Discover our carefully curated list of some of the best day jobs for writers, from freelancing jobs that make money to blue-collar work; we’ve got it all!
Even Dickens had a day job. The most popular fantasy story in literature may be the myth of the author who makes a living simply by writing books. Authors’ average income from writing is substantially below the poverty level, so unless you want to be a starving artist literally (not just aesthetically), you will need a day job to support your writing dream. Read our guide to learn how to generate income and become a freelance writer.
In the last five years, as I’ve earned my MFA and pursued my goal of writing and publishing my first novel, I’ve held an incredibly diverse array of day jobs. These ranged from legal aid attorney to English composition adjunct, non-profit director to landscaping crew, freelance writer to factory worker, and farmer to portrait photographer. From that experience, I can’t tell you specifically what the best job is for you, but I can tell you how to decide.
- Do Most Authors Have a Day Job?
- Factors to Consider When Choosing a Day Job
- Writing Jobs
- Writing Adjacent Jobs
- Non-Writing Jobs
Do Most Authors Have a Day Job?
Yes. Making a living with your creative writing is a financial life plan, like winning the lottery is a financial life plan. Good luck, but don’t quit your day job. The largest-ever survey of American authors by The Authors Guild in 2018 found that the median income for writers had fallen to a gut-wrenching $6,080. Annually. Even worse, only half was book income; the rest came from speaking engagements, reviewing books, or teaching. Even those identified as full-time authors only earned a median income of $20,300 per year.
The decline in pay for authors was not true for self-published authors, whose income has risen substantially over the last decade. However, they still make less than half of what traditionally published authors make, so you will still need a day job unless you are a self-publishing wizard.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Day Job
One of the most important aspects of choosing a job is assessing how much of your life it will consume. You need to look beyond what the job posting lists under Hours Per Week and consider how much time the job will take because every hour you spend working is an hour you can’t spend writing.
The actual time required by a job includes the following factors:
- How many hours a day do they claim you will be working? Do you have a paid lunch break when you could write?
- Is there mandatory overtime? Is there an unwritten expectation that you will pick up voluntary overtime?
- Is it paid hourly, or is it a salaried position? If salaried, do people typically work eight hours and go home, or take work home with them?
- Will you be on call when not at work? Are you expected to read email that arrives during off hours?
- Is there pressure to attend social gatherings with your coworkers outside of work hours? Are there other ways work intrusions could interrupt your writing routine?
- Does the job require a commute? How many hours does it add to your work week?
- Does the job always keep you busy, or does it involve periods of lag time during which you could do writing-related activities?
- Are you open to a night shift job, or would you be too drained to write?
For all writers, certain activities drain our creative energy and other activities that inspire creative energy. This varies substantially from person to person (largely but not entirely based on introversion/extroversion). Determining what drains you most is important to avoid it at work.
Extroverts become more energized through engaging with other people. They also get their best ideas from interactions and people-watching. For these kinds of writers, a day job at a coffee shop or a night job as a bartender might be ideal, giving them good income, an endless supply of inspiration, and days free for writing.
Bartending would be my nightmare. By the end of a 10-12 hour attorney workday, I was blurry-eyed and tongue-tied. I knew I had to quit if I wanted to take my writing ambitions seriously. I’ve found that factory work, landscaping, and farming–jobs that require hard physical work but leave my mind free for brainstorming, outlining, and daydreaming–were ideal for stoking my creative energy.
Some jobs will help you build relationships that can help your writing career. Jobs in publishing will ensure that you meet people in the industry. A job that involves public-facing writing (journalism, marketing copy for a website, etc.) can also help attract the attention of people who may help your career.
Networking is also a major benefit of jobs you take for research purposes. For example, if you want to write a legal thriller, consider applying for jobs as a legal assistant or law office receptionist. You will build relationships with people who can answer questions to solve even the trickiest plot snag.
Even the least promising-sounding job can be a networking bonanza if you keep an open mind. I worked in a factory for three months. In addition to learning how my protagonist would experience that environment, I met one guy who made his moonshine, a woman who committed DUI homicide, and an ex-member of the Chicago mafia. I consider all these people (and the people they could introduce me to) inspiration and research references for future characters, and therefore networking gains.
For most writers, one of the most important factors isn’t mentioned in the job description: how often does the job require your full attention? When your job involves teaching high school or operating a saw, getting distracted will get you fired or worse. Other jobs include downtime or time when you can wear headphones while working. With or without permission, writers can use this downtime in countless ways (reading, listening to audiobooks, daydreaming, brainstorming, outlining, making notes, and even writing or revising).
Remember that the attention required varies individually, not just based on the job title. As a temp receptionist for a big city radio station, I rarely had fewer than two people on hold. As the temp receptionist for a three-attorney law firm, I had plenty of time to make notes on my novel.
Your job doesn’t need special meaning if it pays the bills. Songwriter Noel Gallagher famously said, “I don’t live to work…. I work to live.” If you must have a day job (and unless you were born or married rich, you must), it should pay enough to allow you to live (i.e., to write) in your free time. That could mean a full-time job, one or more part-time jobs, or gig work.
