Write Here, Write Now: Why I'm Never Working a 9-5 Again by RJ Wade
In this episode of Write Here, Write Now: A Vocal Podcast, RJ's “Why I’m Never Working a 9-5 Job Again” not only proves it can be done but shows how.
The transition from corporate to creative is one that many dream of but few accomplish. RJ's “Why I’m Never Working a 9-5 Job Again” not only proves it can be done but shows how. After the reading, host Erica Wagner gets insight into Wade’s process of learning to trust herself, her work, and what it took to build a life she loves.
ERICA: Write Here, Write Now is sponsored by Scrivener. Used every day by best-selling novelists and aspiring writers alike, Scrivener unites everything needed to write, research and arrange your manuscript in a powerful package. Without Scrivener I could not have written my last two books. Scrivener is available for iOS, macOS and Windows, allowing you to take your manuscript with you, wherever you go. Sign up using the coupon code VOCAL at checkout and receive a 20% discount on the writing tool that seriously changed my life.
RJ : It's been very, very rewarding to know that what I make now is on my own terms, and I don't have to succumb to things that make me feel small.
ERICA: This is Write Here, Write Now, a podcast brought to you by Vocal, an online platform for creators of all kinds and all levels of experience. It’s a place to post, to read, to be inspired. I’m your host, Erica Wagner.
This season, we’ll hear eight essays, all posted to Vocal by independent creators. Afterwards, we get to hear from the creators themselves- about what inspired them, what they’re working on, and what keeps them going. If you have any questions that linger after the episode, head to vocal dot media to leave a comment for the authors, right on their essay. Who knows- you might be inspired to write something yourself.
Here’s Write Here, Write Now.
Taking the leap from what we know into that which we don’t is a frightening prospect. That’s what makes this next piece so tantalizing. In “Why I’m Never Working a 9-5 Job Again,” RJ takes us through her decision to work as a creative full-time. After the essay, we’ll hear more from RJ herself about just what that transition has looked like.
ERICA: That was “Why I’m Never Working a 9-5 Job Again” by RJ Wade. When I sat down with RJ, she told me what exactly that switch from corporate to creative has looked like, and what she’s looking forward to.
ERICA: Important question, when you're not writing because much as we would love to, we can't all write all the time, what are you doing?
RJ: I like to draw as well. I find that it's a little bit looser of a creative discipline. You don't have to really wordsmith anything and it can be a little bit more free flowing. I still love movies and music. I like to take walks. I like to go out to eat. I like to play sports or watch sports.
ERICA: I think you have a cool Instagram account. If I'm not mistaken, which is called Writer Who Draws, and you share some of your artwork on there.
ERICA: Excellent. Well, all of our listeners can check that out too. Do you find that these two media compliment each other? How do they fit together for your drawing and writing?
RJ: I do find that they compliment each other, but I feel like my art is very free form and kind of... Well, what I consider to be not sloppy, but it's not technical because I don't have an artist background. I didn't go to art school or anything like that. So for my writing, I feel like I've spent so, so long, refining how I write and what I say and how my voice is portrayed. So that comes across a lot more technical and a little bit more rigid for me. Then my drawing is a lot more free form. I feel like it's a very different vibe. So I honestly try to keep them a little bit separate. I don't draw drawings for my articles, but they're both very, very close to my heart, but I feel like I use different parts of my brain.
ERICA: Now, I'd love you to tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?
RJ: I grew up in Oklahoma City with my mom and two siblings. She wasn't very creative, but it took me a while to find my footing. She's a big lover of music in movies, and that inspired me a lot to get into the creative works, and then once I finally learned how to read at eight years old, I really started to dive into writing in words and find a love for potentially riding down the road.
ERICA: When you first got started in writing, maybe you don't remember the first thing that you ever wrote. But what was the first thing you wrote that was significant to you where you thought, "Oh, I like doing this"?
RJ: I started out writing poetry. I wrote one about fear: The Emotion. I related it to several different things, a bear, stuff like that, darkness. Then my other poem that I wrote was about a girl running through a forest in the sunlight. I think even as a little kid, I was trying to capture the emotions that we all deal with, and in a way that isn't overtly just saying like, "Here is this." But what does fear feel like? What does happiness feel like? Warmth.
ERICA: So really, the way that I think about it when I'm writing is almost as an act of translation, that you have these sensations and you need to translate them to the page for the readers. So they can feel them too, whether it's that sunshine, that warmth or anything like that. Did you fall in love with writing right away or was it a slower burn?
RJ: No, it was right away, and it was full-blown and passionate. When I would come home from elementary school, I would sit at the dining room table and just feverishly write on my notebook with a pen, just because the stories almost felt like they were just begging to come out like I could not. I would think about it in class like, "Oh, I'm so, so excited to go home and write the story that I just thought about." And through reading, a lot of my ideas would pop up from being inspired from certain artists. So it was very, very, very passionate and very immediate. As I've grown older, it's gotten a little bit less passionate. I'm out of the honeymoon phase with writing, but it's still a very visceral experience for me.
