4.09.2012

How to be a Writer and Get a "Real" Job

Being an author is your life's passion. It might even be your career. But chances are overwhelming that you will not be able to fully support yourself (or your family) on your writing craft, at least at first, if ever at all. Depressing, isn't it? Well, maybe a little. While a day job can suck away hours I'd much rather spend working on my latest project, I've always viewed working outside the home as a bit of a helper in the writing department. Not only do day jobs provide some much needed dollars, but they also give me the opportunity to get out of the house and interact with people, something I am not terribly inclined to do on my own much these days. And interacting with people is always a great opportunity to find new story ideas. After all, inspiration is out in the world and you gotta give yourself a chance to get out there and find it. Even if it means you have to put on a uniform and a name tag to do it.



But let's say you've been spending a lot of years perfecting your craft, and you're sitting across the table from a perspective employer who is asking you about your qualifications. Are you going to use your writing as a tool to sell yourself for the position, or are you going to throw it into the hobby portion of your resume and keep your mouth shut about it? I've done it both ways in the past, but I decided not too long ago that it's time to put "full-time writer" front and center on my resume. After all, it's what I do.

Even if the job in question is pretty menial (cashier, stock clerk, assembly line worker, janitor), you can always use your writing as a way to sell yourself, even if you have to be creative about it (and that in itself is one reason why you should do it: showcasing your creativity). Some managers are all prepared to lump "writer" in with "slacker," or "daydreamer." But with the list I'm about to generate for you below, they'll soon find that you're the ideal candidate. So hopefully, when you're polishing off your resume, you can keep the following in mind:

  • Working Independently: In my experience, employers love nothing more than subordinates who won't be buzzing their ear off constantly for assistance. If you're a cog constantly in need of grease, you'll slow the whole operation down. Well, writers are veterans at working alone. That is completely self-evident. Sure, you might need help with the editing, but everyone needs a hand from time to time, regardless of their line of work. The important thing is that you envisioned your task, and you had the discipline and the know-how to sit down complete it without having to have someone hold your hand. 
  • Multi-Tasking/Time Management: Yes, you've proven you can work alone, but now you have to prove you can not only do your job, but juggle about fifty other things as well. Writers know that the sun doesn't rise and set on the current WIP. You also have to read, review, and sometimes edit for your colleagues, put together query packages, work on self-promoting, update your website, track your sales and financials, prepare and mail submissions, and think about the next book or story. And that's in addition to showering and feeding yourself and raising kids and running a household. Being an artist of any kind often means you're working on your projects in addition to everything else the world demands from you. Trust me, you're a multi-tasker. 
  • Attention to Detail: Oh employers love this little nugget. They want to know that you're able to not only see the bigger picture (we're pretty good at that too), but also make sure every "i" is dotted and every crumb is accounted for. Writers are naturally detail oriented, not only because of their ability to weave together complex plots threads into a coherent narrative, but also because perfection is an absolute must when you're trying to push your work out to the public. We constantly study protocol for writing query letters and interacting with industry people. We work tirelessly to make sure our work is in tip-top shape and ready to impress, and that means scouring and revising our work ad nauseum until we can't even stand ourselves anymore. When you know that the fate of your success can sometimes rest on the placement of an apostrophe, you're detail oriented.
  • Playing Well With Others: Employers want to know you can do your job and do it well, but they also don't want you to be a jerkface to your fellow co-workers, or to the customers. They want someone who appreciates people and all their particular needs and quirks. Hell, we create full-blooded characters inside our heads all the time, constructing their personalities based on everything we know about real people. Not only that, but when you're an independent writer, you have to know how to put on your game face and act like a professional, even when someone (be it a reader or an editor) is ripping your guts out onto the floor and telling you the labor of love you've spent the last six months of your life putting together is crap. Granted, some writers are not so good at this. They either compose long-winded diatribes to people who write negative reviews about them, or they're often so afraid of failure that they don't really even try to attain much success in the field. But a writer who is on their game, knows how the industry works, and is driven to succeed in the business had better be a team-player, even if they're a hermity introvert.
  • Customer Service Oriented: ANY entertainer had better be good at knowing what buyers want and how to please them. If you can't deliver the goods and make people happy, then you're in the wrong business, both as a writer and as a prospective employee at your local Steak & Shake. Customer service is all about seeing a person's need and fulfilling it. Writers, especially the good ones, have this one down pat. 
  • Salesmanship: This goes hand in hand with customer service, but with a twist. You can't be successful at your writing if you don't know how to sell it to people. Regardless of what kind of sales strategies you've come up with to peddle your writing, you have likely put a lot of thought and hours into planning clever marketing campaigns, writing good blurbs, going on blog tours, querying agents and publishers, making trailers, designing covers, and performing all of the other business duties of writing. This is not something you would want to hide from employers. Even if you're a only moderately successful author, you have a lot to be proud of, especially if you're not a marketing major. You're trying to build an empire from the ground up. Give yourself some credit.
  • Empathetic and Intuitive Thinking: Particularly in service-oriented jobs, you have to have a real nose for how people are feeling and act accordingly. Being empathetic is all about understanding emotions and problems and finding an appropriate solution. Writers are very tuned into people's emotions, probably because they themselves are very emotional people. Creating a fictional story or situation requires a lot of insight into how people think, how societies work, and finding clever ways to resolve conflicts. On the flipside, it might also mean that a particularly irate client or customer gets to you a little more easily, but that's okay. If you can deal with that potential pitfall with the same professionalism that you do when you get a rejection letter or read a one-star review of one of your stories on Amazon, then you'll be golden. Employers just want to know that you have the ability to identify and address needs as they arise. 
  • Positive Thinking: Writers can be a jaded bunch. Fielding rejections on a regular basis, not to mention constant criticism on our work tends to do that at times. But if we weren't all optimists deep down, we wouldn't really be doing it anymore, would we? A positive thinker isn't someone who never faces conflict. It's all in how we deal with it. If we gave up and said it wasn't worth it, then maybe we wouldn't be thinking positively anymore, but if you take your punches and keep going, then yes, you're a positive thinker, and that makes you look like a good candidate for the job.
  • Problem Solving: I think this pretty much covers a lot of the same bases as being intuitive. Having good intuition automatically makes you a good problem solver, because of the way you apply your cognitive abilities, whether as an author or behind the counter. As writers, we not only drum up a lot of worst-case scenarios, but we're also thinking of clever or ingenious ways to resolve them. Employers love people who think outside the box, and that's essentially what an author does. The pretty prose and storytelling mechanics are only a part of that. When you break it down to its core, conflict resolution is what writing is all about. And that's before you even get into the external conflicts like fixing what an editor tells you to fix and meeting deadlines, all of which are good selling points too.
I'm sure there are a lot more ways writers can use their innate skills to find a job. What are some other ways that have been successful for you? I'd love to hear them.