There’s no right way to write professionally. The only necessities for the writer’s life are to care about the craft and put in the hard work. Everything else is more of a whatever-works-for-you type of thing. That being said, working on a novel doesn’t pay the bills. Submitting poetry won’t reliably get you groceries. So when it comes time to get that paying nine-to-five, where should you look?
The good news is that the ability to write well will give you a leg up for nearly any job, especially ones in creative or business fields. A well-written résumé and cover letter will do wonders for your job prospects. Unfortunately, getting that job means there are now eight fewer hours in a day for you to write. Maximizing your creativity in those remaining hours is crucial, and the right job is key. There are three types of jobs that tend to help writers get to that professional level, but in the end, it’s all about what works best for you.
Many writers, of course, write as their day job. Journalism, marketing, PR, corporate communication, instruction manuals—all of those require someone with some kind of skill in writing. There are many writing jobs out there, but the sad reality is that writing is not often a valued skill and in-house writing jobs are frequently filled by whichever other employee is the best at putting words into sentences. Some writing jobs are freelanced out, but making a living wage from freelance writing is difficult, and many of the jobs are not worth the money offered. The perk of having a day job as a writer is that you’re constantly honing your skill. But the downside of it is that your creative writing well can be completely empty by the end of the day, used up by your job.
Another option here is creativity in a different medium. If you have the ability to get a job in graphic design or videography or sound mixing—just to name a few—it can keep those creative juices flowing while theoretically not taking anything away from your drive to write. Any job in any field has bad days where you’re going to want to come home and do nothing but binge Netflix and eat ice cream out of the carton. That’s okay. What’s important is to make sure you get into the habit of writing, so the discipline is there even when the motivation disappears for months at a time.
Jobs Tangentially Related to Writing
This is probably going to be your best bet when it comes to day jobs. Many writers work as teachers or professors to supplement the income from their writing, often teaching English but also teaching social studies or history or any number of other subjects. It keeps you engaged with the discipline without making you write all day every day. Similarly, jobs in libraries or bookstores keep you up-to-date on publishing trends and in touch with readers without being a strict writing job.
While harder to get and more industry-specific, jobs in publishing are also a good option for writers, though spending the day reading other people’s words can put you at risk for writer burnout from either comparison or knowledge of the sheer number of people in this world who want to be writers. Editing and proofreading are needed at many companies outside of traditional publishing houses, and a quick look at the internet can tell you how indispensable copy editors really are.
If a creative or word-related job isn’t for you, just look for a job that will get you lots of stories. Any job working with the public will do that, though at the risk of you losing all patience and motivation. Quirky jobs in fields that interest you can also prove useful. Agatha Christie worked at a pharmacy, informing her use of poisons in novels. Mark Twain famously got his pen name from piloting a riverboat. Bram Stoker was the personal assistant of a popular actor whose life and travels inspired much of Stoker’s writing. Many of the greatest stories come out of writers simply living life and having a passion for writing, so any experiences you can collect will take you far as you craft stories of your own.
As anyone would tell you while job hunting: find a job you’re not going to hate. That’s the most important part. A job that keeps you interested and doesn’t drain your will to live is going to lend you the best chance for making the most of those after-hours writing times. But at the end of the day, it’s all about making money to fund your true passion. So while you can spend all your time job hunting for that one perfect job, that’s time you’re not spending writing. If you have to work at Taco Bell in order to keep yourself fed and alive, do it. Just open yourself to the inspiration all around you and keep an eye out for new connections and opportunities. The biggest enemy to writing is complacency in mediocrity. Whatever you do, keep your curiosity alive. And keep writing.