A wise writer once said to me that it’s not so much the pram in the hall that’s the impediment to a writing career, but the bills on the door-mat. Money worries are the bane of creativity. And unless independently wealthy, the emerging writer will have to make a living while waiting for that book/film deal (and probably for a while after that fact too). Writers need to work; the question is what kind of jobs are out there?
Many will consider other (more lucrative) forms of writing to bring home the bucks. Journalism is an obvious choice and is still, probably, the most common second career for many creative writers. Moreover, a journalistic background provides marvelous training re editing and brevity of approach. Copy-writing, particularly website copy, is also a popular income booster for writer but both copy-writing and journalism are less satisfying forms of writing for the creative writer and spending all day writing on the day job can make it difficult to come home and do the same at night.
Teaching English and/or creative writing is another common earner for writers. My TEFL training and experience has given me a sound grip of grammar and the intricacies of the English language – all of which is of great practical use to a writer. A TEFL teacher also (usually) travels and such experiences can feed into your work. Teaching creative writing allows you to deconstruct the tools of creative writing, which may benefit your own writing. However, you usually need a track record of publication before you begin to look for work in this area.
It is not uncommon for writers to work a mundane job such as on a factory line or as a manual laborer. Such tasks sit quite well with a writing career as they give the writer time to think, to let ideas bubble and boil ready to write down after the shift has finished. Also, with a job so utterly removed from writing, you will be fresh and eager to sit at your laptop of an evening. The downside of any brain numbing, repetitive work is that it has no status. This fact should not be important but it is because writers are human, so for a writer to stay in a lowly job, s/he needs determination, focus and confidence in their reason for doing this type of work.
Writers, of course, come from all walks of life and all career backgrounds. For those of you who may be considering giving up your job to write full time, you need to remember that you’ll (most likely) still need to make a living. Maybe the job you have is not glamorous or interesting, but these are often the best complementary jobs for writing. So, if you really want to be a writer, the greatest sacrifice you make may be NOT giving up the day job – but staying with it.
September 26th, 2011 at 23:30
I really liked this post. Despite having a Bachelors degree in Psychology, I am working as a teacher’s aide in a preschool classroom. It’s a temp position that ends in November, and after that I will probably go to a temp service. It has been my dream for awhile to have a writing career, so a job that doesn’t require a great amount of mental energy is idea for having the mental energy left over to focus on my writing. In this post, you validated my decision to do this. Thanks 😀
September 26th, 2011 at 23:47
Go for it, Carly Beth. It’s a brave step for anyone to take a job that is perceived as ‘beneath’ their qualifications and education – but you know why your doing it and have a clear goal in mind, so do it!
September 26th, 2011 at 23:31
Hi Sue. I’ve been enjoying your posts. As someone who recently worked in the journalism biz (and whose husband still does) I’d like to add that many newsrooms have been laying off staff in droves, some by as much as 50 percent in just the last four years. Ad revenues are way down. I suspect it would be almost impossible for a newcomer to get hired. Except as an unpaid intern, but that doesn’t pay the bills.
September 26th, 2011 at 23:44
Thanks for the heads up on this issue, Donna.
September 27th, 2011 at 00:18
You know, it’s funny. I did some of my best and most prolific fiction writing when working in an office environment. In some jobs, I could even write *while* working if there weren’t any tasks to do. But I definitely agree that doing less taxing work allows your brain to continue churning out creative material for production later. I can’t say I miss those jobs, because over all they made me miserable, but I can’t complain about the great writing time and skills I got working in offices!
September 27th, 2011 at 07:47
Thanks for sharing that, Heather.
September 27th, 2011 at 00:44
Just the post I need to read today Sue. It reaffirms that I’m dragging myself out of bed to do a non-writing related work every day for a reason. Can’t say being a Secretary is mind-numbing in any way (except when you do filing), but answering some of the phone calls I’ve received have actually given me some writing inspirations 🙂
September 27th, 2011 at 07:48
Yes, another downside is that we constantly have to remind ourselves why we’re doing it….
September 27th, 2011 at 01:05
Another downside to boring, repetitive work–it usually goes with lousy pay. Afraid I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until I retired, though I did write scientific papers.
September 27th, 2011 at 07:48
Too true, Sue Ann. However, if it pays the bills (just)…
September 27th, 2011 at 03:43
I always wondered about this. Thanks for sharing. I am definitely in that pre-published phase of trying to figure out how I can eat before I can make money doing what I love!