Regardless, create a budget to determine what you need to get by. Then, add 10% or more as a buffer (emergencies will arise). That is the starting salary you should be looking for. Until you are an established writer, you should plan to live entirely off of this income. Consider it a bonus if you make money off your writing, for example, by selling a short story. Don’t forget to factor in fringe benefits. These could include paid time off, insurance, free food, and other benefits.
Many writers find that a full-time writing position is the most ideal day job for their craft and passion. Beyond traditional authorship, roles such as content creation, copywriting, and technical writing offer lucrative and fulfilling opportunities for wordsmiths. If you need help, freelancing, for example, Writers Work is a good choice. Also consider:
Both historically and today, many famous writers got their start in journalism: Joan Didion, Langston Hughes, Stieg Larsson, Laura Lippman, George Orwell, Annie Proulx, Susan Sontag, and Bram Stoker, for example. What is freelance journalism? Read our guide to find out!
Pros: Journalism will teach you to research, hone your writing skills, maintain a daily writing practice, and meet fast-paced deadlines. It will expose you to unexpected inspiration, valuable networking opportunities, and your name in print.
Cons: Traditional print journalism jobs are scarce. Entry-level jobs are in high demand despite being a lot of work for low pay. If you get one, you won’t do any hard-hitting investigative pieces soon. Freelancing is an option, but pitching and writing pieces can be daunting.
2. Freelance Writing/Ghostwriting
Freelance writing is a job with a lot of potential for people who want a low-pressure day job that allows them to hone their craft. The amount of creative content required to fuel the internet–from bloggers to social media writers to website copy–means there is a lot of writing for hire in the gig economy.
Some of this writing may be credited to you, while other opportunities involve ghostwriting for someone else. Some jobs will be contracts for a single piece of writing, while at other times, you may establish a relationship with a business that offers you work consistently over time. Read our guide on how to set your freelance writing rates!
Pros: This job is flexible. You can work as little or as much as you want, whenever and wherever you want. You get to dig deep into your subject matter, which is fun if you love to learn. You generate published writing samples that can help your writing career generally.
Cons: Without relevant experience, pay rates often start as low as three cents per word. Gig economy jobs require you to do your bookkeeping, account for your taxes, and get your health insurance. You may or may not get credit for your writing.
3. Technical Writing
If you’re a particularly precise writer, you might consider technical writing. This generally means working for a company drafting documents like manuals or instructional materials. In a smaller company, you might wear more hats and write a range of copy, such as the company website or an updated employee handbook.
Pros: Technical writing jobs typically pay well and include benefits. They have reliable hours, and it’s easier than in other writing jobs to leave work at work. Technical writing is a growth industry. Some jobs may allow remote work.
Cons: You may find it boring. There are many jobs in this field, but they are in high demand, so you may find it challenging to get them without a degree in technical writing. You will spend all day in front of a computer, which can reduce your motivation for personal writing.#
Short-form copywriting is in demand among ad agencies, new-start businesses and brands increasing their marketing efforts. With many copywriting jobs available on sites like Upwork and LinkedIn, some great opportunities are available for new and experienced writers.
Copywriting is a niche form of writing where the writer focuses on the impact of each word. Some copywriting jobs can even consist of creating a one-word impactful statement for brand names, slogans, website copy and more. Working with marketing teams or ad agencies is a great way for writers to generate income, build networking connections and grow their creative mindset. In the copywriting world, less is more. Read our round-up of the best freelance writing sites.
Pros: There is ample opportunity for writers to generate income when writing short-form copy. Social media demands short copy for captions to maintain reader attention, and social media is a vital component for every brand.
Cons: Setting fees for short-form copy can be challenging to navigate. When charging by the hour, it can be difficult to justify the time spent when submitting a short-form copy assignment. However, a good workaround is to set a flat fee for assignments, giving you (the writer) control over your work.
5. Show Notes Writer
Podcasts are immensely popular within all kinds of media genres, with entrepreneurs and all kinds of people creating podcasts to share their thoughts and ideas. Within the podcast world, there is a niche writing opportunity, ideal for freelancers to make some extra money. Show note writing involves listening to a podcast, summarizing the key points with time stamps and providing an overall content analysis.
Pros: Show note writing is a quick and easy way for writers to make some extra money on the side. It can also be a fun and relaxing way to unwind after a long work day by listening to a podcast and jotting down some notes. The pay for this kind of writing is lucrative because it’s so in demand. Building a reputation as a show-note writer can lead to a reliable income.
Cons: The pay for this type of freelance writing can be low and time-consuming. Sometimes this job can involve listening to podcasts you might not be interested in.
Publishing is almost as common a career choice for writers as journalism, from Toni Morrison to T.S. Eliot.
Pros: Exposure to great writing daily can be a huge creative inspiration. Seeing all the awful writing that still gets published can do wonders for your imposter syndrome. Unparalleled networking opportunities.