ERICA: I think, perhaps again, for me, that honeymoon phase fades a little bit because you realize that your commitment to it means it's hard work. You want to refine it. You want to make it the best that it can be. So it isn't just that youthful kind of putting it all out there on the page. You know, there's stuff to do once that's done.
RJ: Right. I remember I used to just word vomit all over the page, and I was 9 or 10 years old, but one time I showed my dad a story and he was like, "Well, have you ever thought about using a comma?" I was like, "Ah, how dare you? I am writing a masterpiece here, you know where the commas go." But as you grow older, you realize the value of sentence structure.
ERICA: In your terrific piece for Vocal, you write that you had a sort of cycle of writing, and then returning to full-time work. You would grow frustrated, then you'd go back to writing. What do you think it was that kept you in that cycle?
RJ: I think that it's being in a very capitalist society where it was kind of a necessity for me to make money to survive. I didn't want to be in a situation where I'd have to sacrifice a lot of my quality of life in order to just be a writer. It's no secret that writing is hard to make an income, a sustainable income, I should say. So I would try and try, and then eventually I would become disheartened and go back to work, and then I would realize that I was miserable and it would force me to quit, and then I would try again. Then it was just like a never-ending cycle where I didn't really know how to escape, but I knew that I had to eventually. I knew that I couldn't sustain working a full-time job in the circumstances that I was.
ERICA: I want to ask you a little bit about those 9:00 to 5:00 jobs that you've left behind. You write about being sent over the edge. I wonder if you can tell me what that looks like for you.
RJ: So I worked pretty much every job that you can think of. I did fast food. I did sales. I did retail. I did clerical work. I did community outreach stuff, and none of it really felt like it was clicking. I didn't feel like my talents were being used. I didn't feel like I was growing. But my last job, I had a supervisor that was particularly adept at putting you down and then picking you up just enough for you to continue. It got to a point where I started to question myself. I started to question my own value.
RJ: I didn't know which way to go, what was right, what was wrong? So I had to step away, and I really do think it was one of the best decisions.
ERICA: There's a moment, and we've all had these, where it is a little bit like a revelation. You'd know what you have to do. Tell us about that moment?
RJ: It was terrifying, because I still had those fears in the back of my mind. I didn't know if I would be able to make an income. I didn't know if I would be able to sustain myself as a writer, as a creative in general. But I think that COVID in particular helped me see that you don't have to be in a physical location, and a lot of people make remote work but I knew that although it was going to be scary and it was definitely going to be a challenge. I could not stay somewhere where I was literally miserable. Like I couldn't eat, I was getting headaches. My body was super tense, just very, very physical sensations, and when I finally made the decision, it was just like, "Okay, I'm done." It was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. It was very scary, but also very rewarding.
ERICA: Did you make a plan in that moment? Did you think about how you were going to structure your creative life?
RJ: I was developing an exit strategy as I went. I think a lot of people, when they think like quit your 9:00 to 5:00 and start doing creative work, they think of it maybe as an immediate process. But I made sure that I had at least six months of expenses saved up before I made that decision. I do think that that's a good idea, no matter what field of work that you're in just to have a little nest egg to get you started, because if you haven't been laying the groundwork in your side hustle or your creative endeavor, it's going to be very hard to get something going. It's very much a momentum field, I feel like.
ERICA: Creativity and practicality can go hand in hand. This is your words I'm quoting back at you, "You made the decision to eliminate what makes me feel small." Tell me what that's meant outside of leaving behind a traditional work schedule. How do you do that on a day-to-day basis? What does the process feel like?
RJ: That's a good question. In my life, how that personally related to me is when I'm free to express myself creatively or otherwise, I feel very expansive and almost limitless. I feel like anything is possible, and anything is achievable, but when I'm put in a box, that's my weakest set out for me. I know exactly what's expected of me. I start to feel very constricted, and it makes me very anxious and very depressed. I start to feel like my most finite resource time is being wasted, and there's no feeling, I hate more than feeling like my time is being wasted. In other ways, it could just be a relationship. It could be a parent. It could be a coworker. It could be a peer. It could be anyone who's making you feel small. But I think we all can relate to that feeling and can realize places in our life where people just... They may need to go, so that you can become your true self and get a little bit more expansive.
ERICA: What's been easy to leave behind and what's been more difficult?
RJ: I would say leaving the actual job was very easy. I have definitely quit my fair share of jobs and that feeling when you're walking out and you know you're walking out for the very last time. It's easy. You don't have to think about anything. You're not thinking about rent being due the next month. You're just like, "Ugh, but tomorrow I do not have to get up and come here." But what's hard is I feel like personal areas of my life. For example, my relationship with my father. I recently cut that relationship off, and that was very, very hard for me.
RJ: One because he deals with substance abuse and I felt like cutting that relationship off, was me not doing everything that I could to help him get help. But also you're walking away from a relationship with your father, who is still alive. I know that a lot of people struggle losing their fathers, and I didn't want to cut that relationship off and feel like I was leaving something behind. But you have to realize that if something isn't feeding you, if something isn't helping you grow, or at least being conducive to a growing environment, you have to let it go.
