Recently, I came across this list of bizarre day jobs of famous authors. Although I think for most writers, this list doesn’t seem all that bizarre. Most of us need some source of income that’s not writing-related, and I’d wager that almost all of us have had some kind of random job in our past. (My resume includes ice cream scooping, doll selling, wrangling costumed characters, and television production.)
Writing is pretty much the best career ever, but unfortunately it’s not one that usually comes with health benefits attached. My advice for finding a writer-friendly job:
Be honest with yourself and your needs.
Your career is writing. A day job can (and hopefully will) be fulfilling on its own, but you don’t need to feel pressured to climb the corporate ladder. Think about what kind of schedule you need, what your priorities are financially, what flexibility you might need, etc. Your day job shouldn’t drain you of valuable energy that could go toward your writing.
Find something you don’t hate.
At one of my first jobs out of school, I was super stressed and would leave feeling like I’d just spent 8 hours doing nothing worthwhile. My current job makes me feel good about what I do doing the workday, which means I don’t get home and want to hide under the couch cushions.
Wear your writer badge.
If possible, be honest with your employer/coworkers that you’re a writer. Not that you need to go into major detail about revisions, but try not to hide the fact that you’re actively pursuing a career in art. At my current and last couple of jobs, people knew I was a writer and were extremely supportive. If I had to hide the fact that I had another career outside of my job, I might not feel comfortable going to work everyday.
Understand the ebbs and flows.
Even with the best day job, there are stressful times and days when you wonder, “What if I just wrote full time?” I’d love to be a full-time writer, but I know I’d hate the pressure of writing with a voice in the back of my head telling me, “If this doesn’t sell, you are sunk.” It’s okay if you have a stressful day or week or month at work. That doesn’t mean you’re not doing the right thing for yourself, your home, and your craft.
Remember it’s not just you.
It’s easy to think that other writers make enough money to spend all day writing, but even really successful writers often do other things to pad their incomes–teaching, writing other articles, doing author visits, working 9-5 at entirely unrelated jobs, doing temp or freelance work, etc. And even if they are writing full-time, that doesn’t mean they don’t stress about bills or cut back on their budget on any given month. Just because you see someone has a book out doesn’t mean you know what their financial situation is. We’re all trying to make it work as best we can.
No matter what your writing career looks like or what other kind of jobs you have/have had, you’re not alone. Most of us need a day job, but writing is our real work, and that’s a pretty great thing to be doing–even if it’s not doing regular office hours.
“I would say to get the character in your mind. Once he is in your mind, and he is right, and he’s true, then he does the work himself. All you need to do then is to trot along behind him and put down what he does and what he says…You’ve got to believe in him. You’ve got to—to feel that—that what—that he is—is alive, and then, of course, you will have to do a certain amount of—of picking and choosing among the possibilities of his action, so that his actions fit the character which you believe in…But the character’s got to be true by your conception and by your experience, and that would include, as we’ve just said, what you’ve read, what you’ve imagined, what you’ve heard, all that going to giving you the gauge to measure this imaginary character by, and once he comes alive and true to you, and—and he’s important and moving, then it’s not too much trouble to put him down.”–William Faulkner
As always, Faulkner finds the perfect words to describe the creation process. So often I feel like I just need to see in my mind what a character is doing. I can’t force it; I just have to let them walk around so I can “put down” what they say and do.
I know other YA writers who went through traditional MFA programs and weren’t as happy with their experiences, but I appreciated having the time to focus on craft and technique. And I think it helped that my program was a little more flexible than most–I got to take classes outside of my genre, and also crossed over a lot with the publishing program.
Obviously you don’t need to get an MFA to be a writer or learn/practice craft. There are a million different ways to be a writer and you have to find what works for you.
“Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.”
― Ann Patchett, Truth and Beauty
This perfectly describes the writing process for me. Yes, it’s a job and can be hard and not everyone has that skill, but it’s also the way I process the world and how I go about my daily life. It makes me think “Oh, I bet this WIP character goes to Catholic school,” or “This is exactly how this WIP character first realized she loved X.” I love spending time in these worlds and with these people who don’t actually exist.
Anna-Marie asked some fantastic questions, and I’m excited to share the interview with you all. We actually had to cut some material because we talked too much. But here is a little of the extra Q&A:
I’ve heard you say that one of your favorite writing tips is not to develop writing rituals. How has this proven good advice for you? I know I would use rituals as a crutch (“I only write at night!” “I need to have coffee while I write!”) so telling myself that rituals don’t get the work done means that I can potentially sneak in writing time anywhere/anytime. Not that I always do, but at least it’s one less excuse. ;)
Do you have any writing rituals that have crept in anyway? A favorite time of day to draft? A favorite drink or snack while revising? As much as I love coffee and tea, my favorite writing beverage is lots and lots of water. Woohoo hydration! I also tend to like drafting at night, but that might be because I do the day job thing so most of my writing time is in the evening. My biggest ritual is probably having carefully crafted playlists for each project. I can write without them, but I love having a book soundtrack playing in the background for inspiration.