7 Easy Jobs That Leave Your Days Free for Writing

worker with fork pallet truckThe 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

 

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58 comments on “7 Easy Jobs That Leave Your Days Free for Writing
  1. Rita says:

    I second teaching as a side gig. I work as a test prep teacher. And proctoring–now, that’s a great one. Teaching and writing work really well together, like academic life.

  2. Georgia says:

    Thanks for this short list of gigs! This sounds helpful to at least have some physical exercise. Writing is really mind-draining. Building words in your mind is stressful. You get old easily. That’s upsetting!

  3. Rachael says:

    Great ideas! I’m doing some event organizing on a commission basis on the side.
    Rachael recently posted…Why You Need Heroes (Even If You Aren’t Sure You Believe in Them)My Profile

  4. Daniel says:

    I am a blogger and I want to have a sideline job so I can have extra income. But I am worrying if I could still write if I will have a job because I know it will eat most of my time. I can leave writing because it is my field and I really love it.

  5. Jean Lamb says:

    I work full time as an accounts payable clerk–this is busy and pretty mind-draining at times. On the other hand, when I’m ready to write, my Inner Critic is off to get coffee after checking so many invoices numbers, amounts, and other stuff. Also, the place is pretty dead from mid-January till March (we sell doors and windows) and I can do a lot of plot outlining by hand if I’m reasonably discreet.

  6. Lem says:

    I’m a student and do some freelance writing work. My other side job? Doing the homework of some of my lazy classmates. But I’m thankful that they’re lazy. 😀
    Lem recently posted…Website List: Pitch, Write and Earn [Part 2]My Profile

  7. Julie says:

    I’m surprised that “commercial janitor” isn’t on this list. It’s always been my favorite part-time occupation because you can do it in the evenings. Also, you don’t have to work Saturdays or Sundays unless you decide to take on weekend accounts. Sometimes, you can even find an account that you can do any time after a certain time — doesn’t matter as long as it’s done.

    Commercial cleaning is easy, plus for some reason cleaning a toilet well gives me a sense of accomplishment — a similar sense of accomplishment I get in my writing. It’s also nice that I can “hide” on my job, in that my high school classmates would never see me there unless they too worked with me — then who are they to judge? 🙂

    Also, it does fulfill the artistic side of me because I’m a meticulous person. Doing anything with my hands well is just plain fun.

    Although, someone mentioned working in an Antique store? That must be fun. I worked in a thrift store once.

  8. Couldn’t agree more, Carol. I actually had a night shift as a security guard (a proctor at my local college) which gave me a lot of down time. That’s when i discovered the world of blogging for money (as opposed to blogging just for fun) book publishing among other tactics that eventually helped me quit the job altogether.

    Thanks!
    Elvis Michael recently posted…Positive Vs. Negative Reinforcement in Eliminating Criminal BehaviorMy Profile

  9. Steve Quinn says:

    I’m really enjoying all the ideas posted here. I drive a delivery truck part time. That means there is no one to bother me when I am on the road, and I have a great boss.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Love it, Steve! Thanks for adding another good part-time gig for freelancers. My readers have really come through on this comment thread – I think there are more good ideas in the comments than in my post!

  10. A good side gig to have if you live in a foreign country is to teach English as a foreign language. I remember teaching some people in my own apartment a few evenings a week and at weekends when living in Germany and Israel.

    It’s freelancing as well so mirrors the same type of strategies you need for freelance writing in regards to finding clients. You get to meet fascinating people and make new friends.
    Edward Beaman recently posted…Architecture Blogging: 21 Blog Post Ideas for Professional ArchitectsMy Profile

  11. Ade says:

    Hi Carol,

    Working a night shift at a warehouse, I can vouch for the the flights of fancy the mind can take, while “mindlessly” sorting parcels from Amazon and stacking pallets. The 7 pm to 2 am shift also leaves ample time to write or pitch new clients. I usually end most shifts with a bunch of scrawled notes with ideas that strike me at work.

    Keep the good stuff coming!!