September 27th, 2011 at 07:50
I think it often comes down to a choice of whether you want a ‘career’ (ie money, status and job satisfaction) or to be a writer. And, in fairness, it is quite a tough call.
September 27th, 2011 at 08:22
I know a lot of unemployed writers. I believe writing in the future will be a hobby, not a career (except for a few “stars”). In 1988 a magazine paid me $500 for a personal essay. In 2011 the same magazine paid me $100 for a cover story. Technology and the proliferation of writing schools changed the balance of supply and demand, and the plunging economy did the rest. As singer/songwriter (another low/no pay profession) David Olney said, “Pay attention in shop class.”
September 27th, 2011 at 12:39
I think you may be right. All the more reason for looking for employment possibilities beyond the realm of the pen. Still, those who love writing won’t stop writing…
September 27th, 2011 at 11:24
It’s hard to do journalism, if you haven’t got a degree, so I think that’s out for most writers unless they like the idea of studying journalism, something I know I wouldn’t be good at.
A job that just pays the blils is soul destroying to me, but it’s exactly what I am doing for the time being. The only good thing about that, is that it pushes me to continue working on my novel, because I really do not want to be in that job for very long because it’s mind-numbingly boring plus there are tons of very unpleasant people about…
September 27th, 2011 at 12:38
Hi Alannah, you’re right. Nowadays it is difficult to get a full time journalism job without either a degree or a portfolio of freelance work. It didn’t used to be the case. When I entered the profession most just served an apprenticeship – and that was only back in the early 1990s. However, it is not impossible to get a gig these days without a degree – you just go the experience route and get a portfolio of freelance work behind you.
I think that you are doing the right thing in that you are focusing on the novel. Keeping an eye on the reason you’re doing the crap job will keep you sane. Chin up!
September 27th, 2011 at 15:35
There are lots of free-lance opportunities. It’s getting paid that’s the problem. Even if you have years of clips, a journalism degree and many connections. Have you read about content farms? Demand Media is one, but there are others. They’re writer sweatshops. Articles pay $10 to $20. Arianna Huffington pays her 9,000 bloggers $0 (except for the “stars,” who get paid handsomely). Even if you get lucky enough to land a writing job that pays well, corporations have a way of merging and laying people off. Sorry to be the voice of doom, but truth is journalism jobs have changed radically from what they were just five years ago, and I don’t think they’ll ever go back to what they were.
September 27th, 2011 at 17:00
Yikes, it does sound scary, Donna. Sorry to hear.
September 29th, 2011 at 07:29
Thanks Sue, I keep the novel in my head 24/7, it helps to keep me going 🙂
September 27th, 2011 at 20:47
I work a minimum wage job as a care assistant for the elderly, as you said bills need to be paid, fortunately for me its something I do enjoy. I get heaps of ideas from lots of interesting people and then when I do get around to writing I enjoy it all the more, thats why real writers write because they love it not just for the money, (not that I would turn down a six figure book deal that is….) Another interesting blog entry sue, thanks again for sharing.
September 27th, 2011 at 21:35
Hi, thanks for your comment! I wholly agree with you. I used to work a care job (to support myself while I was taking my MA) and it was a mine of inspiration and ideas. Indeed, one of the stories rooted in my time in that job won a national award this year. It is true that if you are bitten by the writing bug, you’ll write whether or not you’re getting paid for it. However, there comes a moment in life when most writers have to make a choice between following their art or making money/ a career. It is not simply because some are more materialistic than creative but often some choose career because they have a family to support, or perhaps have a student loan to pay off – and also feel that having invested so much into their education, they should be reaping rewards as graduates (or at least, their parents expect it). Or their spouse might be pushing to get a mortgage. Or if they’re American, there’s healthcare cost worries. So, I fully understand when very talented and passionate writers don’t have time to write because they’ve taken the corporate dollar. I’m simply saying that if you really want a job that can help you as a writer you could either look for writing related jobs, or jobs that give you ideas/time/less stress (and these tend to be badly paid). If you are willing and able to take the financial hit and loss of ‘social standing’, then it is practical and beneficial for a writer to take a care / factory/ low-level admin job. And yeah, I wouldn’t turn down the six figure book deal either ; )
September 27th, 2011 at 22:37
Bless you all… and I hope you all find the rainbow… very difficult profession… but the world needs your views and insights… have a super afternoon.
