You have one job (Mistake #117)

If being a writer and only a writer isn’t working out, then it may be time for a change-up.

This isn’t about giving up being a writer – although I have written about that before, in Mistake #108, and don’t believe it’s something you should never consider – but about being more than a writer.

Be a writer and be one or more other things too.

I have been a translator, a writing tutor, a consultant, a sub-editor, an editor, a food judge – all while being a writer. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever been only a writer.

You don’t lose your mind doing other jobs. PROMISE

Last week, I chaired the judging sessions of a skincare award which I launched in 2012 with a colleague, and which has formed a fair chunk of my workload and income ever since. It involves marketing, recruitment (of product testers), consultancy, research (of cosmetic regulation, of skin allergies), administration, organisation, occasionally cooking (to feed judges!) – and also a bit of writing (blogging, press releases, and so on). It’s varied and unpredictable and fun – the fragrance goes to your head, and hessian bags become makeshift beards – and writing is only a small aspect of the work.

I’ve known writers who’ve lectured, worked in shops (including bookshops, great places to work), given talks in schools; those who have been secretaries or who have offered transcription services. There are jobs out there that involve working with words; and there are some which don’t. You can do them all.

The perks? Writing doesn’t always expose you to the world nor give you many ideas in itself – unless you want to write about writing, of course. I write about writing – here, and occasionally for the writing press – but it’s not a money spinner, and you can’t really make a living from it. Getting out there and doing other stuff can give you lots of ideas. You’ll meet people. They will tell you stories.

Earning a bit of cash from doing other stuff will take the pressure off you feeling you ought to be earning a lot of cash from your words. All writers go through lean periods, and there is little that stifles creativity more than having the added pressure of cash-flow issues.

A lot of writers come to writing gradually. They were doing one job, then started to do a bit of writing, while maintaining the old job, and gradually moving in the writing direction, doing less of the old job, working first four days, then three, then two, until, quite often, they make the leap into being 100% writers. This transition is considered by some the real mark of writerly success, but taking a step back – whether by necessity or desire – is no sign of failure.

In fact, it’s a sign of success. It’s a sign that you recognise that there is more to life than writing, and that you have to be prepared to adapt and respond to changing circumstances throughout your life and career. If 100% writing isn’t working out, consider (100-x)% writing instead. It could work for you. And it doesn’t need to be for ever.

What other jobs have you done while writing? Or still do? 

Comments 6

  • On Wednesday I start a 12-month post for a couple of days a week, giving community groups advice on how to get grant funding for their church buildings. Ironically, a writing job I did eight years ago for this employer strengthened my application. They’d commissioned me to write an easy-to-understand 20,000-word guide on how to manage a grant-funded project in a church. And I hope this position will inspire many other writing project ideas. The job will also allow me to focus on a couple of larger writing projects that don’t generate an income while they’re being written. So I just see it as another phase in my writing career. Of course, it does mean I can no longer work in my pyjamas. There are some things the Bishop of Hereford won’t allow

    • What a great gig! And an excellent point made – that a part-time job can ‘fund’ a presently unpaid writing project. Perhaps he’ll permit a dressing gown *over* the pyjamas … ?

  • Inspiring piece, Alex.

    Five years ago, a fan of my blog (Pitching the World) became the content manager for a gaming website and asked me to write a column about playing poker from a beginner’s point of view.

    I started to play a bit and write a bit, then play a bit more and write a bit less and there was one year when almost all of my income was from playing poker and hardly any, perhaps none, from writing.

    Five years later I still play poker semi-professionally.

    It can be good to have something to fall back on when editors aren’t banging down your door offering work (i.e. always) or when you don’t have the inspiration, ideas, or heart to pitch (i.e. always) but I wish my fall back was something less psychologically and emotionally gruelling than poker.

    • Good to hear from you, Steve! It may be gruelling, but I’m nevertheless impressed that you’ve taken it to this level and I’m sure anyone reading will be. PS Surely there’s a book in it?

  • Let’s hope so. My track record of not writing books is far better than that of writing books. But this one has potential.

    I’ve even set up a blog for it. I know: groundbreaking. It’s here if you fancy dipping from time to time as there will be Pitching the World stuff in there (hair and mind going, drinking not going, financial irregularities) as well as poker stuff (see previous brackets).

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