The lovely Erin from Take Comfort Project recently emailed me wondering something: how do you find an actual job in writing?
I talk a lot about writing here on WTLV…because, uh, that’s all I ever do. But I tend to talk about my freelance work or my creative work, the things that bring in supplemental income or no income at all. Although I do freelance work, I’m not living a freelance lifestyle…I have a day job that I go to every weekday! And it’s a writing day job, which is honestly something I wasn’t sure I’d ever get. While I can’t give broad advice about how you can get a writing job, I can tell you guys my job story. I’ve definitely learned some things since I graduated from college, and maybe my experience can help someone else.
I majored in creative writing in college, which I loved. I wouldn’t recommend the major for everyone, but it was great for me. However, if you guessed that majoring in creative writing meant I wasn’t exactly practically-minded, you would be right. Although I loved my writing workshops and loved doing the “work” for those classes, I wasn’t at all motivated then like I am now. And I had no idea what you were supposed to do to get a job. I graduated with no internships, no contacts, and no idea what I should do. Lesson #1: You should get an internship!
When I graduated, I moved back in with my parents. They live in an area of Ohio that already doesn’t have a lot of employment prospects, and things were especially bad in 2008. I had absolutely no clue what I should be doing or even what I wanted to do. I thought about applying for grad school for a hot minute (lesson #2: you don’t have to go to grad school if you don’t want to!), but thankfully I decided against that.
I was jobless and completely miserable. My parents did not let up on me about finding a job, which they sort of had a right to do, because they paid for my college (something I’m grateful for every single day of my life). They made an investment in me, and I was turning out to be kind of a shitty investment, since all I was doing was skulking around the house and crocheting a lot (I got really into crocheting when I was unemployed…don’t worry about it).
Eventually, I called my old friend the temp agency and got a two-week job filling in for a receptionist who was out of the office getting foot surgery. I was so much better at being a receptionist than the other woman that they gave me her job, moved her into a corner desk when she got back from surgery, and fired her a few months later. I would’ve felt bad, but she was very mean and she fell asleep sitting up every day (not an exaggeration–sometimes she would snore).
So clearly I was taking the employment world by storm. But getting a narcoleptic woman fired wasn’t enough for me…I wanted more. “Was this job even tangentially related to writing?” you’re asking. Well, no! It was not. Which is probably why I felt so depressed.
I stayed at that job for years, you guys (well, I got promoted a couple times, but I was at the same company). I felt stuck because I didn’t know what to do with my career and I didn’t think I could just quit a job. Lesson #3: If something is pushing you in the wrong direction, QUIT DOING THAT THING. You are never really stuck.
Eventually, I wised up and realized I needed a job in writing. Duh. So here’s where my actual advice starts (hope you enjoyed that rambly beginning about how miserable I was!). I knew I wanted a writing job, but I didn’t know how I could do that or what I should be looking for. I hadn’t been in college for a few years and I had no connections and no one around to give me any advice.
So I just started writing. I decided I would get writing credits in any way possible. I would say yes to EVERY writing opportunity, even the ones that sounded dumb. I wrote for websites, I wrote for newspapers, and I applied for weird, sketchy freelancing gigs that I eventually didn’t do because they involved, like, writing about limousines using SEO tactics. I trusted that if I worked constantly at writing, something would work out.
I wrote for free a lot because I knew I needed to get credits, make connections, and prove that I knew how to write. I know some people are very against writing for free, but I think it’s a good idea and sometimes necessary, especially if you don’t have an internship. I mean, don’t write for free forever, but if you really want to prove yourself, it can help.
Eventually I had plenty of writing credits but I wasn’t making any money, so I was still at my day job that made me miserable. I had to use phrases like “butt hinge” and “nipple” every day, and it was rough. People constantly referred to me as “young lady.” Some guy named “Mike Hunter” kept calling and every time I transferred his call I insisted on referring to him as Michael. Oh, and by this point I’d moved to Columbus and I was driving an hour each way. I needed a change. So I started looking for a new, writing-related day job.
You know how people say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know? While I think that’s true, it wasn’t for me. I didn’t have a single connection at anyone at my day job. Do you know how I found it? On Craigslist. Yes, Craigslist, the site used by murderers and people selling coffee tables. And one of the reasons why they hired me (besides the fact that I did well on the writing sample they asked for) was because of my HelloGiggles column, that thing I do for free.
I now work for a nonprofit curriculum developer, where I write about business and marketing for high school students. It involves my two favorite things (research and writing) and I get to flex my writing muscles without cannibalizing all my creative energy. It’s fun, interesting, and it doesn’t burn me out. But there was no way for me to look for this job because I never even knew it existed! I think that writing jobs are all over the place, but they’re in weird and unexpected locations. Sometimes you have to look past all the fake ads on Craigslist to find the real jobs.
This is a bit of hippie advice, but I suggest writing down what you want out of a job. Before I found my job, I made a very specific list of what my “dream job” would have. I mean, I wrote down everything…close to my apartment, a mostly-female environment, a casual dress code, etc. I’m not saying writing stuff down is magic, but I found a job that fit every single one of my requirements. Honestly, it worked so well that it was sort of weird. Writing stuff down helps you narrow your focus and realize what you really want, even if you’re not sure where you’d like to work.
If you’re all “TL;DR,” here’s my advice, boiled down into a few points.
1. Look EVERYWHERE for writing jobs. Tell everyone you’re a writer looking for work. You really never know where you’ll find a job. It could be on Craigslist! It could be on Twitter! You never know!
2. Go with your gut. The people in your life might want what’s best for you, but they don’t necessarily know what’s best for you. You do. I wasted a lot of time doing what I thought I “should” or taking advice from people who knew nothing about the type of career I wanted.
3. Just keep writing! Seriously, write EVERYWHERE, because you never know what will lead to a full-time job. I never would have thought my HelloGiggles column could’ve helped me get a job, but now I get paid to write for high schoolers!
So that’s my long, convoluted story. Finding my job definitely wasn’t a short or straight path, but I learned a lot along the way (and perfected the art of waking up a sleeping woman by coughing loudly). I truly believe that, if you have the talent and you’re willing to work really hard, you can absolutely find a writing job that pays your bills. Writers don’t have to starve and they don’t have to be miserable!
I hope this was at least semi-helpful to someone! I’m always here if you have any questions about writing, working, or whatever (seriously, I just want to be Dear Abby…give me your etiquette problems!). You can email me at email@example.com.
Image via Natalie Dee