Writing can be a horrible profession for those depending on it for a living. Unless you are one of the few who have risen above the masses, through merit or birth, you might have better odds at becoming an astronaut or an actor. And you will probably earn more as a brick layer, plasma donor, or dog walker, really anything else but a writer.
Even literary geniuses like John Steinbeck and George Orwell suffered decades of failure and abject poverty before they got their big break. And today, with a burgeoning population, the competition is even fiercer. Still, if being a successful writer is like winning the lottery, you’ve got to play to win, which means you cannot quit.
Most writing articles are geared towards freelancers who are already successful in their careers, but since that demographic only covers about 9 percent of writers, I feel there is an urgent need to reach out to the other 90 percent on the verge of giving up. (Sorry, I’m bad at math, which is why I’m a writer and not a doctor, much to the chagrin of my bank manager.)
So, before you give up and get a day job, I would like to offer some practical advice that will give you a few creative solutions to help you avoid the hamster wheel, do what you love, but also pay your bills.
1. Give in to the Groupon
If you write professionally and don’t have a trust fund to insulate yourself from the boom or bust cycle of freelancing, consider exploring the jungles of group discounts and free guerilla marketing vacations. First, you enjoy the benefits of a discount service such as a half price mani-pedi or toe fungus removal. Secondly, and more importantly, you will find yourself immersed in a demographic you wouldn’t normally associate with, further expanding your ranges as a writer.
For example: I recently enjoyed a deep discount cruise on a renovated cargo ship that reeked of sea-sick and bottom shelf liquor. The experience was horrendous, but I got a great story out of it. And all I had to do was sacrifice 5 hours of my life in an over-the-top, soul-sucking, high-pressure sales pitch for time shares. You can never underestimate where deep discount diving will take you.
2. Odd Jobs are OK
Whether it be dishwashing, giving out liquor samples, or dog grooming, odd jobs will give you a broad range of experiences and cultivate an empathetic understanding of different persons and their personalities. This can be useful in broadening your skills as a writer and developing more complex and realistic character portraits.
While it may be a wonderful fantasy to live off a trust fund while lounging in literary salons off the coast of Nantucket, your writing will likely convey all the fire and passion of a soggy, flaccid cucumber sandwich. Why? Because great writing, the kind that burns the throat like gasoline and whiskey, often emerges from uncomfortable experiences.
3. Bring Characters to Your Doorstep
While you’re looking for work in between writing gigs, consider renting out your room on the weekends with Airbnb (www.airbnb.com). It doesn’t cost anything to join and it will give you an excuse to spruce up your place a bit. This way you’ll have your rent paid and be in a better position to refuse writing soul-numbing SEO marketing blog posts for 10 dollars an hour.
You could even take some time off to write a screenplay or novel. It might be a little strange to have a Norwegian tourist eating pickled herring in your living room, but it’s not so bad if it’s paying the bills. Plus, it could make for an interesting character study.
4. Laziness is a Virtue
The Protestant work ethic has instilled in us that we’re failures if we’re not always working. But remember, half of writing is staring at the ceiling, so even when you’re not doing anything, you’re still working.
The words of Bukowski always echo in my mind at times like these: “I was horrified by life, at what a man had to do simply in order to eat, sleep, and keep himself clothed,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Reject the notion that productivity will equal success and embrace the fact that you have time to wander the streets aimlessly. You might be surprised to find that inspiration is everywhere.
5. Take a Break From Writing
When you have a bout of writer’s block, instead of wallowing in a sea of tears and self-loathing, give writing a break and do a creative art project, like taking thrift store finds and upcycling them into cool, sellable products.
Case in point: I found a motorcycle jacket for 30 bucks at a flea market and sold it on Etsy for 200 dollars. It didn’t make me rich, but it paid for a few nice dinners. Not only that, but you wouldn’t believe the money people spend on stenciled cut-offs and t-shirts. Just put a bird on it!
Like Oscar Wilde said, “People who live within their means lack an imagination,” and I think he was right. If you’re a bit creative, you can have both artistic integrity and a roof over your head. Don’t let yourself get bogged down by the trivialities of the daily grind. Instead, pace yourself for the sake of your art and your sanity.
About the author:
Jesse Whitman has written articles for various online and print publications. She is the author of Prude and Prejudice, a collection of humorous short stories. She currently resides in Miami.