  12. Carrie Luikens says:

    That’s true. I live in Phoenix which has a moderately healthy bookstore scene. Changing Hands is one of the favorite local bookstores here and it recently expanded to a second location. They bring in a lot of famous authors for events and book signings. Comic bookstores are another option. B&N of course is prevalent everywhere. I also believe if a person is intuitively guided to do a particular type of work, that the right job they need at that time to meet their needs will become available.

  13. Gwen says:

    I found a half-time position as a finance manager. Good pay, low hours, but it is demanding at times. Still, it leaves time for writing and consulting work. Perfect!

  14. Another writer I’ve spoken to used to work the front desk night shift at a hotel. It gave him plenty of time to write–even at work (with his boss’ permission, of course).
    Patrick Icasas recently posted…6 Breeds of Bad Training PartnersMy Profile

  15. Rob says:

    I had a job working in an antique store. 2 days a week I worked in the back, restoring antiques. The other three days I sat in the shop. They got about 3 customers a day. For awhile, I was making almost as much writing while at work as I made sitting there on my butt waiting for customers. Also made the days go faster.
    Rob recently posted…Plato’s American CaveMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Ha — great story! Any type of store where business is slow can work well for writers…until the store closes due to lack of business. 😉

      I think I neglected to say that at one point I sold aluminum patio awnings on the phone. That’s probably the craziest side gig I ever had.

  16. Carrie Luikens says:

    I think pet sitting is an excellent idea as a part-time job. I know of many people who have pets and don’t go on vacations because they don’t want to leave their pets alone.

  17. Carrie Luikens says:

    I’m surprised no one mentioned bookstores or other types of work that writers like as hobbies but can do part-time. While your list of odd jobs have some advantages, I certainly wouldn’t want to even spend a few hours doing jobs that I didn’t enjoy. I’ve already had my fair share of telemarketing, data entry, retail, etc. jobs and spent the last twelve years in a career that absorbed alot of my time so I am once again considering jobs like bookstores, customer service, etc. because those are types of work I enjoy.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great idea, Carrie — if there’s a surviving bookstore near you. I’m lucky to live in book-crazy Seattle, but I know not all cities still have a thriving bookstore scene.

  18. Laurie Tam says:

    “Promo gigs” is basically promoting products and/or services at events. For example, if you noticed while going to small all the way to a big event, there’s someone standing at a booth or an area representing a company where they go up to you either by asking you some questions for a survey, giving away free prizes or some other thing of why they’re there. More than likely, they’re “promo workers” which a few name titles that comes to mind are either hired as “brand ambassadors,” “Product specialists,” “promotional models” and so forth. I tend to get paid in between $15 to $20 an hour or more.

    As for writing, I do online article writing, blogging and reviews. Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of clients to write for which I could live off of for income. I did order a course from AWAI which Robert Bly recommend as the best place to take courses from. Are you familiar with the company?
    Laurie Tam recently posted…This Month, I Made Over $2,000My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Aha – thanks for filling us in on the promo gigs!

      I have reviewed AWAI’s courses and afraid I decided not to recommend or affiliate sell them. If you’re a Den members, we’ve had a lot of discussion on our forums about their courses. I respect Bob Bly…but believe he may be a course creator for them, FYI.

  19. Depending on how much supplemental income you need, babysitting or pet-sitting could be great side-money gigs! I recently discovered dogvacay.com, where dog-lovers can offer in-home boarding. Except for some daily walks and Frisbee time, this option leaves you totally free to write!
    Lana Richards recently posted…4 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Book…and How to Get it Done FastMy Profile

  20. Great info here and in the comments so far. I think the barback idea isn’t a bad one, but it’s wrong that barbacks don’t have to lug kegs and bring empties out to the curb. Actually, that’s exactly what they do — all of the bar’s grunt work. It’s pretty thankless, really, and the money is generally poor compared to the relatively good income that bartenders can make. I worked as a bartender for 10 years and found that to be a very good fit for a writer, especially if you can find a fairly flexible gig. Most of the barbacks I worked with were either college kids looking for extra drinking $ or people using it as a springboard to an actual bartending job.

