For the writers at the bus stop
I find it fairly bold to call myself a writer. There is nothing published under my name on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. Readers are not flocking to this blog in droves numbered by the thousands. (Likely because I write about deep and complex life issues, such as my disdain for indoor pools and high heels.) But in an increasingly significant way, both my career path and post-collegiate life as a whole have been driven by writing. And as someone who stood at the career bus stop for years with the end goal being “something with words,” I feel I can semi-justifiably speak to being a writer in search of employment.
AKA: being a writer.
I remember being the recipient of more than a few “Get ready to live in a cardboard box!” jokes when I decided to change my major from education to English. Writers, and artists in general, make for an easy punchline when everyone else is headed off to their lives of relative security in the business or medical or general professional world. And while the US government will be surprised to receive my 2014 taxes and find I’m no longer living below the poverty level, the one change of address I have yet to submit is Cardboard Box On The Side Of The Road.
Because there are always jobs. And writing can always happen around them, if not in them.
I recently met with a high school student who is interested in possibly becoming a writer. One of the first things she mentioned was feeling hesitant because it’s nearly impossible to get a job as a writer. That is a nasty rumor; it is categorically untrue. It’s also missing the point.
If you can write well, the working world is at your fingertips. There are thousands of jobs that require top notch communication skills. Writers can excel at nearly all of them because writers understand how to communicate. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs that have no direct correlation with writing or communication, but writers are still lucrative employees for these positions because they bring something to the table that most other employees have left by the wayside. I worked at a juice bar once. I made wheatgrass shots and froze bananas and negotiated the balance of ice-to-liquid for each drink on the menu. But I also routinely proofread content – whether I was directly asked to or not – and offered helpful feedback. No matter your job description, being able to write means you are able to contribute in a meaningful way. That makes you valuable in a meaningful way.
Will you get a writing job that fulfills all of your hopes and dreams right out of the gate? No. But will you get a job with your writing skills? Yes. Absolutely.
(A word of advice: Cover letters are your best friend. Write them like your job depends on it, because it likely does. Even if you aren’t applying for a job as a writer, the ability to write is an ace up your sleeve. Showcase that in a creative, personalized cover letter.)
Being a writer at the bus stop means you have to come to terms with two things. First, you have to be ok with taking a lot of jobs that have nothing to do with writing. And second, you have to be ok with taking a lot of writing jobs that have nothing to do with writing what you actually want to write. Which is why, if you are thinking about a career in writing in terms of job enjoyment or job stability, you are missing the point.
The point has to be central to who you are. Writing has to be something you do because you can’t not do it.
(Embrace the double negative. It’s necessary here.)
Writing isn’t a career so much as it is a compelling force. If you are a writer, you will write whether it is your full-time job or not. There is a decent possibility that you will find a job in which you write in some context and get paid for it. There is a higher probability that you will find a job in which you do a lot of things that aren’t writing, get paid for them, and go home and write after work.
I’m getting paid to write and create full-time, and I’m still sitting here at home, writing this after work. I write most nights after work. It’s not because I don’t like what I’m writing at work. It’s also not because I have an incredible work ethic or an unparalleled devotion to blogging. Most of what I write after work doesn’t get published (which is why, if you listen closely, you can hear the gentle sounds of crickets chirping from the pages of this blog). I write at home after writing at work because I can’t not write. It’s an integral component of who I am and how I function.
It’s tempting to stand at the bus stop as a writer and wait for that elusive full-time writing job, whether it’s for a single organization or a patchwork quilt of freelance work. The easiest excuse to use in the midst of waiting is that you’ll have more time to write when you aren’t applying for jobs during your every waking hour. It’s convenient to think that you’ll write more or write better when you get a job in which you can focus your complete attention on writing.
But really, you will always write as much and as well as you want to write, whether you are getting paid to do so or not.
I can tell you first-hand that it is unspeakably amazing to finally find a job that fits, a job that gives you the ability to use all of your creative skills and then some. It’s worth pursuing with everything you have. But while you are waiting, don’t stop writing. And when you get there, don’t stop writing.
Keep writing because you can’t not write, and for no other reason but that.
Recommended Bus Stop Reading for Writers