's housekeeper's babysitter, and that it doesn't take as much time as they think (my usual analogy is that I spend less time writing each year than most guys spend watching sports on television--accurate, if not particularly ingratiating).

All of this is not to scare anyone away from telling people at work you are a writer or to convince you it will be expensive--work environments vary considerably. It is, however, meant to get you thinking about the position you want to take, to encourage you to support others similarly situated (whether they are out as writers or not), and to make sure you make your own decision about your own life and career with your eyes wide open.

I could, of course, suggest that you test the waters at work by reading genre material openly--like my latest novel, Net Impact--and seeing what reaction you get, but that would be shameless self-promotion.

Let me know what you think.

Donald J. Bingle
Writer on Demand TM
www.donaldjbingle.com
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message 1: by Bev (new)

Bev Robitai Great post - loved how you slipped in that shameless self-promotion at the end as an example to us all!


message 2: by Bruce (new)

Bruce Arthurs I'm going to come down on the side of NOT telling your co-workers about being a writer.

Back in 1990, I was able to pitch and sell a script to Star Trek: The Next Generation. This got me, besides a fairly big check, some local-boy-makes-good publicity and an interview in the Arizona Republic. So people at work learned about it, too.

My day job was as a letter carrier. Other employees were pretty cool about my success; I got nicknamed "Spaceman" by one.

My supervisor, my boss, however... Up to that point, I had always gotten along okay with him, even if we were never particularly friendly. He seemed to feel I was a good employee.

After that script sale, however, I seemed to be able to do no right. After that sale, he was on my ass every day about my delivery speed, accuracy, etc.

Postal routes get inspected every few years and adjustments get made, reducing or increasing the number of deliveries. My particular route was actually a little on the light side, and I expected to see twenty or thirty more minutes worth of delivery added to it. Route inspections were done a couple of months after my script sale.

When my supervisor was done adjusting routes, my route had had four hours of deliveries added to it. Four friggin' hours, plus the new deliveries were in the most run-down, crime-ridden area in the station's entire delivery zone.

I can only assume that my boss' turn-around on his treatment of me, and the apparently deliberate overburdening of my ruote, was caused by jealousy of my writing success.

It was shocking and confusing and distressing to me. I didn't know how to cope with it. So I transferred to a different route, at a different station, with a different boss. Which still left that overbloated route for some other poor carrier to deliver, but I didn't see any other recourse.

And ever since, if I mention my writing to co-workers, it's in a VERY low-key manner. And I try to not mention it to my bosses at all.


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