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By Bethany Barton

Editor’s Note: Award-winning author/illustrator Bethany Barton spends her days working in film and TV, currently in the prop department at ABC’s Black-ish. Her newest book, I’m Trying to Love Math, hits stores this July. And Bethany is not only making herself available to chat with you this Friday (3/22) for an hour beginning at 12PM, but she is ALSO SCBWI-LA’s mentor! So if you’re an illustrator or author/illustrator, you can apply to be her mentee! And no matter what you’re writing, today’s chat topic about day jobs will encourage you, make you laugh, and start a lively conversation! And now, take it away, Bethany…

I hear it all the time from authors and illustrators: “I wish I could make books full time… but for now I’m JUST (insert self-deprecating tone) a bartender/teacher/accountant/etc.” 

We’re all wonderfully complex human beings and that “day job” is a part of our story….so why do we feel the need to apologize for it? Maurice Sendak did toy-store window displays. JK Rowling worked as a secretary and translator. As long as there have been authors and artists, they have had day jobs and side hustles.

And I’m here to suggest we stop apologizing for them.

Consider this a call-to-arms to embrace our day jobs and, dare I say, even celebrate them?! Here are some quick reasons why:

1) Working in the real world informs your characters and stories. 

A lot of authors and illustrators smuggle elements of the real world into their work (I certainly do). But in order to do that, you need to be living in the real world. Take a moment each day to actively observe the people, places and relationships of your workplace. The smells. The colors. The lighting. That annoying clicking noise Travis makes with his tongue. Throw it all into the stew-pot in your brain and let it cook down into something new. It’s all research for future stories and characters. 

Have something story-worthy you’ve picked up from the workplace? Let me know this Friday when we #KTChat!

I’ll go first… check out the shoes of my co-worker, Banner.

2) Making books can be lonely.

I’m a very social human. So when I have a deadline and devote my every free moment to writing and illustration: I get a little stir crazy. Writing and illustration are often accomplished when you’re alone with the page/screen, and sometimes that can feel, well…lonely. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously adore making kids books. In fact, I thought I was the only person who sometimes felt lonesome while creating…until I had other authors and illustrators echo this same feeling. So, remind yourself to rejoice in any day job where you get to interact with actual human beings (or monsters).

And don’t worry, you’ll have time alone with your pages again soon! They’re always waiting for you.

Has writing or illustration ever been a lonely process for you? If so, what do you do to keep fromSPIRALING INTO SELF DOUBT… oops, did I just type that? I meant to say, um… how do you keep motivated and on task? Yes! That. (Whew!)

3) Boredom is essential for creativity.

My home studio

Is your job boring? FANTASTIC! Boredom is a necessary ingredient for coming up with new ideas. And, in a society of non-stop distraction (cell phones! social media! cat videos!) boredom is harder and harder to come by. Fight the urge to scroll the internet at work and let your mind wander as often as possible. If and when brilliance strikes, take notes! (Preferably on actual paper, so your phone doesn’t suck you into something new — or is that just something that happens to me?) 

When do your best ideas strike?

4) Your job is paying for goods and services. 

Okay, this one is pretty obvious, but seriously! Having a way to pay your bills is huge! And on top of that, you’re also creating stories and illustrations?! How cool and multi-talented are you? Give yourself a high five for being a multi-faceted and hard-working (not everyone can claim that!) 

Tell me: Do the people at your day job know you make kids books? How do people react when you tell them? (I’ve gotten everything from an eye-roll to genuine excitement.) 

So that’s it! Just four simple reminders of why you’re totally allowed to love your day job while simultaneously building your children’s book career and working to put your stories & art in the hands of young readers. What am I missing? I feel I could probably list a dozen more reasons…but I have to get to sleep. Because I have to be at work at 6am. Cuz I have a day job too. 

And you know what? I’m cool with that. 

Join Bethany and SCBWI-Los Angeles on Twitter this Friday, April 22nd, from 12-1PM PST to continue this discussion. We’ll talk about our love/hate relationships with our day jobs, all the great questions Bethany posed, and any others you want to ask her. She’ll also do her best to answer questions you leave in the blog comments beforehand. We can’t wait to chat with you!

To chat with us: log into your Twitter account anytime during our chat hour and use the hashtag #KTChat or @mention Bethany (@awesomebarton)! If you aren’t on Twitter, leave your questions in the comments before the chat begins. Find SCBWI-LA on Twitter here: @SCBWISOCALLA

And if you’d like to learn more about writing an article for #KTChat, find info here.


For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.


Bethany Barton is an award-winning author and illustrator of children’s books. Her 2015 book I’m Trying to Love Spiders (Viking/Penguin) garnered numerous awards and starred reviews, including the 2016 Children’s Choice Award 3rd/4th Grade Book of The Year. Her 2017 book Give Bees a Chance (Viking/Penguin) was a 2017 SCIBA Award finalist, was listed in Scripps National Spelling Bee “Great Words, Great Works,” and was featured in the New York Times. Her books have been translated into 3 languages. Her newest book, I’m Trying to Love Math, hits stores this July. Find Bethany at bethanybarton.com or on Twitter @awesomebarton.

Images provided by Bethany Barton.