Ways of living as a…

Ways of living as a writer I've tried (thanks to Mike Jasper for the question), pretty much in chronological order, starting around 1993:

  1. Working full time as a secretary -- Pros: masses of time to write on the job, enough income to pay off old credit cards and live reasonably comfortably, going to movies and buying books and eating out once every few weeks and such. Cons: insanely boring, got worse and worse at job over second six months until boss told me that she was glad I was planning on leaving since she didn't want to fire me. Clearly not a decent long-term solution, unless I wanted to pick up a new secretarial job each year. Suspect similar problem with such jobs as night watchman. Can't stand sustained boredom. Brain was turning to mush.

  2. MFA program. Pros: masses of time to write, good colleagues to write with, excellent atmosphere. Cons: accumulated massive debt in first year living off government student loans for living expenses and tuition; and about half that debt in second year, when TA-ship paid for tuition. Total: $30,000 debt for two years of writing. Only recommended for the financially foolhardy and those desperate to write. Note: there are obviously less expensive ways to do this -- cheaper schools, working part-time or full-time during degree. Harder, but more financially sensible. Long-term, decent investment into college composition instructor day job.

  3. Writing porn. Pros: Can easily earn a thousand dollars in a day of porn writing; have done so, multiple times. Cons: social embarrassment, difficulty of finding porn writing gigs (far fewer than there used to be, with explosion of internet video smut), even more boring than tech writing (see next).

  4. Year tech writing at the height of the boom. Made $30/hr to work from home, inflating hours (only a bit, and still far less so than colleagues), pulling in a niceish chunk of change. Pros: plenty of time to write. Cons: tech writing even more boring than secretarial work, astonishingly. And had no desire to write. Started magazine instead. Also not sure possible to get such job now without more qualifications than just an English degree.

  5. Teaching composition full-time at the university level (MFA pre-requisite). Pros: After first exhausting semester, settled into about 30 hrs/week for competent teaching, roughly $30K annually, half-time in summer. Extremely flexible schedule. Cons: Not so many cons, actually. Got lots of writing done, and the teaching didn't generally suck away energy from writing -- was more invigorating than anything else. If you like teaching even ok, recommended day job for writers. You won't get rich, but you'll have time to write after the first hectic year. It gets much easier when you don't need to make up new lesson plans for every class. You won't be a brilliant teacher while your main interest is elsewhere, but it's not so hard to be a competent one and give the students their money's worth. And when you're in a writing slump, you can pour energy into being an exciting teacher.

  6. Editing gigs: Pros: Lovely money from NY publishers, much less so from small press, get to work with writers, arguably still helping your writing. Also get to put out lots of books, which is satisfying, without too much effort on own part. Cons: Entirely erratic, unpredictable when will get asked to do them, unless far more organized than self at seeking them out. Upshot: nice work if you can get it.

  7. Ph.D. program; tuition included, TA-ship teaching 3 classes a year pays you $10K for the school year, enough to live on if you tighten your belt. Cons: have to either live like a starving student again, or take out more student loans, or be dangerous with credit cards. It can be difficult going back to student spending limits. Pros: Incredibly invigorating, exciting, finally getting paid for writing. Cons: No good unless you actually like the academic side of writing, theory and such, as you'll be doing a lot of it. Evaluation: excellent day job if you're a particularly intellectual and theory-headed kind of writer. Probably no good for most writers (including plenty of good ones).

  8. Have sweetie pay for all expenses while you battle guilt and try to write. Pros: No day job! Masses of time to write. Cons: Feeling like you're not quite a grown-up. Feeling dependent. Feeling guilty when you're not writing, not just for yourself, but for hard-working sweetie. Feeling guilty about buying anything non-essential. Evaluation: Recommended, if you have a solid enough relationship that it can take the inevitable financial strain. May want to put a time limit on this arrangement, to avoid excessive strain.

2 thoughts on “Ways of living as a…”

  1. This is fascinating stuff, Mary Anne! Thanks for sharing. Tech writing IS boring, and also hard on the arms and hands, but that’s what’s paid most of my bills in the last few years.

    I wish I liked teaching better…

  2. accounting for university: Pros — easy work (not mentally challenging), lots of time to write. Flexible hours (mostly), decent salary (30-40K). Cons — work is boring.

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