Writing and Your Work

22 Aug

Given that very few writers are lucky to earn a living from their craft, unless you are unemployed or a writing tutor, there is potential for your writing career and your day job to conflict (and, if you are unemployed, there is potential for it to affect employers’ perceptions of you).

Now, if you live somewhere like the UK or the USA, you do have a right to freedom of expression, so employers shouldn’t be able to outright fire you or refuse to hire you solely because you write, although that is no guarantee that it might not adversely affect their opinion of you when weighing up decisions over who to hire, fire or promote. Although doing such thing as staying up all night writing so that you oversleep and are late for work or misappropriating company equipment for your own use would be problems, they are not writing specific – people miss work for hangovers or misuse computers to surf the internet when they should be working or ‘borrow’ office equipment without being writers. In those terms, writers have to be as responsible and sensible as everyone else should be. Likewise, the perception of your writing being an alternative career path that draws attention away from your day job is no different to someone taking on a second job to make ends meet; commonsense should be applied and company policy dealt with.

The main problem that writers face, whether they write fact or fiction, is the potential for their words to offend. Short of committing crimes in your time off or becoming a spokesman for a group deemed offensive by society, this is not something the average worker with a second job or outside interests has to contend with – flipping burgers is unlikely, for example, to lead to a furore! Unfortunately, the fact that you may be expressing your opinion on issues or writing about things that some people may not be happy with, can make your employer uncomfortable. Obviously, if your writing is breaking the law, such as with libel or incitement to crime, then they have a right to be worried, just as they would have a right to be concerned if you spent your evenings in burglary rather than sitting in front of a computer keyboard, although you probably have more to worry about from the law suits and police dawn raids than being sacked. Thus, it is understandable that they might be unhappy if your work isn’t actually illegal but might be perceived as such, such as erotica or violent horror. Thus, with a little commonsense, you are free to write about whatever you want to.

In theory… In reality, you need to be aware of how your work might be perceived and how it might reflect your working environment.

Writing that would be perfectly acceptable for one person to produce might be construed differently for another in a different situation. For example, a story involving an underage sexual relationship, no matter what the context or how non-graphic, could easily be misperceived if written by a teacher, whilst a magistrate writing a story that seems to glorify criminal activity could face awkward questions. More generally, anyone in a position of responsibility could face problems for writing someone perceived as dubious. Remember, it has little to do with whether or not you are in the right, and everything to do with the backlash from those you serve and the media when they get hold of a titilating story. It doesn’t matter that the teacher’s story involving underage sex was a strongly moral tale if the media can print salacious headlines or parents withdraw their children from class.

In addition, your work might reflect uncomfortably on your workplace or employers if you write fact or fiction about something similar, or if you appear to be writing about colleagues (similarly, basing your writing on your social life isn’t always a good idea as people may take offence at how they are portrayed). Even if what you write bears no relationship to your actual thoughts and beliefs, and you haven’t based incidents upon real events or characters upon real people, there is always the potential for someone to assume that you have (although it has to admitted that there is something amusing about someone loudly proclaiming that a nasty character is based upon them when it isn’t, as you wonder what they see of themselves in it!). So, be very careful in what you use that could be construed as being taken from your working (or social) life.

Of course, whilst it might be simpler, it is not necessary to avoid awkward topics if you are willing to use a little commonsense and have a thick skin for when something does backfire at you. Avoiding placing contentious writing online is always a good idea – employers and colleagues are less likely to see your physically printed writing than google your name and read that online, and it doesn’t leave the electronic traces that even deleted web content does. Then, of course, it is possible to publish your work anonymously or under a pseudonym – this may not be completely opaque, if, for example, you draw heavily from your working or social life, in which case someone might add the clues up and realise it is you, but it is a lot safer than placing your real name on it. But, ultimately, what risks you are willing to take is entirely up to you – so, write responsibly!

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