Hey Waiter!

Clear that table!


I’m sitting in a cafe on London’s Sauf Bank – because I’m an idiot…. I came down to see a fellow Waterfordian Jamie Beamish perform in the Taming of the Shrew at the Globe – but only found out on the train that it is a matinee. So, I’ve missed it… Ah well, looks like Jamie and a few other Waterford thesps, including my cousins Michael Power and Des Healy, will be along to the bar soon and it’ll be a Deise arts reunion of sorts… For now, I’m sitting here watching the wheels, or the waiters, go round. And I’m thinking about all the waiting on tables jobs I’ve had in my life.

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.


About suehealy

From Ireland, Sue Healy is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre, London, a full-time Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln. Her book on theatre literary management is published by Routledge, December 2022. Sue is an award-winning writer for stage, TV, and prose writer. TV Her current project, a 6x60minute TV series, is under option. She is under commission with Lone Wolf Media, producers behind PBS’ “Mercy Street”, to co-write the pilot and treatment for a six-part TV series. Stage Her most recent stage-play, Imaginationship (2018), enjoyed a sold out, extended run at the Finborough and later showed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. Her previous stage productions include Cow (Etcetera Theatre, 2017) and Brazen (King’s Head Theatre, 2016), funded by Arts Council England. Sue’s short plays have been performed at the Criterion (Criterion New Writing Showcase), Arcola (The Miniaturists) and Hackney Attic (Fizzy Sherbet Shorts). Radio Her radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm. Prose Sue has won The Molly Keane Award, HISSAC Prize, Escalator Award, Meridian Prize and has been published in nine literary journals and anthologies including: The Moth, Flight, Tainted Innocence, New Writer, Duality, HISSAC, New European Writers. She has been writer-in-residence on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island. She has also benefitted from annual artist residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and at Ginestrelle, Assisi in Italy. An academic with a PhD in modern theatre history, specifically the Royal Court Theatre, Sue has presented her research internationally. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. She has a PhD in modern theatre history (Royal Court Theatre) and is a UEA Creative Writing MA alumnus. View all posts by suehealy

6 responses to “Hey Waiter!

  • Vikki (The View Outside)

    Oooooo, I’m so jealous! I bet it was lovely down there today in the sun 🙂



    Committing to ‘Artist’ can demand a high price .. To tap that source I have found happens in my most dire and vulnerable moments of life .. perhaps this is needed to open the heart.
    This of course, is not true for all, there are some that can access this field of creativity with such ease and lightness ..

    The one rule that prevails, whilst grinding the mill of industrial labour, is never question the gift. Be prepared to act when the inspiration strikes … for me, that an audio recorder, and a camera always in close proximity. And an abundance of pens and scrap paper ! I am lucky, I suppose to have a job that accommodates this.

    I sometimes feel like a madman … more correct perhaps, is being under the spell of a madman 🙂

    Great Article ~m

    ps – I miss London !

  • Michael Graeme

    This is good advice, Sue. I’d go further though and urge any novice to discount writing altogether as a means of making a living. I know this may sound a bit negative, but you have to be realistic. Even though writing may be your number one reason for living you need to consider the possibility you may never actually earn your living by writing the stuff you want to write. So you have to realise your potential in other ways, and not aim too low either. Don’t settle for a minimum wage kind of job if you’ve the intelligence and the drive to get yourself up a corporate ladder somewhere.

    Try to experience life through a profession other than writing, and not necessarily another arty one either – there are lots to choose from – technical, scientific, financial – all of which have the potential to grant you a unique experience, a unique perspective on life, and a satisfying role in society to boot. Be good at it. This experience will inform your work and “make it real”. You can always give up the day job up later on, once you’ve got a couple of best selling novels under your belt. This is every writer’s dream of course. But don’t rely on the writing to be the material foundation of your life. That’s just too risky. It’s good to be ambitious for literary glory, but you also need a serious back-up plan.

  • The Writing Waters Blog

    I agree. A job to pay the bills but not one to distract the writer so much there isn’t “time.”

  • Besma at Life Demiraged

    I did freelance copywriting for three years. And I have to admit, although I did not fancy dealing with clients, it helped me improve my writing style. I now think of how my reader will receive and understand what I write. I’ve become concise and clear.

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