The Best Day Job For a Writer


Wait – being a writer of books is a job in itself, isn’t it? The fact of the matter is that many writers don’t make enough money from their books to live off their writing (comfortably enough at least), and the small percentage who do have had to work their way to the top. Most writers start with a day job of some kind. Famous writers have certainly had some interesting day jobs before their rise to fame…

  • Ernest Hemingway – Correspondent and war-time ambulance driver

  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Journalist

  • William S. Burroughs – Bug exterminator

  • Fyodor Dostoevsky – Engineer

  • Harper Lee – Ticket agent

  • Stephen King – Janitor, English teacher

  • Anton Chekhov – Physician

  • Charles Bukowski – Post office worker

  • Haruki Murakami – Jazz club owner

  • Franz Kafka – Legal clerk

Indeed, many famous authors had nothing to do with the academic world, or the jobs related to it. Does this suggest that it doesn’t really matter what kind of day job you have so long as you write? That the passion for writing can overcome the inconveniences and vicissitudes of even boring day jobs? Perhaps.

A Modern Dilemma?

But in our modern times we have, or at least we seem to have, a lot of control over our “careers” – we certainly have more options than writers in the past had. We can even work from home, on our computers. So, while we focus on our writing (or on our art, for the same is true for most artists), should we simply chose whatever day job pays the bills, or can we allow ourselves to be choosy?

Having a day job that somehow involves books or writing, or at least something creative, may seem preferable to working in a post office. But is it really so? Does not having a boring and undemanding job actually encourage a creative state once you get home and sit at your desk? Kafka, who worked as a clerk in an insurance company, would perhaps agree, but then if he were alive today, perhaps he would have preferred to be a freelancer writer.

Or perhaps a teacher, or a librarian, as some aspiring writers are these days. Working as a writer, or with books or stories, as in journalism, may seem like a good strategy for the aspiring author, and it probably is. There is a danger in it, though, that the work-related writing consumes some of the energy and passion for the book writing, and so in the long run it can be insidiously harmful to one’s drive and creativity.

But Does It Really Matter?

For my part, I work as a freelance writer, “from the comfort of my home”, and while I appreciate the convenience of it, I do wonder sometimes whether my writing wouldn’t actually improve if I wrote less, that is, if I did not write for a living but worked as a photographer, or had some other job that would get me out of the house more, into the midst of people.

In the end, I think the important thing for us who want to be writers is to read and write every day. If we do that, what “day job” we have isn’t that important. It will of course influence our writing, but if it pays the bills and brings a certain stability to our life, which we need for our long-term writing projects, then I think it’s preferable to having a creative job that is full of ups and downs, or worse, have no day job at all and rely entirely upon writing to earn a living, which can influence what we write, in a bad way.

What about you? What day job do you have? Does it interfere with your writing?

26 thoughts on “The Best Day Job For a Writer

  1. This is great! I’ve worked a lot of different fields, but I find that the best day job that corresponds to my writing is call centre work. It’s less draining than face to face interactions, and I just feel crappy if I work housekeeping. It seems to work.
    It’s awesome you can make a living off freelance writing. I tried that once, but the payments were so unpredictable. You must have a few pretty stable clients, then? I’m sure you must really enjoy the freedom to work from home. Do what works for you. 🙂

    1. Getting started as a freelance writer, or as any kind of freelancer, is a lot harder than it seems, especially if you’re not a native English speaker (my case). On the plus side, if you do get into it it can be a wonderfully flexible sort of job, and in many ways cost-effective, as there’s no transportation costs or all those small expenses we incur without even realizing when we leave our home. From what I’ve heard, call center work is trendy these days. 🙂

      1. That’s awesome – it makes me want to dabble into the freelance writing world once more. Might be worth it, since you do save a lot of costs associated with working outside. Yes, call centres can be fun – the best part is the free tea/coffee and cityscape views. *Sigh*

  2. I’ve done the post office, bookstores, teaching, and now a little of each as a librarian. Turns out whaler or lawyer, if you write, it appears you write, and none of them starve you for content. 🙂 All best

  3. These are great questions you pose. I’ve often thought a writing-intensive job would infringe upon my creativity. And the boring ones would encourage it as you could approach your writing with more focus or freshness. Still, I like the idea that you’re somehow around people’s lives so you can observe and take it all in. So much to think about. I’m in between jobs and most recently had an extremely boring one. I’d say it did help with my fiction but I couldn’t do that job too long because it was too boring.