  21. I’m currently a newspaper carrier. I don’t think of it as a morning person job, but rather a good job for a night-owl. The biggest thing I’ve had to learn to do is stay up after I get home because that’s when everyone I need to call, or send LOIs and emails to, is awake.

    Re the man who mentioned the wear-and-tear on the car, plus the gas (and my note: the mileage): he’s correct. I just did 3 months of P&L statements. I was shocked how little I was actually bringing in! It’s independently contracted work; it’s also piece-work, not wage. So, unless you live in a big city delivering 1,000+ newspapers every day, being a carrier with only 200-300 papers isn’t financially feasible if you aren’t yet making money at your writing.
    D Kendra Franceso recently posted…What Playing Solitaire Taught Me About Running a BusinessMy Profile

  22. Laurie Tam says:

    Another idea is doing merchandising and demo gigs. They’re usually very flexible as long as we finish the jobs. Although, the demo gigs got to be done at certain times but are usually between 3-6 hour shifts. Merchandising jobs can be done anytime as long as it’s done before a certain time. It had to do with what agencies you’re working for so before you accept any of the assignments, read the fine print and determine whether it’s worth it or not.
    Laurie Tam recently posted…This Month, I Made Over $2,000My Profile

  23. Laurie Tam says:

    Hi Carol,

    My name is Laurie and I find this article very entertaining and fun to read. Besides just doing blogging and writing, I do promos part time as well for most of the time. There were moments where I was working full time and this happened back in this year’s June and July. That’s another idea to consider since there’s promo gigs going on all the time in and around Seattle during the summer months.
    I actually work year round but don’t just rely on promo gigs to make good money.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Not sure I know what you mean by ‘promo gigs’ – can you fill us in? Is that promoting festivals and summer events? What sort of work do you do — social media, copywriting?

  24. Tj says:

    Love this list and a post about side work. Here’s a few more that ideas:

    1. Substitute teacher. You can work a few days a week, even half days. I’ve brought my computer to work and answered client emails so I’m not completely offline through the day, and a lot of the time there’s still time to work for a few hours in the beginning or end of that day. Not to mention, many districts offer health coverage and opportunities to pay into a great pension fund, no matter how much you work.

    2. VRBOs and AirBnB rentals are popular everywhere these days. Offering to clean for these is a great side gig. It gives the homeowners a welcome break from it. The great part of this is though it takes elbow grease and good gloves, since homeowners and renters can review each other, renters tend to be on their best, cleanest behavior.

    • Carol Tice says:

      You’re the second one to mention maid service — I personally am allergic to both dust *and* cleansers, so it’s not for me, but would seem ideal for the neat freaks out there!

      I love your AirBnB idea — I’ve used them, and you definitely feel like you want to leave things as you found them.

  25. John says:

    Great article. Getting a side gig to gain extra cash is not bad at all. Delivering newspapers or stocking grocery shelves can also be perfect times to get the mind working and imagination going for that new piece you can’t wait to write about. Driving a cab sounds like a good idea too. Thank you for the tips.
    John recently posted…What is cellular respiration?My Profile

  26. Brandon says:

    Sidenote: I always check out the blogs, sites, portfolios, and the like, of everyone who posts here, and I stumbled upon an article about you living in and writing about Austin. Looking forward to reading about ninjas, pirates, and the notorious Nick Harry.

  27. Fran Civile says:

    I’m surprised at the variety of jobs mentioned in the above comments and feel like congratulating those writers for their resourcefulness.
    I qualify for social security income and run a couple of blogs for additional income.
    Fran
    Fran Civile recently posted…Social Media – Good and UglyMy Profile

  28. Brandon says:

    I’ve often worked side jobs to pay the bills while pursuing something greater, whether I was in school or going the autodidactic way I am now, or even if I’m just feeling lost and like I’d profit more from the freedom to enjoy life, and every job I’ve taken has offered me a wealth of experience donning different masks to play so many roles–as a barista, waiter, doorguy, barback, bartender, even as an exotic dancer in gay clubs in spite being straight. The best job of late that I’ve found is pedicabbing; I work my own hours, I stay in shape, meet all the sundry characters I would as a taxi driver, bartender, or stripper, I meet enough professionals who ask me what I do and then request business cards to warrant actually having cards to give them, and often make more than $20 an hour. It certainly has its drawbacks, but it’s thus far proven a trustworthy backup plan for quick cash.

