Jobs That Leave You Time to Write

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You drag yourself out of bed, get ready, deal with traffic, work hard for eight hours, drive home, eat something and then . . . start writing? It’s doubtful.

What about weekends? Sure, right after you catch up on the household chores you put off all week.

It’s tough enough to build your writing career part-time around other commitments, but it’s especially difficult if you have a day job.

Fortunately, not all jobs are equal. In fact, some types of work leave you ample time to write: jobs where you can write while on the clock, positions with limited days or hours, and gigs where you control when and how much you work.

Jobs that let you write at work

I used to drive an electric tram for residents of a wealthy community in Florida, and my employer encouraged me to bring books or even a laptop if I wanted to read or write during slow times. And sure enough, during the off-season, I often waited for an hour or more between passengers.

Few employers may allow you to write while on the job, but if you’re serious about your writing and need a day job, try one of these positions:

Security guard
“I wrote Enjoy the Decline in 45 days while pulling 16 hour shifts sitting at a warehouse as a security guard,” says author Aaron Clarey. He also wrote his 324-page book, Behind the Housing Crash, while working at that same job.

Clarey suggests writers ask to be assigned night shifts, when they’ll likely have fewer administrative than they would during the day. However, day shifts can be productive as well; author Mark Allan Gunnells says:

I’m a security guard, and have pockets of downtime throughout the day. I have trained myself to write in those pockets. It isn’t ideal for some, the constant stop-and-start method, but I’ve managed to make it work.

When I wrote while working as a security guard, the biggest problem I faced was the number of interruptions. Gunnells may have adapted to that stop-and-start environment, but my own solution was to do the preparatory work instead of the actual writing.

For example, I researched my topic online, found sources and took notes. When I later wrote my articles, they came quickly and easily since I already had information, sources and a general outline ready.

Pet sitter or House sitter
While they may not be full-time gigs, these jobs leave you lots of time to write.

When I was younger, I wrote while getting paid to watch dogs for family and friends. When my wife and I travel, we pay our pet sitter $60 per night to stay with our two cats. Apart from a few minutes of play time and feeding, the rest of her eight-hour stay is open for whatever she wants to do — including writing.

Other possibilities
Consider alternative positions that offer lots of downtime during your working hours, and don’t be afraid to get creative. For example:

  • A late-shift hotel clerk can write while waiting for the phone to ring or a guest to check in
  • An elder-care driver can write while waiting for passengers at appointments
  • A campground host can write when he’s not welcoming guests or accepting bookings
  • A baby sitter can write after the kids are in bed

It may not be easy to fit in writing time at work, but it’s possible. Rodrigo Ribera D’Ebre says he wrote a novel during breaks while working in an office cubicle at an auto insurance company. Short story author Lisa Proctor says her boss let her write on the job when she was a clerk at a bookshop.

Some employers are happy to let writers write, as long as they get their work done. Why not ask?

Part-time work that pays well

A miserable day job can be good motivation for launching your writing career, and you might even use lunch breaks to plan how you’ll quit your job and start freelancing.

But if you need the extra income, consider a part-time job to support your writing. To maximize your writing time, look for a position that pays well for your time, so you can afford to work fewer hours.

If you only want to work a couple of days each week, one of the best opportunities may be bartending. If you have previous experience serving drinks or waiting tables, you might convince a bar or club owner to let you work only Friday and Saturday nights — the busiest times for most bars.

The tips can be surprisingly good. “Tending bar at a busy nightclub, I regularly pulled in upwards of three hundred dollars a night, and on many Fridays I took in more than $600,” says Rob Doherty. On his best night, he earned $1,600, and that was at a rural tavern where he normally made only about $100 per night. However, he warns that without experience you’ll probably get the slow shifts to start, and you’ll make much less.

Also consider jobs that require you to work five days or more each week, but for a limited number of hours. For example, many people who deliver newspapers to the coin-operated boxes on street corners (a job I used to have), work just two to four hours each morning. Just be prepared to get up at three or four in the morning each day!

Here are some other part-time possibilities with the potential for decent hourly incomes:

  • Waiting tables in an expensive restaurant
  • Cutting hair
  • Substitute teaching
  • Doing morning janitorial work for offices or schools
  • Driving a school bus

As a school bus driver, you can use the time between morning and afternoon runs to write, and you get summers off.

Flexible, writing-friendly jobs

The best gig for writers would allow you to work when you want and as much or as little as you want. That way, when you have paid writing projects you can slack off on the other work, and when writing income falls you have a backup. But is there such a job?

