Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Writers & Day Jobs

"You mean, I can't just sit here and type and get paid?"

I've been talking to lots of author friends lately about how they make money.

Because, you know: very few people make a living from their books. Just, FYI. Either you live off the largesse of a supportive and well-remunerated spouse, or you have a day job. Or day jobs.

In my case, I have a little of both. Below is an account of the work I've done.


In addition to writing about the sleazy angst of teenagers, my main marketable skill is teaching. After I finished my undergrad (a very pragmatic mix of Hispanic Studies & Creative Writing), I went back to school to take coursework to teach high school. In fact, I am currently licensed in the state of Minnesota to teach Spanish to grades 7-12. In my parents' basement is a load of files and curricula and posters and weird ephemera that I used when I was employed as a Spanish teacher. It's very hard to get rid of, because I know how much work it was to create. Perish the thought that I or a school ever gets desperate enough to hire me as their Spanish teacher! But I still hang on to the materials.

It turns out, though, that pedagogy and experience in a classroom translate across content. Now I teach writing at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. I've been doing that, primarily for teenagers, but at times for adults, since 2007. I continue to do so; I'm considering doing an online class for adults this fall. I find the problems involved in teaching very enjoyable, even if I think they are separate from the problems involved in writing stories.

In general, teaching is not about what I think. It's external work, pushing my own concerns aside for the concerns of students. It's hard work and it's never ever boring. It takes up a lot of my emotions. It makes me question what I think I know. It's very invigorating. It's also very exhausting at times. But being a bad teacher is ever more exhausting.

Writers who teach full-time have my eternal empathy. They give and give to their students and then must try to give and give to their fake people.

Teaching Writing: Not as glamorous

Freelance Writing

Freelance writing is often astonishing in that it amazes me the lengths professionals will go to avoid writing. They will ask me to do things I find shockingly easy. Then they pay me. Whee! It's kind of insane. But these are people who are experts at other things; they don't want to wear themselves out with skills they don't possess. Below are some things I've done to make money with writing:

- sales emails, brochures, and mission statements for businesses
- web copy for boutique photographers' websites, a job website, a real estate blog, a fitness blog & several alt-weeklies that no longer exist
- ad copy for products like single malt scotch, perfumes, golf clubs, and lipsticks for a luxury website
- random essays for newspapers and magazines
- social media content for business Facebook pages and websites
- manuscript critique for novels (via The Loft)

Writing stuff for money: generally not the most scintillating work. That's why you get paid.

Other Ways I've Made Money

You might ask what influence teaching and writing for money have on my own fiction.

The answer: very little. The work I do with teenagers obviously provides me with a sense of their concerns and their deportment and speech rhythms, yes. Writing for money? Nothing I can think of.

It is really the Other Jobs I've Had that inform the stories I make up. For example:

- print room assistant for generator manufacturer
- house-cleaner / nanny
- patient intake rep for hospital emergency room
- thrift store employee
- waitress at Happy Chef
- hostess at a 50's grill and a Holiday Inn restaurant
- daycare center employee (infants and toddlers)
- dishwasher at a 50's grill
- waitress at Little Caesar's (my hometown used to have a dine-in Little Caesar's, yes)
- book seller for Barnes & Noble
- high school cheerleading coach (note: I never was a cheerleader)
- administrative assistant for Giant Private Agricultural Corporation
- human resources scheduler for Giant Financial Corporation


Even if you get a book deal or an agent, you will probably keep your day job. Not just because you don't want to end up living under a bridge. But because there is more to being a good writer than just "writing." You need to be a part of the world by exploring it. You might as well make a few bucks at the same time, right?

This is important, yall. Don't be ashamed.

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