“You can find work and sort your life out anytime. The pub closes in five hours.”
So, ‘day jobs’. I have occasionally been accused of never having had a ‘real job’, which depending on my mood either seems sort-of true or else sort-of an obnoxious thing to say. No one ever says to a plumber or a hairdresser working for themselves that they have a fake job.
However, the pros/cons of freelance/self-employment/small-business-type stuff are often the same as for writing in general. YAY for often getting to work in your pyjamas and/or working on your own schedule, and BOO for the difficulties in time management, uncertainty about payments, etc. It’s also often dangerous to calculate ‘per hour’ anythings.
And sometimes, every so often, I do contemplate, for example, life as a history teacher. Or accountant. Or a variety of different jobs, with their associated pros and cons.
But back to this question: ‘what kind of day job works best for me as a writer?’ I know writers and know of writers who are also: academics (not necessarily in the field of English Literature), administrators, website developers, primary- and second-level teachers, editors, scientists, economists, actors, life coaches, journalists, managers, managing directors, doctors, vets, lawyers, literary agents, booksellers, bookshop owners, book reviewers, creative writing teachers. A mix of related and unrelated jobs. (Some of them – teaching creative writing, often editing, sometimes book reviewer– are of the sort that tend to happen after publication rather than before; others require specialist training in their field.)
I don’t think there’s any one best day job for a writer, or for anyone. But here’s my list of things I think are worth considering:
1. Pressure and stress.
How much pressure will you be under? How much of this is pressure and stress that you’ll take home? How much mental energy is used up in relation to work? How much physical energy? How much stress is put on your wrists/hands?
How much does the job pay? How is the pay calculated – per unit, per hour, per week/month? What’s the gap between doing the work and being paid for it? Does the job pay well enough to let you work less than ‘full-time’ if you need to?
Does the pay cover your living expenses (food, shelter, clothing, transport costs)? Do you have the resources to cover emergency costs (e.g. repairs, healthcare)? How about other expenses (e.g. holidays, books, DVDs, wine, designer shoes, redecorating things, birthday/Christmas presents, internet, etc)? What about your expenses are you prepared to modify? What are you prepared to prioritise?
Where is the job? How long does it take to get there and back? If working from home (including unpaid work like caring, childminding, housework, etc.), is the ‘work space’ different from the ‘writing space’? Is there a way of switching over to ‘writing time’?
How many hours will you be working? How many days a week? How much time off do you have? How much notice do you need to give for time off? Is the work seasonal or the same year-round?
6. Quality time.
How busy will you be when working? Is there ‘waiting around’ time? Is it possible to think/daydream/plan/write during any of this time? Is it possible to do other tasks (e.g. check personal email) during this time, to free up outside-of-work time? How about reading? Editing? Research?
7. Flexibility and stability.
Do you have a choice over the hours that you work? The weeks? How much notice will you have of whether you’re working or not working? How much notice will you have if your employment ceases entirely? How much if your hours increase or decrease? (This includes working overtime.)
Are you interested in what you’re doing most of the time? Are you interested in what the work you’re doing contributes to? Are you interested in what the work relates to, whether directly or indirectly? Are you interested in the people you work with? (Not necessarily needing to lust after them, or anything.)
9. Benefits and the future.
What sort of benefits-in-kind are included in the job? Is there an opportunity to travel? How about office parties or free samples? Is there a Christmas bonus? What opportunity for career progression is there? What about the job might benefit your writing?
How much training/education is required in order to be eligible for the job? In order to progress in it (or sometimes to stay in it)? How time-consuming is it? Who pays for it? Does the kind of training/education it is suit your learning style? Are the skills transferrable to other jobs or to your writing – or are they very specific?
What kind of writing, if any, does the job involve? (e.g. invoices, letters/emails to customers/clients/co-workers/bosses/employees, memos, reports, articles, press releases, reviews, forms, surveys.) How will you distinguish between writing-for-work and writing-creatively?
Some writers want a career outside of writing, while others just want something to pay the bills. Others want the kind of job they can fit writing-time into, or that facilitates writing-related research. Some want something that ties into writing/books in some way, while others want something completely different. Many want something which is low-stress, well-paid and one-day-a-week, and if any of you know any jobs like that going, do let me know. There are a lot of different factors to take into account – especially if you think about a ‘day job’ as something worth investing in, worth taking seriously, and something that often goes hand-in-hand with your writing career, rather than standing in its way.