Becoming a Better Writer: Keep your (Multiple) Day-Jobs

When I tell people that I’m an author, one of the first questions that inevitably gets asked is ‘How much money do you make with that?’ or the comment of, ‘Look at you, rolling in the big bucks’. I refuse to answer either of them, as I think that a person’s income is a very personal thing and is honestly nobody’s business but my own and my family’s. I will state, however, that this early on in my career, I am most certainly not ‘rolling in the big bucks’. At this stage of my writing, royalty checks are less income than they are very nice, extremely appreciated bonuses that I am very, very proud of. They do not, and probably will not for some time, give me the financial space in which to quit my day jobs.

Which I’m actually perfectly okay with. Not ecstatic about, by any means, but okay with. By my last semester of college, I was working four jobs- nanny, sales associate, sacristan and online editor of my school’s newspaper. Throughout my college career, I had also been an admin assistant for a real estate company, a desk assistant, a laundrywoman and a retreat-leader. Some of these jobs paid better than others, some of them paid less but I enjoyed them more, some of them paid best and were the most enjoyable but offered the least amount of hours, some offered good hours but below-living-wage pay. Some I could write at, some I couldn’t. Some had coworkers I enjoyed, some didn’t.

I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for a second. Now that I’m graduated and officially an adult by societal standards, I now have two jobs, in retail and nannying (though I just applied for a third, fingers crossed, as the retail job has cut back so severely on hours that I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills).  Though people have asked me how I find time to write with all of this work to do, I find that I honestly couldn’t write without it. On its base level, working (usually) gives me the sense of security that I need in order to be writing my novels and short stories without having to worry about having a roof over my head tomorrow, and I am grateful for that. It also gives me the peace of knowing that, should I need a job in the future to support my kids because I’m still not making enough through writing, I have experience on my resume from this time in my life that I can use as a cushion no matter what is in store for me in the future.

painting

Homemade sidewalk chalk painting with one of the girls I nanny.

I am also lucky enough to have chosen my specific jobs well. Coming from a large Irish family, where I tended to be the most responsible and also the most willing to be around the children, I started nannying because I thought it would be the easiest fit for me. Where this normally turns into a ‘and I was wrong’ twist, I actually found that I had been entirely right. Sure, watching children for a living isn’t always ‘fun’- the children aren’t always angels, even if they are on the whole, and even when they are being good, it can be extremely stressful being responsible for another human being’s wellbeing, happiness, and safety (surprise, surprise). However, after being with the family who hired me for almost a year now I can say that I would personally be happy if I never published another novel and just focused on becoming a childcare provider. I love being a nanny. And even as a writer, I think nothing short of me having my own family will stop me from being one. Being a nanny has been an unexpected blessing for my writing, as  I’ve written about on my poetry blog regarding hanging around kids, and even on the days when I don’t have time to sit and write while the girls are doing their homework, just being around them gives me the mental space in order to keep my creative gears going.

Even though I personally hate retail work, I can also admit that it too has helped me become a better writer. Even in my smaller, 4-5 hour shifts I am exposed to a plethora of so many different people of varying cultures, languages, types of dress, socioeconomic statuses, gender performances, and temperments. Some of them are my coworkers who I have to see every day, reacting to the same situations I am. Some of them are customers who try to fit their entire life story into the three minutes I have them stalled at the cash register. Catch them on good days, catch them on bad days, it doesn’t matter: people say just the most fascinating things to the cashiers that they don’t even tend to see as ‘people’ than they see them as nameless blanks filling a role. Some of them are horribly offensive, some of them are awe-inspiring, some ridiculous and some boring people who view themselves as heroes of their own worlds. I’d like to think that this experience has and will continue to make me more concious of my character development- without working retail, I don’t think I would be so intimately aware of the myriad kinds of people that exist in my own community, much less the potential people that can populate the worlds I create myself.

So no, being a published author has not allowed me to quit my day-job. But at this point in my life, why should I?

Followers: What kinds of jobs have you benefited from the most? Where have you met an author working in an unexpected place? What kind of job do you think would work best with your writing schedule?

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