NOTE: The SSS Archive is republished material from my old blog. These are my thoughts from over 10 years ago, and I don’t stand by all of them. In the “Looking Back” section at the end, I address some of my own concerns which are probably your own as well.
It’s funny to look back at one of the earliest posts in this blog, and also my bio, and see that I proudly wear that whole “over-educated pizza cook” thing on my sleeve because not two months after going ahead and committing to a monastic life of poverty, prose, and pizza, I’ve won gainful employment. I will be proofreading, editing, and eventually writing textbooks for a Detroit-based e-learning company. Yes, it is a “jobby-job,” the very kind I’d essentially given up on.
This got me thinking: what are the best jobs for a writer to have? Since I’ve been working since the age of 11, this seems like something on which I should have some expertise, and also writing about it keeps the voices in my head from chanting “Sell-out! Sell-out! Sell-out!”
Of all the jobs I’ve had in the last 21 years of on-and-off employment, I’ll rate the top and bottom three for your consideration, starting with the best.
Top 3 Writer Jobs.
Number 3: Cook
Big surprise, the author of a blog sub-titled “The Pizzaland Diaries” suggests that restaurant work is good for writers – but with good reason. Unless you work for the world’s biggest douche, you get at least one free meal out of it every day. The pay is terrible even when the counter people or wait staff tip you out, but the work is mostly mindless reflex, and very little of your job stress will ever follow you home, leaving you well-fed and ready to write.
Number 2: Clerk
Yes, like that hilarious movie. As a clerk, you get an endless parade of customers from all walks of life – the rich, the poor, the smart, the dumb, all coming into your store for whatever you’ve got. The pay is crap, but like cooking, it’s very low stress. If you want to work your way up to shift manager then the money is better, you start getting benefits, and it’s only about 2% harder than ringing up customers. I was a video store clerk for about two years, and much of my opinion regarding civility and society was formed during that time on account of the diverse population I encountered.
Number 1: Night Watchman
Back in Lansing, I guarded the Water and Light building as it was being renovated. I had the whole place to myself for eight hours, during which I was free to write, draw, read, study, unscrew the salt shakers in the cafeteria, super-glue people’s desk drawers shut, and steal office supplies. Admittedly, all that time off will make you stir-crazy, and the job itself is horribly boring, but isn’t your keen intellect and fiery imagination what drew you to writing in the first place? The pay is actually better than what you’d get for cooking, but no free food unless you find the key to the vending machine, which you will, so…hope you like Watchamacallits.
Number 3: Hard Labor
I’ve de-tasseled corn, shoveled shit, and laid bricks, all of which left me completely exhausted and ravenously hungry. Well, maybe not so much the shit-shovelling. These were good character-building experiences, but as a writer “character” ranks pretty low on the list of things you’re supposed to have. Any job that really busts your hump is going to wring you out and leave you vapid and senseless. It’s good for a short-term thing if, like me, you have an “unproductive season” wherein you find it harder to write and could use a few months away from the keyboard, but on the whole you’re better served saving your strength.
Number 2: Service
Clerking is one thing, but being responsible for disseminating product knowledge and supporting procedures is another. I’m pulling from my experience as a help desk technician which, while lucrative, was a disproportionate drain on my mental resources. After a day of explaining the difference between double and single clicking, that turning off the monitor does not constitute a reboot, and that for the hundredth time, no, I do not know Bill Gates, you’re pretty much ready for Miller time. Story? Schmory. I’m taking all this money I’m making and getting high.
Number 1: Teaching
Of all the jobs I’ve held, teaching made me the least productive. I fear for my own output as I foray into editing, but mostly I think I’ll be fine since this is already good quality stuff coming down the pipe, as opposed to freshman-year drivel. Writers always get “contaminated” by what they’re reading, and if you’re reading fifty sub-literate freshman papers on the topic of “society today,” you’re going to start writing like a sub-literate freshman. Teaching pays well, and the work is easy, but I found that my work suffered from the company I kept. Additionally, any writing-related industry will pull you into a recursive loop of reading about writing, writing about writing, and so on into reductive infinity. Do something else!
As I foray back into the world of grown-up work, I’m reminded of the advice of my friend and mentor, Chris Leland. To paraphrase, he warned us to avoid the seduction of the starving artist’s lifestyle: the efficiency apartment, one change of clothes, a can of beans on a hotplate, and so on. Writing is work, and you have to keep your strength up for it. Eat well, drink often, and sleep soundly. Live in the world! Don’t deprive yourself of basic necessities and comforts out of some misplaced sense of integrity – integrity comes from within, and is nourished by that which comes from without.
Looking Back – 13 May 2021
Let’s immediately digest an entire elephant: teaching is one of the BEST jobs for a writer. I have been wrong and continue to be wrong about many things, but this was one of the wrongiest wrongs I ever wronged.
I do think that it took me time to learn how to write and teach at the same time, though, and that’s a skill that I hadn’t really developed back in 2009. As of now, I grade faster, I’m more fluent in the meta…and I’m perfectly capable of reading Brent Staples Whistling Vivaldi for the 8,000th time and then going home and writing my own thing.
I’ve also learned to not be a complete asshole about student writing, which is never a good look, and definitely speaks to someone’s own sense of inferiority (hint: me, then). The need to stand up by punching down is gross, and it’s not something I’m proud of ever having felt…but I am committed to honesty and to de-toxifying, so sometimes it’s useful to let that peak through a little bit.
I also think that I was a little bitter about not immediately finding good teaching work. The editing job I mentioned turned out to be an awful experience, and I only did it for about six months. It very nearly soured me on any sort of professional writing work. It was that bad. Egregious scale creep, unrealistic deadlines, and an absolute shitstorm on a pretty much daily basis, not to mention a real bait-and-switch on the pay rate. I digress.
I still kind of stand by most of this, but with the caveat that these jobs are what they are and they can be okay if you can afford to live the lifestyle that comes with them. Today, May 19, workers at McDonald’s are striking for a better wage, and I support them. When I was working at The Pizzeria, I was making about $10.00 / hour…but my rent was only 450 per month and aside from student loans I had no debt. I was also in my early thirties, so letting things like healthcare slide wasn’t such a big deal. It’s easy to live rough when you’re tough. Ultimately, I think the sort of blanket statements that I’m making in this post do more harm than good.
So why repost this one if I don’t 100% agree with it? Mostly that vicious Sarah Palin barb. Bazinga.