I think one of the great if unspoken truths of writing is that you will need a day job to support yourself. Plenty of succesful writers not only had a day job while they were writing, but kept it after they had published as well. Borges was a librarian for his entire writing career. Lewis Carroll was a teacher. T.S. Elliot was a banker when he published The Wasteland.
One of the things I'm trying to figure out right now is what would be the best day job for me if what I really want to do is write in my spare time. I have a degree in science, and it would be nice to actually use that degree, but research requires a lot of concentration. It wears you out. The work can be a little emotionally draining too (often the answer to an experiment is simply that your hypothesis is false; It's akin to hearing "No!" a lot).
There are plenty of non-traditional jobs in my field. I could go into scientific publishing, or policy, or good old-fashioned teaching. But I've been thinking that the best way to make this decision is to look where I traditionally get the best feedback on my work.
For me, it's almost always, always editing (again, please don't judge my editing skills based on the typos and nonsense of this blog - I have to sacrifice accuracy for speed to publish five times a week). My peers and students are often asking me to read their papers or manuscripts, and I take that responsibility seriously. I stop what I'm doing (because timely returns are key) and spend several hours going through their writing line by line. I proofread, but I also copy-edit. I check for consistency, logic, flow, holes, etc. and make detailed notes or ask questions to help them improve their work.
For whatever reason, maybe this is just what I'm naturally best at, I always get strong feedback for this work. Often, I'm profusely thanked, because the student was having trouble getting anyone to read their work at all!
Noticing this trend, I started freelance editing for scientific manuscripts in my free time, to test the market. I barely advertise and mostly rely on word-of-mouth, but I've gotten more jobs than I can accept given all the other things I'm trying to do in my life.
If I'm honestly best at editing science papers, then maybe I should do that as a day job rather than research. I think I'm ok at research, not the worst, but not the best. I'm reasonably well-published, but not particularly well cited and certainly no one has ever complemented me on that work. I do get better feedback when I help other people in their research, which has meant that I have more third-author papers than first (the order of authorship indicates the extent of contribution to the work), but third-author papers count for almost nothing in the cut-throat world of academia and research.
Have you ever asked yourself that question? Where do I get the best feedback in my work? Maybe the trick is to "pivot" as the entrepreneurs would say, and focus your career or day-job on those skills where you seem to do the most good. Just because you started in one direction doesn't mean you couldn't shift or adjust your focus. Did you know that Twitter was originally a podcasting platform? Now look at them, practically the most powerful communications platform in the world. They're a classic example of "pivoting."
Where do you get the best feedback in your work? Could you pivot your day-job to fit that feedback?
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