Like it or not, we have to live in the real world. We are constantly interrupted in our writerly realms of fantasy, magic, romance, horror, and mystery, and alas, we have to return to reality every so often. If you’re like the majority of writers, you probably slog to a day job five or six days a week. Or you’re looking for one. Or your writing is your day job. Whatever category you fall under, a writer can benefit from these symbiotic practices professionally and personally.
I’ve had quite a few different jobs; from working every position at McDonald’s, to working in a restaurant and a bakery, working as a tele-fundraiser, a disaster-relief operator, a research assistant, an English tutor, a professor’s aide, a leasing consultant for five years at an apartment community, and finally—thus far—an assistant manager at the new community our company is building. To every one of these jobs, I brought experience from the others, in some way or another, which brings me to my first tip (in no particular order).
#1 Do apply your acquired skills and knowledge
If you’re already working in a position, you might already see how your experience gained from past jobs filter in everyday. If you’re looking for a job, don’t sell yourself short. Figure out what skills you do have and learn how to apply them. This can make all the difference. Obviously, if a job asks for a degree in a scientific or math field and five years of experience in the same work as the advertised position, and you just don’t have that education or experience, then you might not want to spin your experience and knowledge to present yourself as a viable candidate.
Though a job may ask for a list of skills about the length of the ten commandments, and you’re pretty sure you don’t have any of them, take a minute to sit down and really review them. Most of the things employers ask for are abstract, and usually, if you effectively demonstrate how you’ve exhibited those skills or abilities in the past, then you might have a fighting chance. Think about what each of them would entail in a real life situation. One job requires the ability to assess problems and produce solutions? Hey, you do that everyday with your writing.
Or, if your writing is not relevant to the advertised position, how have you exercised this skill in past positions? With regards to education, do you have a degree you think may not be applicable? Think again. You had to assess problems and enact effective solutions every time you did a group project/presentation or wrote a paper. Another position asks that you be able to effectively communicate with customers to determine their needs. Give an specific example of how you got a customer to explain their needs/wants and how you provided excellent customer service.
#2 Don’t cut ties or burn bridges
Those ties and bridges are your best proof of your character, of your work ethic, and ability to learn quickly—you know, all those things you fill in your ‘Skills’ section on your resume. You never know when someone can help you later. It sounds pretty selfish, but if you want to get philosophical with it, every action—even a seemingly self-less one—is selfish, but that can be for a later post, or you can call me out on that in the comments. 😉
That professor that was more than happy to write a scholarship recommendation for you will more than likely write a recommendation letter for an editing internship. Your old boss at that gas station may have some really nice things to say about your ability to efficiently handle multiple tasks at once. And guess what? That one little push could get an employer to choose you over someone who might even have a little more experience.
It doesn’t hurt to ask; and you never know if you’ll have that advantage over other applicants unless you ask. So check in every once in a while on your favorite professor, or your old employer who loved your work ethic. They may be able to help you get your dream job in the future.
#3 Don’t take things personally
This one has always been really hard for me because I am usually very in tune with my own emotions (usually anger, ha) and the emotions of those around me. But I’m starting to see how useful this can be for writers.
I’ve just started submitting my work for publication and agent representation, and let me tell you, it’s certainly easy in theory to tell yourself you’ll take every rejection in stride and keep going. But when you actually start getting them, it can wear away at you. We’re repeatedly told that the rejection of our precious works should not be taken personally; enacting this emotional barrier can help you professionally as well. If you can get it down with your writing, you can most certainly get it down for business transactions.
Keeping cool in moments when you are being berated, yelled at, or lectured (such are the ways of customer service), will infinitely serve you well. And you’ll respect yourself more later for not reacting with emotions, but rather responding logically. Like with the rejection of that novel, or poem, or short story, or article, you respond logically by moving forward and submitting again and submitting again until someone does bite. That perseverance in the face of adversity is what makes you a writer, just as that calm presentation of yourself is what makes you a professional, efficient, coveted member of the work force.
#4 Do manage your time wisely
Whatever you do, when prioritizing your tasks, always put your work first (when at work, of course. Home is for play 🙂 ). As a writer, it’s so easy for us to get so caught up in our grandiose ideas and the honeymoon of a new story concept, that we walk around, constantly thinking of them. By all means, write them down so you don’t forget. But your work, whatever it is—even if it is writing—needs to come first.
I’ve started enacting this rule on myself: I have stopped allowing myself to put things off that I really don’t want to do. Sometimes, as a leasing consultant, we have to deliver very unpleasant news and/or reprimand residents. I used to get so upset and nervous about making these calls or sending notices to those residents (because I would perceive everything so personally), that I would obsess about it all day. Recently, when I learned I got the assistant manager position, I decided that I needed to start acting more like one and less like a scared little girl—er, leasing consultant. Now, I always take care of that work that I dread the most first. Not only my work output is better for it but my mental state as well.
So write down your ideas and return to them later, after you finish fulfilling your obligations, whether it’s a deadline, or word count you’ve imposed on yourself, or a stack of paperwork sitting on the nether-corner of your desk that makes your stomach knot up every time you look at it. See to all of your responsibilities first, before posting up to get some covert writing time in, and you’ll be disproving that theory about writers. You know, the one that says we’re all flighty, procrastinating misanthropes.
Making the division in your life between your work and writing can be hard, but hopefully this post shows you how often those aspects of your life can positively intertwine. What are some other ways writers can ensure survival in the workplace, or just the real world in general?