Working Outside of Writing, Does it Help?

Kind of a weird title. I’ll explain.

Most writers start off doing something else. Maybe they work for a major tech company. Maybe they work as an accountant. Or they’re in marketing. They can be just about anyone, right? My question today asks if that work experience that usually happens before the beginning of a writing career helps.

Some would say of course it does. Others would say it just takes away from time that could have been spent writing, or at least working on perfecting the craft. I obviously don’t have any real insight here, because I’ve never gone from a non-writing career to a writing one. But I do know about a few of my favorite authors. Marcus Sakey worked in marketing. Robert B. Parker worked as an English professor. I think. Michael Connelly worked as a journalist. Lee Child worked in TV. The list goes on and on. And the professions would vary widely from one author to the next.

But knowing this still doesn’t answer the question if prior work helps with one’s writing career. I think there’s no doubt that it helped Michael Connelly. He wrote for theย Los Angeles Times. But Sakey was in an office for six years. I’m sure he had a lot of time to think, but I don’t know if he actually learned anything he didn’t already know.

Just about any writer on here is more polished and accomplished than I am. Maybe you have an actual response to a question I can only think about. Does the work you currently do or did in the past help with your writing?

On this day in 2014 I published If you Could Jump Into any Story.


27 thoughts on “Working Outside of Writing, Does it Help?

  1. I find work, no matter how dull, exercises your the mind. I probably get most of my ideas while at work. About 5 years ago I spent 9 months out of work due to the recession in the UK, and although I drafted a novel in three weeks that is the only work that I got done. I was just too unmotivated. Plus, work allows you to meet people and puts you in situations you otherwise would never find yourself in, as well as emotions of stress, achievement, boredom. You are more likely to find yourself at work rather than on a beach in Australia.


  2. i seem to be commenting a lot lately. Sorry. That’s usually not like me.

    But I do have another opinion here. Does it help a writer become a better writer (using words) to work outside the craft first? I am not so sure. Maybe in an abstract way so that it helps us create finite and concrete ideas within a confined narrative. Your boss doesn’t want to know how you got your idea over the weekend, just how it applies to the current project.

    What I think working outside of the craft first does, is allows a writer to better understand the human creature. Why we do what we do. The way we react in a given circumstance. There is a whole spectrum of emotions and actions we understand better because we see it in action.

    So does it help us physically write better? Maybe, maybe not. Does it help us become better writers in understanding people? Yes. Definitely.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I feel as if there’s a way every job I had was leading to writing. I had to write in those jobs, and I know that helped my editing eye and sharpened my writing skills (clarity, grammar, etc.). And I agree with the earlier comment about working situations & people can end up being things you write about. An old Roman said you speak the way you speak because you are who you are, and I think the same holds true for writing. Having lots of experiences–work, travel, relationships–has to help.


  4. I think all writers should do something professionally, or at least recreationally, outside of writing. Even if it’s just for a while. Working – or traveling, volunteering, being social, taking obscure classes – helps you understand how the world works. You meet people you wouldn’t normally meet or hang out with. You get to walk the world through some other shoes.

    Also, work often makes you deal with abstract concepts and problems which don’t have a clear cut answer. All of this builds maturity that makes your writing smarter. I suppose a professional career in journalism or technical writing would have similar results, so maybe it doesn’t have to be a non-writing profession though. It just has to be something that gets you out of the house. I will say that being a doctor or scientist or cop can lend itself well to writing genre fiction though.


  5. I think working outside of writing before coming into a writing career definitely helps in a way. I’d say a person’s experience OUTSIDE of writing enriches the person’s knowledge and experiences and may give some additional flare and knowledge to their writing.


  6. I’ll answer your question with one of my own, even though I hate answering a question with another question.
    How else is one going to write about what one knows if they don’t have the experiences?
    As someone above said: I get most of my ideas at work! lol
    I would love to write for a living but I find I’m better at being an eagle eye and spotting errors and offering ideas to improve a work than I am actually doing the bulk of the writing myself.


  7. Ha! Blogged on pretty much the same topic myself today – I didn’t read yours first as I’ve been away – honestly! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I was coming from the idea that many authors HAVE to have other work outside of writing, as they earn so little from their writing. Unless you’re James Patterson. naturally.
    I’ve read the argument that working outside of writing helps keep you inspired, that you bring your daily experience to your work – new characters, new places etc and that without it your writing can become stale. I’m not sure that’s true, but I’d like to try writing full time to test the theory ๐Ÿ™‚


      • Ha! Ha! You’re hilarious. Well, you’re welcome to comment if you like – that post, as with everything I write, is merely my opinion. I’m not claiming defnitive answers on anything. Thanks for dropping by, John ๐Ÿ™‚


  8. I’ll simply answer in terms of my own work experience. I was a waitress for six years. Waiting tables teaches you to make up excuses on a moment’s notice, to lie with a smile, and to learn to read people very, very quickly. All skills that help me craft. I’m a mum now and that also helps, forces me to read a wider selection of books. LOL


  9. I work for a student loan company. I mean, I just don’t love or like the job at this point. If i could write full-time and make money, I would. But, unfortunately, we have to take crappy jobs to pay our bills. At least until we are able to do the job that we love.


  10. I think working a job unrelated to writing, whether full- or part-time, helps to round us out as people. And, ergo, as writers. We interact with more people in a different avenue than when we sit home, or at a coffee shop, or a library to do our writing. I think it can get us into the minds of our characters and stories more when we understand the full gamut of human interactions and emotions.
    And being a PT, I definitely use my expertise in my books. There are lots of medical references. I also do some free-lance editing, and there are so many mistakes with medical issues in them, depending on the book, it’s helpful for the other writers/authors when I can correct that easily.


    • I must be reading your very first sentence differently than what you meant. Cause I can’t say I agree with it. I think a job is just one small part of what rounds us out as people. And maybe that’s what you meant, but I just read it differently. You can edit my new book when it’s done. I just have to start it.


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