8 Side Hustle Ideas That Could Make You a Better Writer

8 Side Hustle Ideas That Could Make You a Better Writer

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.

side hustle ideas4. Bartend

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, plus 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!

6. Dogsit

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?

Filed Under: Freelancing

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31 comments

  • Cool post.

    Especially, we writers need to get out of our heads sometimes. A writers life doesn’t have to be boring.

    These ideas are great. I will have to try at least one of these.

    Thanks.

  • Great ideas! I’ve often thought of ditching my freelance copywriting work to get a job at Lowe’s. That would allow me to have more brain energy in my off-hours to write books! Unfortunately, the pay would be much less than I make freelancing, so that’s not likely to happen.

    One thing I do to get out among people is volunteer. I especially enjoy working with the young people at the local high school. I’d go crazy if I was stuck home alone writing all the time.

    • Deanna – Yes! Sometimes, making mental space is worth the pay cut. Good luck as you make your decision!

      And volunteering is an excellent way to gain experience and get out of the house, but still keep your schedule flexible to get all that writing in. Kudos to you for giving back to your community!

    • Brian says:

      I’m a pretty social guy. My side jobs for about 20 years was working in bars. Not the drudgery, just the fun. I played in hard rock/metal bands. That earned me some hilarious stories, aka Spinal Tap. I also worked in retail sales selling A/V equipment. All of this dealing with the public I grew to love greatly enriched both in life and in writing. Like the album title, You’re never Alone when you’re a schizophrenic, I don’t find writing claustrophobic at all. But I do need my family and friends.

  • Thanks for this article, Abbigail! I like the idea of NOT trying to work on the side at jobs directly related to writing or computing, but instead jobs that complement that. When my side hustle was doing a media tech job at a HS, I’d come home and not want to even look at another computer, including my own! But bookstores, as you said, are great for part time work. I worked at a U bookstore during Fall textbook season, exhausting but temporary, which gave me a quick income boost. Even editing jobs sometimes rob my energy from my own writing, so I like the idea of doing something unrelated and physical.

    • Thanks for reading, Laurie!

      “Unrelated and physical” = such a concise and perfect set of criteria. Writing is mentally draining, doing something to work off some physical energy can amazingly free up some more mental space. Glad you found a side hustle that worked for you!

  • Substitute teaching can be great. Especially if you write for children.

  • Library work. Like a bookstore, but easier on the wallet 😀

  • Bryan Fagan says:

    In my small town we do not have a train station. A while ago I was in Boston waiting for our train when I noticed the cast of characters in front of me. If you have an opportunity to work in such a place try it. The variety of people you will see would fit nicely in your novel.

  • WordNerd says:

    Other than dog-sitting, none of these really fits the usual definition of “side hustle.” They’re just part-time jobs.

    • Brian says:

      Yes, but part time jobs for a ‘creationist’ is freeing your mind for better things. I’ve had a career, but nothing was as satisfying as living for music and now, writing. I’ve written a lot of music, but prose is way easier and just as rewarding. I’ve agonized over a song for months, but I’ve written 40 pages in a few days. Sure, some of it was a throwaway, but 80% is a keeper, just not sure what to do with it. Just writing, anything, is key to improving. I like my first finished story, but I don’t have to ask for approval now. I just love to write about just about anything. Most will never leave my desktop, but it’s still gratifying. Take care, y’all.

      • There are two places you can feel good about posting your story to get a little feedback and give your confidence a boost, Medium, and Prose. check em out! I write on both but on Prose, I write under a pen name.

    • An extra part-time job is the original side hustle – now we just tend to use the term to describe more specific freelance-type opportunities.

  • Kristen Renner says:

    I recently worked as a hostess at the Digital Summit here in Chicago’s McCormick Place. I had access to most of the workshops on content development and took away many insights and swag like tshirts and phone chargers. Best of all, I got paid the next day!

  • Wendy says:

    Might want to add video rental store. They usually have some movie playing, and interacting with the customers can give you some valuable insight on what kind of stories consumers want to consume.

    • Brian says:

      What’s a ‘video rental store’? Just joshing. I do remember those but now they’re just RedBoxes inside of my grocery store. I guess baristas now have the corner on unnecessary social commentary? I’m just joking, but having worked in retail, it is a great way to get over yr shyness. And I agree, listening (the better part of sales) to what the consumer is looking for is a great way to shape a story if you want to sell it. We can’t all be Harper Lee…

  • Great ideas! Can I also add instructor? Many writers are also excellent teachers. There are many colleges that require adjuncts to teach and it can be done online so you don’t need to leave home.

  • Arlene "Ichioma" says:

    That is a great idea. Writing news and teaching writing jobs are draining of psychic energy needed to create. The only thing with these gigs is they may be even more erratic. They are also hard to come by if you have a recognizable news byline–many think you are investigating them. But, it is worth another try.

  • Awesome post! You are spot on. I’ve worked and volunteered so many places in my life I have a lot of rich background detail and characters to draw from for writing.

  • Reese says:

    Every now and again, when I found myself looking at nothingness in my head for days on end, my best cure is stand up comedy on “go up and throw up” (better known as ‘ show up and go up’) night at the Comedy Caravan. (once got an offer of a national contract out of that! But, with young kids at home, couldn’t see spending 280 days on the road. Now, of course, I’m having second thoughts about this second thoughts!)

  • Kristen Renner says:

    Here’s another one: being an extra in a movie or TV show. Being in Chicago, Dick Wolf has something going on all the time, Chicago Med, PD, etc. A fun diversion, sometimes sitting around doing nothing, but meeting a lot of people and having something to tell the grandkids! The last time I did was when I lived in New Orleans — I got to meet Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner.

  • Kristen Renner says:

    OK, just got another idea from this morning’s Good Morning America: using the Amazon Seller app to re-sell discounted merchandise from Walmart, Target, etc. They profiled this guy who quit his job as an accountant to do this full time! Even if you do it on the side it’s easy to make 1-2 K extra a month. The best thing is that unlike ebay, Amazon handles all the shipping for you; you just have to get all the stuff to them in one box. Cool!

  • Megan says:

    I find that working in my university’s writing center is really helpful and not just with my academic writing. It’s a great way to interact with people and learn about their lives and experiences which can provide inspiration.

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