4.5 Things to Avoid When Finding a Day Job as a Writer

After college I had a plan. I was going to commit myself to my writing and work odd jobs to support myself however I could until my writing did. In fact, that’s what this entire blog is about.

Well, in the last seven months I have had seven jobs, six of which have all taken place in the last two months – after I moved out of my mother’s house – and it’s been pretty rough. I don’t want to give you the wrong impression: my determination hasn’t changed. The world hasn’t crushed my youthful dreams. What has changed is my understanding of what “supporting myself however I can,” actually means.

Here are a few of the lessons that I think my fellow moonlight artists might find useful:

1: If an interviewer asks you, “What’s the hardest job you’ve ever done,” don’t take the job.

In the spring of 2013 I was looking for a job in Ohio. My plan was to move to Columbus for the summer, working, and living with my girlfriend, and then we’d move at the end of the summer. I had a romantic notion that I wanted to work with my body, outside, so that I would be mentally fresh to continue my writing after work.

Before we continue let me make one thing clear: when you’re physically exhausted, mental exhaustion tends to follow. Fatigue is fatigue and manual labor is not necessarily the key to an artistic life.

Anyway, I found a job as an exterior house painter and I accepted the job, despite the interviewer asking me the fatal question.

I ended up working one day in nearly 100 degree weather, under a blazing sun, on a shaky three story ladder, reaching above my head to paint trim in a moderate wind. The shift lasted twelve hours and I honestly thought I might die, but that brings me to lesson number two.

2: If you do accept the job, give your body a week to adjust to the strain (even if you think you’re going to die)

In my mind’s eye I saw myself falling backward off the ladder, or getting heat stroke and passing out. By the end of the first day I felt like a survivor…which was ridiculous.

I almost cried on my way in to work on the second day, drove most the way there, and then lost my nerve and quit.

This, I think, was at least as big a mistake as accepting such a demanding job in the first place (if not a bigger mistake). I half knew it at the time, but came up with many reasons why quitting would be the right thing to do and then it was done.

Still, if you’re ever in the same situation, heed the good advice that I did not: stick it out at least a week.

3: If you do quit your job, don’t lose your composure and simply accept the first job offered to you

So, there I was, jobless, the whole summer before me and in a real panic. I knew then that it had been a mistake to quit after a single day of painting. I felt stupid, embarrassed, and fearful.

I began the job search again, frantically this time. I sent out emails to everything from dishwasher positions and cleaning services to web design internships and blog article writing companies.

The first place to offer me a job was in sales, and I accepted it.

4: Don’t take a job in sales

This may not be entirely fair. I’m sure there are plenty of writers out there who would enjoy a sales job, and, if that’s you, great.

However, this article assumes that you want to be devoting most of your time and energy to writing (or other passions) – that your job is just that, a job and not a career because here’s the thing: most jobs in sales are careers. They take a lot of time and energy input in the beginning, and then pay more and more as you begin actually selling things.

As a writer (or other artist) though, what you need (and what I needed) was a job where you clocked in, worked a certain number of hours and then got paid in proportion to the number of hours invested. If this is your day job and you want to follow your passion at night, those nights need to be devoted to your passion and not spent working extra hours to make sure your day job is a success.

Needless to say, my sales job didn’t work out.

4.5: Only take week or two week long gigs if you’re pretty sure that you can’t find something steadier.

I put this as only half a rule because of the caveat. I’ve been working one and two week gigs for most of the summer, and it’s been fine. I’ve gotten by and many of these gigs I really wouldn’t have wanted to do for more than a week or two anyway.

However, I also have had unproductive weeks where I simply didn’t make as much money as I needed to and am coming out of this summer below my goal of $1000 in the bank for my upcoming move.

Use your best judgement on this ones, my friends. If you’re pretty sure you can get a steady job, hold out for it, otherwise, it’s okay to just get by.

What the future holds

In this end, this summer has been a very educational experience. I’ve made mistakes – a long train of mistakes actually – but I’ve also learned some valuable lessons, which I hope you will find useful.

I still don’t know where I’m going or what the future holds, but I’m getting there. I’m figuring it out day by day.

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