Friday, August 17, 2012

A Suitable Job for a Writer

The manly male writers of the late nineteen-fifties all seemed to have similar c.v.'s – longshoreman, short-order cook, and I forget the third thing, cab driver maybe or piano player in a bawdy house – so that it became obligatory to say you had done these things if you wanted to be taken seriously as a writer. (Also you had to drink to excess, but that's a rant for another day.)

What is a good job for a fledgeling writer? To my way of thinking, anything you can do to keep from having to write home for money. Ideally the job should not be so arduous or time-consuming as to leave you no energy or time to hone your craft. Also ideally, your day job should offer a certain amount of life experience. Anything where you interact with the public is good. If you keep your eyes and ears open you can learn a lot about human nature on the job. I used to enjoy retail sales, though it doesn't pay very well.

During the go-go eighties I wrote user manuals for a software house, and that paid quite well. I mastered the art of gracefully gender-neutral prose. My instructions were clear and unambiguous. Nobody read them; nobody ever reads the manual. But the hours were regular and the money was good.

A job where you write for a living has its advantages and disadvantages. As a naval officer, Robert Heinlein learned to write clearly and say what he meant the first time. Newsman Jimmy Breslin was disgusted by the prose style of those of his fellow Irishmen who became lawyers. The law, he felt, was a bad day job for a writer. Newspaper reporters learn to write fast, write clearly, and write whether they feel inspired to or not, and they are constantly exposed to Life as it is Lived, but openings in that field are becoming scarce.

You might set forth under the impression that you will make money right away by writing what you want to write, be it flaming romances or literary fiction. Occasionally, this sort of thing happens. People also hit it big in the lottery, or so I hear. Good luck. But keep your day job.

Kate Gallison

* Short Order Cook - Kevin Feary


  1. Excellent comments on a theme that touches all of us. From where I sit, my wallet tells me being a lawyering kinda fellow or gal is a big help in today's market! tjs

  2. Kate, I kept my day job. I am not sure if it helped or hurt. Part of it was teaching business writing. I think that helped. One of MWA colleagues once bragged to me that he did not need a day job. He married a big time lawyer. I am married to a man who was pretty successful in his field. I never saw that as a license to write full time. What a jerk I turned out to be!

  3. Even when my time was totally free, I never was able to write for more than three hours a day. So I might just as well have a day job as watch soap operas and clip my nails. Was the lawyer's husband any good as a writer? (meow.)

  4. I wish I could say no, but yes, Kate. He is good. He's a mid-list writer like us, but has a nice following. I read one of his series and I liked it. (I type with my lower lip stuck out.) He's also pretty good looking. The lawyer is probably very happy with him. (Lip protruding further!)

  5. Let's see...I was in the military overseas for two years, washed dishes in McDonald's for three hours, worked as journalist, drove a truck, worked in a supermarket, was a technical writer for 15 years (gender-neutered myself to death), a spook, hotline volunteer, project manager, census taker (there's where you meet characters--almost all alive), paper-grader, secretary (helps to type 100 wpm)--so somewhere in there should be a story.