To work or not to work: when expectations get in the way of a writer’s paycheck, however mediocre

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As the fall semester comes to a close and my reunion with a slew of see-once-a-year relatives for holiday dinners is pending, the inevitable small talk question of “What are your plans after graduation?” looms over me. While I would like to reply with phrases such as “I’m going to work for so-and-so magazine” or “I was just asked to publish so-and-so book”, the reality is that the global community is in an economic recession that warns us college students of unemployment or “underemployment” after graduation. Being a writer, I am almost guaranteed one or the other. 

The thought of answering such questions with the wretched response of “I don’t know what I’m doing after graduation” or “I don’t have a job yet” is gut-wrenching, because for students hoping to pursue a career in writing, the job market for our field is quickly dying. In an article for the Huffington Post, Roger Wright writes, “Stand at the corner of Publishing Street and Job Market Avenue and you’ll see an endless stream of corporate or organizational writers, copy editors, freelancers, self-promoters, bloggers and people who write because they can’t imagine a world where they didn’t write. You’ll also see a lot of unemployed people.” 

While I, like many of you, cannot imagine not writing after graduation, I would like to propose that we must open ourselves up to a realm of other possibilities, not necessarily in place of writing but in addition to it, as writers can maintain a steady job while still doing freelance work on the side. Freelance writer Courtney Carpenter wrote in an article for Writers Digest, “There are hundreds of full-time freelancers who make good livings but who started slow—freelancing on the side while holding down a day job.”

To some, it may seem unfortunate to simply do freelance work, but there are a number of advantages to pursuing freelance writing jobs. First, you are your own boss, controlling the amount of hours you work and essentially the amount of money you make. Also, you choose what you write about. Freelance writing allows you to be creative and get paid for something you love to do while still maintaining a steady job in another profession if needed. Websites like freelancewriting.com and thewritelife.com offer advice for freelancers and job postings with pay ranging from $10 to $34 per hour, and they have a number of negotiable pay options as well. 

The last piece of good news is that you are not alone. Some of the greatest writers in history worked odd, if not dismal, jobs before becoming a few of the most well-respected authors to present, and we, as young college students, should be open and willing to do the same. H.G. Wells left school to work as a draper’s apprentice, which was only the first of a series of nightmarish jobs. He supported himself as a teacher and educated himself until he became the famed science fiction novelist of The War of the Worlds. After an impoverished childhood, debtor’s prison and sporadic factory jobs, Charles Dickens spent time as a less than glamorous freelance reporter. William Faulkner worked as a postmaster and bookseller’s assistant, and did not publish his poetry until he was 27-years-old or write his first novel until he was 28.

Each of these writers are a testament that every experience, no matter how seemingly mediocre, is valuable. We are in college, and we are writers. Our futures are most likely bound to be ones of either various misfortunes or unexpected fame, but today, the job market for full-time writers is slim, and we must be open to other paying possibilities while finding time to further our passion through opportunities like freelance writing. As authors, we are not called to become famous. We are simply called to write. So, no matter what your day job entails, carry your notebook everywhere you go, write down everything you can think of, and make as many skinny vanilla lattes as you’re asked.

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