News: Day Jobs

2012-09-16 11:27:AM ago by nicole.boyce

Writing is many things, but a cash cow isn’t one of them. Unless you’re among a handful of established novelists, a few in-demand journalists, or Harlequin’s team of Nocturne Cravings ghostwriters, you’re probably not fanning yourself with stacks of polymer bills. If you’re just getting started, you’ll almost certainly need a secondary income, so what’s the ideal day job for a writer? Should you aim for a job that allows as much covert writing time as possible? A job that expands your communications skill set? One that stimulates your creativity? Or maybe just one that gives you the best weird stories to draw from – how does a person choose?

I heard a poet laureate say that the ideal job for a writer is lighthouse attendant. It's reliable, low-stress (unless something goes awry) and allows for hours and hours of uninterrupted downtime. With that sort of time at your disposal, it would take some Grade A procrastination to let your novel fall by the wayside. Then again, if you sit in a lighthouse all day, what do you have to write about? Should writers instead seek jobs that offer the variety and complexity they’ll need for inspiration? This might be a different conversation altogether – after all, Flannery O'Connor got by with talent and help from her peafowl – but the choice between the Bukowski route or a Dickinsonian one will likely affect the flavour of your work.

An obvious option is to work in a writing-related industry. Communications jobs allow writers to brush up on relevant skills while earning the bucks to keep themselves in submission fees. The Millions has a pretty good sell on the advantages of working at a creative agency, but I wonder if there's a risk of writing yourself out. If you spend all day drafting copy, will you really want to spend your evenings unwinding with another Word document?

Teaching is another popular option, both at the post-secondary and K – 12 levels. If you like research and/or grading, academia might be the route for you. Or, as Nick Ripatrazone points out, teaching high school can be rewarding with the advantage of work-free summers.

What do you think – when it comes to employment, should writers should aim for flexibility, stimulation, or relevance? Can you have all three? Whether you fall into teaching or tea parties, one thing is certain: writers' careers are as varied as their work.


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