Cons: You will likely need to move to New York City. On an entry-level publishing industry salary, you won’t be able to afford to live in New York City. The publishing world can be elitist and demanding.
Consider becoming a copyeditor if you find at least one typo in half the published books you read. There are other editing jobs (such as developmental editor or working as an editor for a publishing house), but proofreading is more accessible as a day job than other editing jobs if you don’t have a degree in writing, publications, or relevant background.
Pros: You know how to write. This job is especially pleasurable if you enjoy informing people of their errors. Jobs in copy editing include both full-time positions and contract work.
Cons: If you struggle to commit your unflagging attention to the nitty-gritty, copyediting will become tedious quickly. Many writers do not receive feedback on their writing gracefully.
Writing Adjacent Jobs
You don’t have to write for a living to have a job that enhances your writing.
Many of the most prominent contemporary writers are also professors at the university level. Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen, MacArthur Fellow Karen Russell, and Booker Prize winner George Saunders come to mind. However, many other teaching jobs (teaching middle school math, for example) can be great day jobs for an aspiring writer.
Pros: This is a well-paid and reliable job at the higher levels. If you want to write literary fiction or poetry specifically, an English or creative writing department is a community of kindred spirits. You get more holiday days for writing marathons than in most other jobs.
Cons: Many teachers, especially entry-level, are overworked and underpaid. College-level jobs are challenging to get. Teaching primary or secondary school can require a teaching certification.
9. Office Jobs
Can you answer phones, manage a calendar, sort mail, and type memos? Can you look friendly and professional while doing so? If so, you can work in an office.
Pros: Easy to over-perform, especially if you’re an organized person. Occasional downtime in the workday allows for brainstorming or even writing, reliable hours and reasonable pay for what is usually a low-pressure environment.
Cons: You have to be “on” for long periods of time. You may resent being asked to do menial tasks. Errors may not be tolerated when missing a deadline could mean serious problems for many people. These jobs are sedentary and may require a lot of time spent staring at a screen.
10. Library/Bookstore Jobs
Being surrounded by books is every writer’s dream job, right?
Pros: Books. All the books. The perks are obvious, whether it’s the general inspiration, the employee discount, or the feeling of introducing the books you love to new people.
Cons: Difficult to get because it is nearly every writer’s dream job. Also, because of Amazon. It’s basically a customer service job, but the product you sell is your dream.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your writing is the opposite of writing.
11. Food Service/Retail
This may not be the ideal job for an aspiring writer, but it is almost certainly the most common job category for aspiring writers. Whether you’re a writer, barista, server, bartender, or cashier, you’re in good company.
Pros: Tipped jobs can be very well paid per hour if you can get weekend work, so much so that you may be able to work part-time. The people-watching opportunities are unparalleled. Free food.
Cons: You interact with relentlessly annoying people all day and may even depend on them for tips. It can be very poorly paid. Exhausting, tedious, and often demeaning. Covid exposure is a concern.
12. Blue Collar Labor
A sedentary, computer-focused day job saps my creativity and motivation. I’ve done some of my most fruitful pre-writing while I worked as a laborer, in a factory or pulling weeds. I’m not alone.
Raymond Carver worked at a sawmill and as a gas station attendant. Caitriona Lally, who won the Rooney Prize for Literature in 2018, was a custodian mopping floors at Trinity College Dublin. Ernest Hemingway drove an ambulance in World War I.
If you have a great mind, why waste it on a day job? Save your mental labor for your writing and sell your physical labor instead.
Pros: Your mind is generally your own. Physical movement is good for your body, but more importantly, for writers, it is good for your creative brain. It can be well paid even at the entry-level.
Cons: Blue-collar environments can be too noisy or chaotic to think about. Avoid jobs where a moment of inattention could cause safety risks.
13. Research-Related Jobs
In 1887, journalist Nellie Bly took her commitment to her art to the extreme when she got herself committed to an insane asylum and then reported on the abuse of patients there. In 1906, Upton Sinclair worked undercover in the meatpacking industry for seven weeks, then wrote The Jungle, a classic of American literature.
The first-hand experience gave Bly’s and Sinclair’s writing such intense credibility that not only was their work immensely popular, but their writing stirred up enough public sentiment to get laws passed protecting the people and animals suffering the authors depicted.
Other people (such as John Grisham) have made fortunes by writing about areas where they have professional expertise.
Pros: If you want to write convincingly about anything, the difference between personal experience and your Google search results is vast. Occasionally, you can change the world with your writing, and direct experience helps. If you hate the job, you can always quit, and if it’s not in your field, it won’t matter if you leave too quickly to earn a reference.
Cons: Nobody said working at a meat packing plant (or in a law firm, for that matter) would be fun. Jobs you take on as research may not help with professional development if you work outside your field. If you change your mind about the profession of your protagonist, you may consider the time wasted.
Looking for more? Check out our list of alliteration examples to improve your writing skills.