    I was originally intending, after finishing my B.A. in English, to work during the day as a copywriter or tech writer, but having withdrawn from school for a number of reasons, I’ve found that that’s not quite so feasible without the degree; I’ve also pondered how such a job might burn me out and stay my hands from typing away at novels and screenplays in my own time, but I suppose I’d have to actually land such an opportunity to know how that would play out.

    Working as a script typist sounds like an enthralling experience–living in Austin as an aspiring screenwriter, I’d love to know how you snagged that one.

    Right now, aside from researching every in to freelance writing (as well as some tech stuff), I’m trying to find a means to work as a freelance editor, so that I can work my own schedule, still have the energy and enthusiasm to write my own material, and stay on top of finances enough not to worry about them–lizard-brain mode can break an artist’s stride and leave him limping, and so can pedicabbing, for that matter, when it’s done to excess.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great question — the script typing spun out of a previous secretarial day job. I worked at MGM Studios as a legal secretary, and lived just a few blocks away. I’d ended up doing quite a bit of script formatting, and just decided to go independent with it, so I already had some connections and word spread from there.

      I bought one of the first home IBM printers for the gig — it cost $1,200 and was big as a house…dating myself with that! It was fun, and I got to work with a couple of pretty ‘name’ writers.

      I consider that little business one of the secrets of my success as a freelance writer, because I learned a lot about running a solo business from the script typing. So by the time I got to freelance writing, I knew some business basics.

      Also, owning another solo business, you have total flexibility to take jobs or not. And that let me gradually wind down the typing as my freelance writing took off, without having much loss of income.

  29. Sharon Brodin says:

    I’ve got two “side jobs” I’ve been doing for years that I want to continue to do even once I get established as a copywriter because I love them so much: teaching private piano lessons and overseeing the contemporary worship team at my church.

    I love music and my education is in music. Both these jobs involve music and also working with other people, which is a switch from the more solo career of writing.

    So for me it’s more about keeping the variety in my life than having the financial support. (I’m fortunate to be in the position of my husband carrying the main financial load, insurances, etc. for our family.)

  30. Astralwolf37 says:

    Personally, I think having a writing day job is the best. I worked for some house & home magazines, and the articles were so BORING by the time I got home I was itching to work on my novel and own nonfiction. Don’t think the novel would have gotten finished without the day job. It’s when I also started to devise my own web content ideas.

    I’d also like to sound in for newspaper delivery. My aunt and uncle did it and they said between the early hours, gas money and wear and tear on the car, the low pay didn’t warrant it.

    And yeah, gas stations get robbed all the freakin’ time.

  31. Diane J. says:

    My current side gig is as a Merchandiser. The freedom is wonderful. As long as I get to my accounts by their service due date, I can go whenever I want (as long as the business is open 🙂
    I make a tentative schedule for the month and there are no worries if I’m on a writing roll. I just go another day.

    There are many merchandising positions out there so just be careful that you get one that fits you. My gig pays from the minute I pull out of my drive until I get home. Some only pay while you’re on site.

    The biggest benefit of this position is that it gets me out of the house. I would gladly stay in my little corner of the universe, so having kids and a side gig, forces me to get out into the world. I’ve gotten article ideas just from eaves-dropping at my accounts.

    Great post! Newspaper delivery never occurred to me. So glad you covered this topic.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Boy, as a retail reporter, I should have thought of being an independent rep or merchandiser! It’s true — you just have to get your accounts serviced each month, and it’s up to you when you do it, so it’s got great flexibility.

      I’m loving the ideas that are flowing here…hope they help other freelancers who might need a side gig.