  4. Vincent, thanks for following. I’ve worked as an au pair in Paris—terrible! (1966); chamber maid also Paris; primary teaching—not enough patience; tutor in French and English; second language teaching with migrants—great! I’m now retired, and writing full-time. It’s experiences that count.

  5. And I’m a seventeen year old wondering where to head. I’ve been thinking of journalism, but then again it isn’t a very secure job either. Conflicting thoughts in my head, fingers crossed for the best!
    After all they say, que sera sera 🙂

      1. Well, I’m a science student presently and am having a go for engineering. They say the field has more scope, my plan is to get into the field of media after graduation.

  6. J.K Rowling worked at amnesty international, Elizabeth Gilbert worked as a waitress, some of us have to keep our jobs until someone is ready to pay for our writing. it’s been a week since I started reading your blog, I must say it’s extraordinarily awesome.

  7. yes, she was , maybe her job at Amnesty didn’t pay much, but she got the idea of Harry Potter while working there.

  8. Thought provoking blog post…. and even more thought provoking comments… I’m working as a teacher currently and though I had a passion for writing as a kid, only recently have I decided to do more of it, courtesy blogs like yours. I find myself thinking of ideas to write when doing mundane and routine jobs at my workplace which do not involve any sort of creative thinking. And though I agree that doing more of reading and writing is essential, it helps to be a spectator of various situations and around different people, drawing inspiration to write from the same…

  9. I think we have to choose our work that way it “feeds” us not just literary, but mentally (!). I consider a job which copy your passion (journalism and writing books) as double load. Exhausting… but something which stimulates you and gives you are bit of a free time is a gift.

    1. Yes, it certainly feels like a double load sometimes. I think photography could complement a writing career wonderfully, but then it depends on what kind of photographer one wants to become.

      1. There is no universal profession for all sort of writes. And again who is considered to be a “writer”? Any human being who scribbles on the peace of paper or computer screen? Or the one, who has a voice? Any one who writes for the sake of writing (grafoman) or the one, who has a divine gift?

  10. I have worked both in and out of writing since I graduated from college. I found writing for a career tedious — although I loved using my talent, I hated not being able to choose the topics I wrote about. I also found that, once I finished my “day job,” I no longer had any creative energy left to write for myself. That being said, while other jobs have provided more insight and inspiration, they too have absorbed much of my energy! I think everyone is different. I’m still looking for my writing/working/inspiration balance.

  11. I asked myself the same question the previous days. I am working as a freelance travel book writer with some freelance translation jobs and even though I dont have much time to work as an employee in a company, I do want to make a change because I am always stucked in my bedroom. I don’t see faces often, I don’t have coffee with friends, I become drowned in a mood of reading and writing and even though this makes me happy, it is boring sometimes.

    I am currently looking for a stable job as a translator to fill my wallet and I think that wil be a good match: freelance writer and translator!

  12. This is such a fantastic post. A couple of my favorite authors have been in the medical field, such as Michael Crichton and Arthur Conan Doyle, and now I can add Anton Chekhov to that list.

    I think you are right that what we do isn’t important if we write every day, but it is a pretty subjective thing. For example, Andy Weir wrote Martian so effectively due to his background as an engineer. There are a lot of examples of writers whose day jobs defined who they became as writers but again, that is a very personal call to make. Regardless, this makes for a pretty interesting discussion 🙂

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