ERICA: You're a founding member of Vocal, and we really value your regular contributions to the platform. In talking about some of the difficult experiences you've just been discussing, you write, "The antidote is gratitude, being thankful for what I have and where I'm at. I need to trust the process. What does it look like to trust the process?
RJ: When I started it was pretty much you post an article and it goes on the front page or it doesn't, and best of luck. I remember getting to my first 100 reads. I remember getting to my first 1,000 reads, and that sensation is amazing, but it's so fleeting. So then I'm like, "Where's my 10,000 reads. Where's my 20,000 reads, where's my 100,000 reads?" But trusting the process just means allowing things to unfold. Trusting that I am building momentum. Trusting that I am pushing the ball down the hill, rolling the snowball in the snow. However, you'd like to describe it. Just knowing that things will come as long as I'm consistent.
RJ: I like stoic philosophy a lot. One of the philosophers mentions that, "You need to be thankful for what you have now, because it was once one of the things that you wanted." I think that's very relatable, and I try to remember that where I am now is once a place that I dreamed about. So I really, really try and stay grounded in that and trust that everything else will come as long as I'm still doing my best work and being patient and consistent.
ERICA: Do you have any tips, I guess I'd say, or pointers for our listeners so that they can practice that kind of trust?
RJ: I really, really am a big proponent and just getting something on the page, looking at it, because there is bound to be something positive in the mix. Even if it's only one sentence, even if it's only one word, and it really gives me a place to start from.
Often I'll just write down my first draft, and it's very analytical. It's very just step by step or research-based, and then I'll go through, and I can rewrite certain sentences to sound more artistic than before. So if someone is struggling with trusting themselves and trusting the process, I do think that writing down in a journal or something like that, doing writing practice 10 minutes a day or so, can just help you get in tune with your voice, and maybe what you do really want to say that you're possibly ignoring because you're worried about being perfect.
ERICA: In the days when I was teaching, one of the things I would say to my students was that, "If you write something and you don't like it, you have more information. You know you want to do something different from that. So that's great. You have another path to walk down. It's not something that you have to see as negative. It's exactly an opening of another opportunity." So you have committed to life as a creative. How has that creative life been going? You say that you've got to coax creativity out, right? What does that mean for you?
RJ: I'm a really big fan of meditation. I feel like just getting a little bit of blank space in the mind is very, very important to have any kind of creative success. I cannot think when there's no blank space on my schedule, I cannot form a sentence. I feel very drowned almost by my thoughts, but I really like to take a walk too. All of my creative tricks are about decompressing and finding a way to slow down, because I really do feel like that's the best time to produce is when you're in a relaxed state, when you're not really thinking about too much, and when you're able to have a little bit of space to be creative. As far as how it's been being a creative for a year now, it waxes and wanes. It's not a consistent paycheck every two weeks. So it is hard to adjust and figure out your budget and figure out your new way of living. Sometimes there's a lot, I feel like. Sometimes your project comes up and you're getting paid and you're like, "Okay, this is awesome." Then other times there's a slow month and you're like, "Oh, I don't know about this." But I haven't ever been in a situation where I have to go back and get another job, and so I count that as a success, and it's been very, very rewarding to know that what I make now is on my own terms, and I don't have to succumb to things that make me feel small. If you are working a 9:00 to 5:00 that you really enjoy, there's nothing wrong with that. We wouldn't be here if people weren't working 9:00 to 5:00s. So I'm very appreciative and I wouldn't want anyone to feel like I am putting down those people. It just wasn't for me. I can't operate in a very rigid structure like that, but I do respect and value those people. So I just want to make sure that no one feels slighted by my comments.
ERICA: I think that's a great thing to say. What we believe in on Vocal is everyone finding their own creative path. RJ, you have demonstrated today a really fascinating one, and it's marvelous to hear your thoughts and your reflections about it. So I thank you so much for being a guest on our podcast.
The choice to rely so completely on your own creative efforts is an incredibly brave one, and one that’s clearly well-founded in RJ’s case.
Next time on Write Here, Write Now, we’ll get a heartfelt look into a relationship between mother and son. That will be J. Delaney-Howe’s “Phone Calls with Mom.”
Whoever you are, whatever your story, Vocal belongs to you. If you liked the show, come be a part of where it all got started. Join me and the rest of our brilliant Creators on Vocal.media. We hope you'll join our community, where you can post, read and comment.
If you like what you hear, join us for season two of Write Here, Write Now, when we dive into stories from the Vocal plus Fiction Anthology. And of course- be sure to rate, review and subscribe to Write Here, Write Now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. I’m Erica Wagner- thanks for listening.
Write Here, Write Now is produced by Vocal in partnership with Pod People. Special thanks to our production team: Jacob Frommer and Andrew Herwitz and the team at Pod People: Rachael King, Matt Sav, Aimee Machado, Ashton Carter, Rebecca Chaisson, Carter Wogahn, and Morgane Fousse.
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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!