  32. Kate F Eaton says:

    Good to hear practical stories and advice from other freelancers. I have two side gigs right now: subbing as a cafeteria lady in a local school district (yes, I wear a hairnet), and committing one whole day a week to a friend who cleans huge homes. Side benefits: I can always say ‘No’ to sub jobs if the writing is rolling, the kids and cafeteria staff present plenty of character studies and cleaning houses on a schedule is a major workout.
    Kate F Eaton recently posted…Rising Above – Ending Client RelationshipsMy Profile

  33. My favorite side job was as the night receptionist at a mortuary. I did a ton of writing there as there weren’t really that many calls that came in. It was down in southern California so there were all kinds of stories about the famous stars who’d had funerals there.
    Leslie Jordan Clary recently posted…HomeMy Profile

  34. Annie says:

    I’ve done this for years. For a long time, I waited tables and that worked well. These days I do light bookkeeping, marketing and data entry for small businesses as a freelancer. It helps pay the bills but keeps the schedule flexible.

    Good tips, Carole.
    Annie recently posted…Why I Don’t Write Bad ReviewsMy Profile

  35. Abby says:

    It’s comforting to know that this is a common struggle among freelancers. I’m currently working as a barista, another good option for morning people. I’m usually done at work by noon, and I’m already at the cafe! I also mind a small candy shop on the weekends. Good for getting writing done, bad for my waistline.
    Abby recently posted…Amazon.com: New York City Unanchor Travel Guide – New York Like A Native: Five Boroughs in Six Days eBook: Abigail Page, Unanchor: Kindle StoreMy Profile

  36. This is great info! I work at a warehouse during the day and even though it’s pretty unfulfilling, my brain has all day to think. Sometimes I can even work while I’m at work, and I get a workout everyday! Plus I do make more than minimum wage, which is nice. These are all good ideas for writers!

  37. I’m not so sure about the “pumping gas” idea. Gas stations – like liquor and convenience stores – tend to get robbed at gunpoint fairly frequently, so unless you’re behind bulletproof glass, I wouldn’t want to be in that position.

    Some of my easy day jobs have included working in a video store (before the invention of the self-rental kiosk, of course – great for aspiring screenwriters), slinging java at coffee shops (plenty of interesting characters, plus free caffeine!), receptionist (which works better for writing if the place you work doesn’t get a lot of calls), front-desk worker at my college’s library (perfect for writers, since you get to READ when no one’s around, or just get lost in the stacks while on reshelving duty), phone pollster (this one was actually the worst, because the company monitored how long you were in the bathroom – plus being yelled at by lots of people who didn’t know the difference between telemarketers and market researchers was annoying, but I was free during the day and only had to work a 4-hour shift in the evenings), temp work (typically doing lots of filing, photocopying and assorted busy work – which is dull but great for observing different types of office relationships and activities), mystery shopper (perfect for honing your observational skills), and “cam girl” (which inspired some of my sexy short stories).

    So yes, there are plenty of easy day jobs out there – you just have to get creative and view everything as a learning experience, and a chance to stockpile characters and situations for your writing!
    Laura Roberts recently posted…The 3-Day Novel Contest: To pay or not to pay?My Profile

  38. John Soares says:

    I’m a morning person, so I wouldn’t want to work nights unless I really had to.

    I taught college part time when I began freelance writing and working on my first two books. It worked out very well for me: I typically taught three day classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with a night class or two somewhere in the week. I typically had five days free for writing (although I did have some lecture prep and grading to do).
    John Soares recently posted…Does Your Freelance Writing Niche Have Busy Seasons?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’ve taught religious school on the side and found it nearly a full-time job myself! But if you can juggle those two, I certainly know quite a lot of writers who do teach on the side.

  39. Mike Johnson says:

    Good post! Early-morning newspaper delivery worked great for the wife and I. First I used it as a second job to earn extra money to buy a house. Then she used it for 10 years to be a stay-at-home mom.

    Car routes provide total privacy and good money with minimal brain power at the best, coolest, least-busy time of the day. You have the world to yourself, no supervision and the ability to learn new skills by listening to motivational and books-on-tape while you drive around earning money. I credit those tapes for giving me the guts and inspiration to quit corporate and start writing as a career.

    If I needed side income for my writing career today, newspaper routes would definitely be at the top of the list.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks for weighing in with your paper-delivery experience! I think a lot of people don’t realize this can be a useful job for grownups who want their days free.

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