While most of the messaging around the push for greater emphasis on “authorship” seems to imply that content writers will be uniformly thrilled at the prospect of having a byline attached to their writing, many content writers are lukewarm about the prospect of revealing their “secret” identities. For writers who write creative work in addition to content (full disclosure: I’m one of them), the marriage of art and commerce can feel uncomfortable. It’s almost as if by publicly disclosing that we write to pay the bills, we fear we’ll somehow cheapen the act of writing for the sake of pure creation.
If we look at some of the most praised creative writers throughout history however, we’ll find that more than a few of them worked in marketing and advertising in order to fund their creative endeavors. So relax, and sign that ghostwriting contract with an easy mind. You’re in good company, scribe!
Writers By Day, Writers By Night
The Missouri Review recently ran down a list of famed writers who worked strange jobs in order to fund their creative pursuits. Many of these “odd” jobs fall under the larger umbrella of writing, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, who churned out copy at an advertising agency while racking up more than 100 rejection letters for the fiction he wrote by night. Noted crime writer Patricia Highsmith also wrote to fuel her writing, creating scripts for several comic publishers during the 1940s, including Timely Comics, now known as industry giant, Marvel Comics. The Missouri Review also reports that her friend, the poet and writer Dorothy Parker, earned a meager living copy-editing and writing captions for Vogue Magazine. The job eventually led to a position as staff writer at Vanity Fair, and Parker went on to publish a number of essays, articles, stories and poems throughout her career.
Stranger Than Fiction
So what’s the alternative to paying the bills with ghostwriting or marketing copy? Writer’s Digest shares highlights from some of the strangest jobs held by literary greats, which makes it clear that there are certainly odder ways to earn a buck than dashing off a pithy press release. For instance, did you know that Steven King work as a janitor helped inspire the horrifying world of Carrie? Or that Langston Hughes was working at a busboy while composing his first lines of poetry?
The stories of writers hustling to make ends meet are varied and numerous. Truth be told, unless you make like Harper Lee and convince a friend to give you the “gift of one year’s wages” in order to write your bestselling novel, you’ve got to earn a living somehow. The content game may look a little different than when Fitzgerald and Parker were earning their keep, but the overall message is the same: writing is a skill worth getting paid for, so you might as well sustain yourself while burning the midnight oil on what matters to you most.
Caitlin C is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.