“Don’t quit your day job.” Yep. That’s good advice for a writer. Birds gotta swim, fish gotta fly, and writers gotta eat, and pay bills, and buy shoes for growing children, etc.
But if your job is leaving you brain dead, how the heck are you supposed to write after a day at the salt mines? It’s hard! So why do it? We do it, because we have to write - it's like breathing - And we work the day job, because, well, we like eating too.
So consider these questions:
1) How important to you is writing?
2) How little can you live on
3) How much can you cut from your current life style?
4) How little money can you make and still get by?
If your answers resembled these: 1) very important; 2) very little; 3) I like shopping at thrift stores, and 4) I like the taste of cat food, then this is the article for you. I’ve spent years perfecting this living, eating, and writing gig with a day “job”.
Jobs that leave you exhausted or feeling morally corrupt, don't really serve anyone's best interest.
I started out working in my mother’s beauty shop when I was thirteen. There, I got my feet wet. (That’s not a pun. I literally soaked my feet, the shop, the customers, etc.) I excelled at being the “worst shampoo girl on the planet”. The thought of raking my nails over the scalp of a stranger made me cringe. (Pause while I revisit that memory. Yep. Still makes me cringe.) Because I was reviled by it, I wasn’t very good at it. I ran through the motions, making minimal contact and leaving a lot of soap. I wish that had been my calling. I can see the art in coiffures. (I highly recommend the movie, BLOW DRY.) If not for my whole aversion to touching other people’s scalps, this might have been a great day job for a writer. It just wasn’t my gig.
Insert a bunch of years working at jobs that were emotionally exhausting: teacher’s aide, camp counselor, etc. These jobs were intermixed with the morally corruptive jobs I held in offices and in retail. I never did the food service thing. Far too clumsy and a tendency toward forgetfulness.
Those jobs were important for several reasons. First, they served to reinforce the notion that I was never meant to work for other people and second, I was cheating the businesses and customers I was meant to be serving by not turning out a very good product.
Jobs that lift you up, usually result in benefits for you, and the world at large.
I like renovating houses. I like decorating houses. I like things that, for them to be income makers require the investment of money that I didn’t have. But several things happened to help push me toward my dream day job(s).
1) I found myself suddenly single with a looming mortgage payment,
2) The part-time job I held was about to come to an end,
3) I was accepted at a well respected University… with a nearly full scholarship.
So I found myself in the position of being forced to do exactly what I wanted to do – go to school – but without the resources to support myself – kind of like writing!
My mortgage at the time was around $500/month. That may not seem like much, but my part-time job only barely covered it and the former spouse had covered the other expenses with his post-graduate stipend. Without either of those things, I had to be creative – FAST!
Granted, I wasn’t quite thinking clearly at the time, going through a divorce and an impending job loss, but lucky for me, I had friends and family. My Dad, the ever practical man, pointed out that I would never be able to rent a place for less than my current mortgage, so it didn’t make sense to sell the house. I had to keep the house. The only solution was to share expenses with someone else. The solution was a slow, long-term investment. Over the course of a month, we installed a fast and furious bathroom in the back of the house, and a kitchen sink and stove in the front dining room and nailed shut a door between the halves of my house. I posted an advertisement for the quirky apartment, set the price well below the going rate of a one-bedroom apartment in the area at just $400/month plus half of the utilities, and within the week, I had a renter.
I never missed a mortgage payment. I met my financial obligations and I was providing affordable housing for another person. I felt great about what I had just done! With the additional income, I could live on mac-n-cheese with a part-time job. Oh yeah. The part-time job was about to come to an end with the closure of the insurance agency where I worked. As a writer, most of us can type, so there you have it – a marketable skill. But that wasn’t my dream. I was/am an artist at heart. My artistic talents aren’t going to land me accolades and a living income. Like writing, it takes years of perseverance and honing of craft to make a living as an artist. And like writing, art is a non-essential. What people do need, is practical stuff. People need stuff like furniture, and clothes, and food, and shelter.
And that, in a nutshell, was the solution – my new bread and butter. All along, I had been filling my home with beautiful things on a less than shoe-string budget. Practical things, yet beautiful things – mostly collected from dumpsers. Yes, I was a dumpster diving diva. An oriental rug, solid wood nigh-stands, a dining room table… and it was all free. For sure, it all needed work in one form or another, but I pretty quickly figured out I had a knack for turning things around with a little paint and elbow grease and displaying them in a way that appealed to other people as well. Friends admired my road treasures and very shortly thereafter, opportunity knocked in the form of a small booth in an antique mini-mall and I started selling economical shabby chic furniture for folks on a tight budget. Today, I’ve expanded my day job to include a rental cottage beside my house in the country, and I still sell furniture in the antique shop, but all that takes a back seat to the full-time writing gig. I found two gigs that I enjoy almost as much as writing and rather than leaving me feeling drained and morally corrupt, they leave me energized and give me fodder for the artistic endeavors. Well, that’s all fine and well for me, but what about you?
What about you? Think about the things you enjoy doing. Look around your home? If you weren’t writing, what would you like to be doing? Is there some way to convert what you enjoy doing into a practical service? Does it fill any of the human necessities of food, clothing, shelter?
How do you convert those things into a living?
- Teach- adjunct faculty, workshops for writers, homeschool classes, cooking classes, gardening specialty classes. Whatever you enjoy doing, think about how you can teach it! “Those who can, do… and they share their specialty through teaching!” As well as “bringin’ home the bacon,” it’s also proactive toward your writing career. In this way, you begin building a following of people with similar interests. Chances are, those people are also going to enjoy reading the same genres that interest you.
- Sell – that thing you love. If you love it, chances are, others do too. Think about your interests and how it can be converted into marketable goods. Antiques, yard sales, collections, crafts, skills, hobbies, etc. Ebay, Etsy, mail order, farmers’ markets , Airbnb, Craigslist, trade shows… Consider the expense of your “shop” and treat it like you treat your writing – as a business. Every expense you incur takes away from your potential for income, so cut it low, cut it lean, and make/create/sell a quality product!
If none of those ideas sparks with you, leave a comment here! With the help of others, sharing information and brainstorming ideas, maybe a group of like-minded writers/artists can help you develop a strategy for creating a work model that works for you! I find it’s a waste of energy to worry about someone else profiting from your ideas. Share your ideas – and let the synergy build. Maybe that’s what is meant by paying it forward, and “The Secret” and all of those self-help motivational talks about success. “Build it and they will come.” Enjoy what you’re building and so will others.
Sofie Couch writes young adult paranormal novels as Sofie, and sweet, comedic romance as Annette Couch-Jareb. (Those romances will be re-releasing through Amazon soon. Stay tuned.) In the meantime, you can enjoy her YA Paranormal fringe stuff by clicking the book links - over there, on the right side of this blog: MOONSHINE and ANGELS UNAWARES. Enjoy!