A Writers’ Other Jobs piece by Amy Gray

There’s no better litmus test for writers than our Dionysian pleasure in avoiding actual writing while still considering ourselves writers. We daydream about the bashing of keyboards, the soft montage of writerly success that will dance before our eyes as we walk to the train station and the thoughts we scribble with such passion and fire, only to spill soy sauce on them after they lay neglected for five months.

If I’m to be completely honest, I’ve been working towards becoming a non-writing writer. It’s a unique subsection of the writing career path, one heavy on the day-dreamed accomplishment of writing with little actual activity.

Thankfully, I’ve had an interesting and diverting array of jobs to support my work towards becoming a not-writer. I once worked as an assistant on an oil refinery in an underground blastproof bunker. In order to hone my not-writing skills further, I had a long spell working in the digital saltmines during the dot com era, a period whose only highlight was the memory of punching a sexual harasser.

My studies in not-writing were sorely tested while firmly ensconced within a publishing company as a project manager and occasional editor and photographer, where I was occasionally pressed upon to forsake my passion for not-writing.

In fact, the only time I wasn’t able to fully devote myself to not-writing was when I was unemployed. Adrift and with no idea what to do, I pursued my talents as a not-writer and bought books about actual writing and proceeded to not read them. I took to blogging and social media in lieu of sharing my arterial sprays with coworkers, which obviously failed because people started offering writing contracts. I wrote copy for web sites, a book and the odd article. Naturally, this ruined my credibility as a not-writer and was a time of profound sorrow and wretched productivity.

All this writing was tearing me from my true love and calling; not-writing. How would the world recognise my talents as a not-writer? How could I get back on track? The answer was simple: I had to go back to a desk job to support my calling as a non-writer because, goddammit, non-writers run on self belief, like the unshakable knowledge your work can be done next weekend.

Thankfully, my not-writing thrived while working at an agency that was as  stylish as it was thuggish (which meant I walked out after 4 days) and an advertising agency where I was flown in and out of various capital cities on any given day.

Naturally, we all suffer setbacks and, after a year of using a day job to support my non-writing dreams, I was sadly retrenched. With no other employment options, I had to put my dreams of becoming a not-writer on hold and start work as an actual writer in order to pay the rent and my increasingly indulgent reliance on food.

Worst of all, we all know that not-writing is rarely a financially successful venture and unfortunately actual writing only pays a shade more, which means this humiliating job barely sponsors my passion for not writing.

My job as a freelance writer has now annihilated my previous vocational excellence and dedication towards not-writing. I toil pitching, writing and chasing invoices to pay my bills.  Each day is spent avoiding my compulsion to not write, knowing that each accepted pitch and filed article means I am responsible for bringing in money in a situation where there is no predictable wage.

I even wake at 5am some days to work on a book I’m writing. It’s nowhere near as pleasurable as the thought of a book I’ve written magically appearing in book stores in the future. It’s a beautiful future – often imagined in the space of a three minute music montage – where I am miraculously transformed into a talented writer with amazing hair, a clean home, clothes not covered in cat hair and possibly even a boyfriend, all while not actually writing.

It was my dream, damn it. I coulda been a pretender.

Amy Gray is a freelance writer for Fairfax, ABC & the Guardian and other titles. Amy has realised it is best for all if she works from home. By herself. And sees no one. Ever.


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