As writers, we often think we have to devote ourselves fully to our writing in order to make any progress — or any money.
And while being able to write full-time is a dream for just about all of us, it may not always be the best case scenario. The writing life can be a bit lonely, and we writers often need to get out of our heads. There are a lot of ways writers find inspiration online or in their own environments, but nothing really replaces getting out into the world and learning from actual people.
For many of us, writing starts out as a side job and eventually becomes a full-time job. We don’t always let the side job go, either, and our full-time writing career becomes full-time and then some. Which isn’t healthy for anyone.
If you find yourself writing day and night — or even need some motivation to put on some clothes at five o’clock and get out of the house with the rest of world, finding a side job that isn’t writing-focused might be your new survival tactic.
Here are eight side jobs that would be perfect for a writer who wants to expand their horizons and make some relatively easy cash.
1. Teach a fitness class
You can earn extra money, of course, but maybe even more advantageous is that you are forced to exercise regularly — and get paid to do it.
And let’s face it: most of us writers need a little incentive to make it to the gym.
The third benefit here? You can learn so much about people when watching them at their best and at their worst — and an exercise class is about as close as you can get without eavesdropping at a coffee shop.
Plus, if you’re interested in writing for a fitness-focused publication, taking new classes may provide some needed inspiration.
2. Become a barista
Speaking of coffee shops…there are few places that humans are more fully themselves than when ordering coffee just the way they like it.
Whether it’s a tall decaf cappuccino or a skinny soy latte with an extra shot, a coffee order says a lot about a person, like what they value and how cranky they are before they get it. Being able to observe people making decisions before they’ve had their first cup can be a priceless look into what they pay attention to, and consequently, how to write to grab that attention.
3. Work retail
Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn more about, but never got the chance to invest the time and money to try it out? Or maybe there’s something you need to learn more about in order to write about it in your latest work in progress. The perfect option might be to work at a store that specializes in it.
This will give you the chance to try something out without spending a lot of money or to learn something from real people with firsthand experience that will help you write about it — all while getting paid.
That’s what I did last year: I got a part-time job at a local wine store. Not only did I get to learn about a topic I’d always wanted to, but I also got to see how companies describe their own wine. The ways in which people name vineyards and individual varietals is fascinating, and a first-hand look at how things sell off a shelf meant I got to see human nature at work.
Pretty labels? Check. Funky name? Absolutely going to sell. The exemplary bottle of wine that has a plain, boring label? Not so much.
It taught me a lot about what people’s expectations are, something that writers need to know when brainstorming story ideas, article titles and more.
The cliché of people talking to their bartenders is a cliché for a reason.
If you want to learn more about how people respond to the best (weddings, job promotions) and worst (breakups, getting fired) situations, it might be a good idea to step around the counter and start serving.
Learning what people order in different settings may be helpful if you’re trying to help your fictional characters navigate their own bar-hopping lives, and you might even get to hear a few stories that you’d never have been able to otherwise.
Gaining empathy while getting paid? Definitely a writer-worthy pursuit.
5. Take tickets at a movie theater
If we’re honest, most of our evening hours are spent on the couch anyway, too tired to summon more words of our own. Working the front counter at a movie theater might be a perfect solution to making a little cash on the side, and keep you from falling into the evening Netflix binge over and over again.
The hours are likely opposite your most productive writing times, and a lot of theaters give employees the chance to see new movies free as they come out. Having access to free entertainment is never a bad thing for a writer that consumes a lot of content in order to stay current, think of all the stories you are going to get to soak up that you may have passed over if you had to pay for them!
For Kelly Gurnett, dogsitting has provided her with the opportunity to create mini writing retreats for herself while earning some extra cash — all while getting to dote on a furry friend or two.
“Most of my dog sitting gigs are several nights long, which gives me a chance to recharge, refresh, and focus on my writing in a way I never could at home,” says Gurnett. “I recently finished a book I was under contract for, the biggest writing project I’ve had to date, and I’d say 85% of the research and drafting was done while at a sitting stay.”
Gurnett says that the majority of her gigs are at really nice houses, too, which is kind of like staying in a fancy hotel and getting paid for it.
If you have a passion for animals and find writing at home to be a struggle amidst your own family’s chaos, maybe give dog- or cat-sitting a try.
7. Wait tables
Yes, it can be exhausting, underpaid and rob you of your weekends, but waiting tables gives you a chance to see real people interacting in real life.
One of the ways we connect with others most is through sharing meals, and waiting tables gives you a front row seat to everyone from families with small children to retired couples as they engage with one of their most basic human needs.
If you write romance, look for a fancier restaurant where people get engaged and celebrate milestones. If you’re a marketer, search out a restaurant where your demographic hangs, whether it’s college students or moms with small children. It can be a valuable learning tool to see what your target audience gravitates to in real life.
8. Work at a bookstore
This is almost too obvious to put on the list, but working at a bookstore might be the best part-time job for a writer out there. The best writers are great readers, and being in the know of what is coming out and what sells—fiction or nonfiction—is a perk any writer would be happy to have.
We’re guessing there’s a healthy employee discount, too, which makes doing your own reading and research just a little easier on the wallet.
There’s a lot to be said for getting out of your own element and learning from new people and places. As writers, we are expected to constantly hone our skills and be able to understand concepts that reach beyond our current situation. What better way is there to do that than while making a little extra money on the side.
What side job have you held that helped you be a better writer?