Yes. As a search engine evaluator — a job I started nine months ago — I work when I want, day or night, for $13.50 per hour. The most I’ve worked is 53 hours in a month, and although the company says you have to work at least 20 hours, I have recently dropped to fewer than five hours monthly, which is apparently just enough to keep from getting fired.

As a search engine evaluator, you rate search results based on various factors. The employers provide the minimal training necessary. Companies that hire for these positions include Leapforce, Lionbridge and Appen Butler Hill, and may also offer other at-home part-time positions.

Jobs that let you work as many hours as you like, whenever you like, are rare. Get creative to brainstorm opportunities based on your skills. Perhaps a family member with a business can hire you to work the days and hours that fit best with your writing schedule — another way I’ve been able to work while having time to write.

Do you have a job that leaves you time to write? How do you fit writing around a day job?

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Steve Gillman's experiences inspired a website about odd businesses and jobs, which in turn led to writing .

Webhiker Services | @stevegillman

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Comments

  1. I love the campground host idea for a job that leaves you time to write. It works well on so many levels for those eyeing retirement — community, social life, low maintenance housing, travel and time well spent.

  2. Steve – I’m curious (and interested) regarding the search engine evaluator jobs. Sounds like one of those work from home jobs that are usually (if not always) too good to be true.

  3. Great article, Steve! I have worked the opening shift [5a-1p] for over a decade at Starbucks. After a nap, I write. I wrote my book, Reptiles on Caffeine, and work on other projects in the afternoons and evenings…b

  4. I love the pet sitter. house sitter idea, not only because of the flexibility but it doesn’t commit you to one locale.

  5. Great article. Any advice for a full-time nonfiction writer? I write full-time for an association’s monthly magazine so I’m often burnout from writing when I get home to work on my fiction. Although its my first passion and I enjoy it more, fiction often takes more mental energy than my non-fiction writing career but I really want to dedicate more time to it this year.

    • This is such a good point — Sometimes when you have a full-time writing job, the last thing you want to do when you get home is write. I wonder how you can carve out time and energy for your fiction? On the weekends? Maybe take a personal day now and then with the sole intention of writing? You could also think about how you organize the work at your job so you write in the morning, then do other tasks in the afternoon… to give you energy to focus on writing for an hour when you get home. Would love to hear what works for you!

      ~Alexis, founder of The Write Life

    • Great question, Kym — and one we’ll have to address in a future post!

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

    • For a while, as a break from writing, I worked as a painter and handyman a guy who flipped houses. I worked when I wanted and was paid cash at the end of the day. It’s not easy to get jobs like that, but I really liked having some physical labor after sitting for so many hours in front of my keyboard/computer. We’re all unique, so I suggest experimenting with different side jobs if that’s possible.

  6. I currently work three days a week in the health care field and as a part time figure skating instructor. But between errands, house work, family stuff, and exercise those four days fly by with not a lot of writing time.I’m quite frustrated. Any advice?

    • Three days of work leaves four without. I find that I’m most productive if I get up early and write for a few hours before all the interruptions of the day start.

      • Steve, you’re right. When I used to write first thing morning, that definitely was when I was more productive. Thank you for reminding me of that!

  7. I’m a middle school teacher, and while it’s a lot of work during the school year, I have a good deal of freedom during the summer to write. I also try to write a few evenings a week during the school year, but like other commenters, I’m often pretty tired. It’s a constant struggle! I’ve learned to maximize long weekends and vacations from school to get the most out of my writing time.

  8. I need to advise anybody who thinks working the night shift is a good idea — I did it for 30 years. If all you want is a writing career, I can guarantee you, that’s about all you have left after you stuff yourself into the night shift. First thing that goes is your social life. After that, you learn to eat frozen dinners and enjoy it.

  9. Ooh, you should definitely add working in a library to this list. You’d get so much done with all the downtime! Plus, it’s a quiet environment. Double win!

  10. Too funny! I have actually worked as a Security Officer, and in the hotel industry. A good portion of the time during both of those jobs you have ample time to write! The downfall to both of these types of jobs is the fact that you don’t make much more than minimum wage, and unless you have more than one person working in the household or are really financially secure, you’ll be working more than one job during a day.

  11. Sorry, I had to post a second comment.

    On the positive side, working in the hotel industry definitely gives you one thing that a lot of people take for granted… You definitely get to develop really great character and dialogue development! I’ve met people from all over the world during my “career” in the hotel industry, and some of the situations that I have come across have made their way into my writing as well.

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