The key thing about writing is that it takes a lot of mental energy. Your friends and relatives may *think* you’re doing nothing, but you and I know you’re sweating yourself into a near-coronary trying to craft those words.
And then in your “free” time, if you’re a freelance writer, you’re also doing marketing.
If you work a demanding day job on top of all this, it can leave you too drained to get your writing done or keep your freelance business growing.
Searching for a side gig
I know, because I worked for years as a legal secretary. That was sort of OK when I was a songwriter, rehearsing and performing with my band at night. But when I switched into nonfiction article writing, it was a major problem. It was just too many hours sitting at the desk, dealing with snippy, anal-retentive lawyers and having to think about court deadline schedules and getting filing drafts letter-perfect.
Plus I was never free to interview anyone during the day.
Lots of writers find themselves needing to pick up a little side job at some point or other — so don’t feel bad if this happens to you. The key is to find easy, flexible, short-term, or night work that doesn’t drain your life force until you’re a shriveled husk, and conserves energy for your writing gig.
What sort of side jobs do I mean? Here are seven part-time gigs that fit the bill:
- Newspaper delivery. The days when a boy with a bag on his bike delivered the paper are over, in many communities. Many routes call for a car, and a grownup to drive that car. I’ve known more than one freelancer who was an earlybird and could get up, fling papers from 4:30-6:30, come home, and call the rest of their day their own. If your town has more than one paper, sometimes you can get signed up to deliver both and double your income.
- Stocking grocery shelves. I personally know writers who’ve taken advantage of this gig to keep the checkbook full. It’s quiet, it’s mindless, and gigs are usually pretty easy to get — after all, how many people are willing to work midnight to 4 a.m.? Go home, catch some sleep, and by midday you could be writing.
- Pumping gas. A close family friend who is now an acclaimed sci-fi novelist pumped gas at night for years, while he was waiting for his work to find an audience. In some states, you still can’t pump your own gas, but even in self-serve places there’s always at least one attendant on duty. When things are slow, you could even read or jot down ideas.
- Warehouse work. If you’re physically fit, this can be a great place to grab a night shift, as warehouse jobs tend to pay better than the minimum wage. If you live near any industrial area with big distribution centers, know that most are busy all night long, getting boxes ready to ship the next day and shelving goods for future purchase. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get trained up on how to drive a forklift. Fun times!
- Bar back. One entrepreneur I know who opened a shoe boutique took this side job while she waited for her store to catch on, but I think this gig works even better for writers. Unlike becoming a bartender, you don’t have to know how to mix drinks to lug kegs in from the back and empties out to the curb. And of course, bars are a gold mine for seeing characters who might come to inhabit your novel one day.
- Drive a cab. You can take a shift during the time you’re not so creative — yet another opportunity to eavesdrop with impunity and get inspired with writing ideas.
- Security. Hey, malls need somebody to keep watch all night in case some weirdo breaks in, right? In the right situation, you could read, nap, or even get some writing done while on the clock. As with warehouse work, security gigs pay well because of the danger…which is often mostly the danger of falling asleep.
2 Creative types of side gigs
There are a couple other ways to play the side gig issue. One is to get a day job where you do some writing. That worked for authors including Mark Twain (newspaper reporter) and Salman Rushdie (copywriter). It works for some, but other writers tell me they’re too burned out on writing to pursue their own writing when they get home from that.
The other route is one I took. I had another freelance business — I lived near the movie studios and was a script typist. Obviously, income here is also unpredictable, but it can give you ultimate flexibility to ease into a writing routine. It worked well for me, as I just wrote more and typed scripts less until one day, I realized I was earning enough from writing to drop the other biz.
Similarly, I’ve known writers who sell Avon or Cutco knives on the side for additional income. Bonus: The hustle helps you overcome any pesky marketing allergy you might have in your writing biz.
If you need some extra money to tide you over, think creatively and see what you can turn up that might pay the bills without leaving you a spent shell who can’t write.
What side jobs have you worked? Leave a comment and let us know how you support your writing.