September 28th, 2011 at 00:04
September 28th, 2011 at 02:59
This totally changed my perspective. Well, I’m not a writer by profession. But I kind of got paralyzed because I want to do only what I love; and all jobs seem to not make sense and misaligned. The mundane jobs you’re talking about are suddenly not that bad, they even look like a good complement to doing what one loves.
September 28th, 2011 at 07:42
Glad to hear this post has given you a new perspective!
September 28th, 2011 at 22:44
I graduated this past May with a Bachelor’s in Writing Arts (and a Creative Writing concentration). While my resume has yet to snag me a full-time job, I work nights in a local restaurant, and it has given me some great ammo for my writing.
Sometimes it is hard to stay motivated, but then I remind myself of all the other creative writers in the same position.
Thanks for the confidence boost. 🙂
September 28th, 2011 at 22:59
HI Nicole, thanks for the comment. So glad, my post gave you something positive to focus on. It isn’t easy, being a writer – but hey, you’ve got a support group right here!
September 29th, 2011 at 15:49
Excellent post, Sue. So glad you found me on WordPress so that I could in turn find your lovely blog!
This post resonated immensely with me because balancing the day job with my passion is something I’ve had to contend with for 10+ years. The great thing is, I’m now able to look back objectively and determine what works and what doesn’t work for me. For the past 3 years, I’ve been a full-time freelance copywriter, editor and journalist, but I’m writing fewer songs these days than I did years ago, when I worked a staff job. I was in the BMI Workshop as a lyricist at the time; we had assignments every week, and even with my full-time job, I hit my creative deadlines. Entrepreneurs have it much harder, because a large chunk of the time we’re not working on client projects is spent either promoting our business or finding new clients. What’s more, I have songwriter friends who say that after having children, they are more prolific than ever, because their days are so structured that they only have so much time to pursue their dream. They make it work within the time frame they’ve got, and they don’t have the time to procrastinate or second-guess or build up any fear about it. They just do it.
I feel like I’ve just rambled, but I’d like to close by saying that doing tactile things always leads to brainstorms for my creative writing — taking a shower, shucking corn, raking leaves or, yes, baking cupcakes! Like you said, these are things that are utterly removed from writing, so they free up our minds for what matters most to us. Anything that gets us away from the computer or smartphone or TV for a bit, right? Last night, I walked home from yoga class in the rain. It was a good mile’s distance, but I didn’t care because it was the first opportunity I’ve had in a long time to be with nature and to be still with my thoughts. I’m going to make time for these sort of things on a regular basis so that I can rejuvenate my inner artist.
Thank you again for starting this much-needed discussion. I wish you the best with your writing workshops and your novel and look forward to more great posts!
September 29th, 2011 at 21:05
How lovely to get such a detailed comment from you and for sharing your experiences as an artist. I’m afraid I have no knowledge of songwriting – not being at all musical – but I imagine it is not so far removed from all the other ‘regular’ writing you do. At least, I imagine you have to follow the same basic steps.
I’ve also worked as a freelance copy-writer,, editor, proofreader and journalist. I worked in this sector because I wanted to get paid for writing. And I also found I did more creative writing when I wasn’t do these day jobs. There’s a lot to be said for a manual/mindless job – it allows you to write in y our head : )
Walking in the rain is a marvellous exercise. I should get a chance to do a lot of that in Ireland at the weekend : )
October 2nd, 2011 at 01:58
Yes, indeed, Sue! Having worked in journalism, corporate communications, marketing, etc. for over a decade, there were times when a day job writing meant I was too spent to be creative at night, so I totally understand what you’re saying.
And yes, I’m sure Ireland affords you lots of opportunities for beautiful walks in the rain:) Enjoy!
October 2nd, 2011 at 13:26
Hi Carla! Yup, Ireland’s got plenty of walks for rain lovers : )
It is true, isn’t it, that many writers enter journalism etc.. in order to get paid for writing but then find they’re ‘write-ed out’ by the end of the day – so they’re’s a place for the McDonald’s type job in writers life. thanks for commenting!
November 7th, 2011 at 11:14
I’m an engineer, however being creative helps with my job – as it allows me to come up with unique solutions to problems. Utilising all of your brain is a must!
February 9th, 2017 at 15:11
So many truths in your posts. The bills must be paid, well i suppose i can say ive built a varied skill base !