These articles describe the merits of using artistic skills as a marketing boon, turning your baking passion into an entrepreneurial reality, and using freelance writing skills as the gateway to paying your rent while working that wordplay.
These articles aren’t wrong.
It’s entirely possible to turn your side hustle into a career, to bring your creative spark to a position that pays better than minimum wage. Although creatives may debate the veracity of work produced for a paycheck versus art for art’s sake, creative work for a paycheck does have its perks: the lights stay on, the belly stays full, you live to create another day.
But just because you’re a creative person, that doesn’t mean your day job has to be creative as well. For some artists, it’s far better to work at a job that has nothing to do with their medium of choice. Poets may prefer to work in a restaurant while jotting down lines on their break; painters may prefer the routine of a 9 to 5 job that guarantees a steady paycheck and the chance to take advantage of good morning light.
There’s no right (or wrong) way to be a creative making a living—as long as you keep producing the work that you know you were born to do.
If, however, you find yourself debating what it means to produce your best creative work while still trying to pay your way, take heart—you are not alone (and this conversation is anything but new)!
In the past, artists had sponsors and patrons who made their work (and lives) possible. They painted portraits for the wealthy, got paid by the word, and worked day jobs that made their passion projects possible. Today, artists and writers are a dynamic, integral part of the workforce in careers that may or may not make use their creative talents.
In honor of National Poetry Month, check out these inspiring poets who have composed beautiful lines while working all manner of jobs.
2. Brian Turner: Poet, essayist, and memoirist Brian Turner earned an MFA from the University of Oregon before serving for seven years in the US Army, where he deployed to Iraq and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Over the course of his working career, Turner has been an infantryman, a machinist, a locksmith’s assistant, a convenience store clerk, a pickler, a dishwasher, a circuit board maker, an EFL teacher in South Korea, a low voltage electrician, a radio DJ, and a bass guitar instructor. He is currently the director of the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College and a contributing editor for The Normal School. His poem "Phantom Noise is available here.
4. Saeed Jones: Born in Memphis and raised in Lewisville, poet Saeed Jones works as the co-host for AM to DM, a live morning show from BuzzFeed, and as the executive editor for culture at BuzzFeed. Read the poem "Blue Dress" here.
6. Amy Woolard: During her undergrad and in the years that followed, poet Amy Woolard bartended and managed restaurants for about seven or eight years. Since that time, she has also worked as a writer and editor for a San Francisco dot-com, has taken work as a financial journalist, taught online English Composition courses, and did freelance writing. After going to law school, Woolard then shifted to her current profession as an attorney. Now she balances writing poetry with her work as a staff attorney and policy coordinator for the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, VA, serving those with little access to legal resources. Woolard's "Place like Home" can be read here.
7. C. Dale Young: In poetry circles, C. Dale Young may be best known as a poet, the former poetry editor of The New England Review, and a faculty member at Warren Wilson’s Creative Writing MFA Program. To his patients, however, C. Dale Young is better known as their radiation oncologist, a position where patient care and treatment is his full-time job. Read his "The Lights on the Boats" at this link.
9. Thomas Lynch: Although it may sound unconventional, poet and essayist Thomas Lynch spends his days working as a funeral director. From his position, he is able to meditate on the full-circle of life in verse while also making a living. His work as a poet and writer has earned him prestigious grants and awards, as well as speaking opportunities at universities. Lynch's "The Grandmothers" is available here.
Are you a creative type? What's your day job? We'd love to hear from you.
Happy Poetry Month!
Story by Emilie Duck