When I was a sophomore in college, I had absolutely no clue what career I wanted to pursue. I was determined to be a published writer and author (and still am), but I was starting to get realistic about the chances of easily sustaining myself financially with book publications full-time.
So I visited a college career counselor.
I was expecting to learn about new careers that involved writing or editing or endless shelves of books.
Her advice was the reverse: take on a career that has nothing to do with writing.
Work in a greenhouse, she suggested. Be a security guard. Or a hairstylist. Or a bus driver. Or a tour guide. Or a house sitter.
She made her case:
- Some non-writing careers keep you energized about writing. Why come home drained after long hours of writing and editing projects that aren’t your novel or your play? You won’t come home eager to write out a scene–you’ll just turn on the TV and fall asleep.
- Some non-writing careers (sometimes) permit you to write while working. There are jobs that require your attendance but not 100% of your attention. Job breaks are perfect to write a few more pages of your draft or to think up solutions for the problems in your writing.
- Some non-writing careers open you to new ideas for your writing. How can you become an expert on a profession or a place or a group of people when you’re always on the side of the red pen? Writers are exploring scribes, and your craft will only improve by studying the world.
Needless to say, my parents were not amused with this answer.
A lot has changed since 2007. Writing careers aren’t tied down to just big publishing houses and newsstand papers. Websites are breeding like rabbits, blogs are more than just open diaries, indie publishers are on the rise, and social media has the power to make or break a company. Writers and editors are currently in high demand because the perception of (and appreciation of) the writing craft has evolved beyond the pages of a book or the folds of a newspaper.
And I have also changed. My love for writing has extended beyond the joy of scribbling down words into a passion of learning and becoming an expert on a multitude of topics. I used to write to escape from people and places, but now I write because I want to engage with people and places, because I want to be the one that shapes the telling of their story.
In other words, I now love the process of storytelling.
These were the answers I was expecting to hear in that counselor’s office:
- Writing careers keep you sharp on your craft. Professionals in these careers must continuously be experts on craft, grammar, audience targeting, and formatting. With these industries rapidly evolving, there’s a demand to stay ahead of the competition (because you’re competitive).
- Writing careers are a great way to network. Writing careers work alongside and with people that love to write and read, engage in writing and reading groups, and associate with others that write and read.
- Writing careers build credibility. Even if it isn’t a novel or a play, you will leave work each night satisfied that you have written an article, a blog post, social media conversations, website copy, a grant, a contract–all that can trickle its way into your marketable resume.
- Writing careers keep you writing daily (or close to it). Writing through other mediums keeps your mind fresh and keeps the juices flowing for your personal projects. The problems you solve while writing 9 to 5 may be solutions for your afterhours prose.
So what’s my verdict? I say both are valid approaches.
I am currently searching for full-time employment, and I have been open to both possibilities. A writing career would continue me on the path towards my passion. A non-writing career can lead me to possibilities and stories I have yet to imagine.
Instead of asking which career path to take, ask yourself these questions:
- What are my writing goals?
- What are my writing values?
- What is my strategy to achieve these goals?
Then take action and write your way towards success.