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Thanks to a couple of my favorite bloggers*, I’ve been thinking about the “side hustle” lately. Seems the popular term for side job has shifted from “gig” to “hustle,” and with it, comes a more pejorative connotation.

Let’s start here: once upon a time, when graduating with my MFA in Creative Writing, I learned of an opportunity to do part-time contract work in internal communications—for the credit card company headquartered nearby. Not for a hip advertising firm. Not even for a nonprofit with a compelling cause. Nope, this job would require clocking in and out for the Fortune 500 company sometimes referred to around town as “the devil.”

Internal communications for the devil meant digesting leadership meeting notes on risk management and summarizing and synthesizing said notes into digestible PowerPoint presentations. (Oh, the myriad PowerPoint presentations!) And then came the fun of organizing the presentation highlights into multi-colored graphs on oversized Excel spreadsheets that required a special printer. This job was the opposite of every vision I’d had of my post-school self, teaching creative this and creative that.

“Creative” was nowhere to be seen in this job description. But I came to like business communications as much as I liked my primary gig teaching college freshmen the elements of personal, persuasive, and argumentative essays.

So, which was the primary gig and which was the side gig?

Who was hustling whom?

I’ve written before about what working in business communications—in particular writing junk direct mail—has done for my creative writing.

Writing in a business environment made me disciplined. (First day on the job, I had to ask what COB meant!) I was mentored by a kick-ass supervisor who showed me what passionate leadership looked like on a young woman. I got paid what I was worth—and therefore understood my worth. And I set myself up for the next gig and the next, up to my current side gig, my own part-time freelance biz writing for nonprofits.

If not always entirely fulfilling, finding the “creative” in my business gigs kept me sane (and eating and married)—even professionally happy at times. I figured out that the Aristotelian appeals I used to discuss with students when teaching the persuasive essay worked just as well when writing fundraising solicitations. The tenets of personal essay writing came in handy when crafting a profile of a donor. Project management skills? Key to the writing life, not to mention life in general. And even the most mundane of business world maneuverings provides, at the very least, stories that can serve as fodder for, well, stories.

Recently, I was speaking to an acquaintance, who happens to be a successful novelist, about the side gig. She’s got one, in…you guessed it…business. She noted the common fallacy of the literary author who does nothing outside the creative writing realm. Many teach budding creative writers. Others use their skills to further the missions of organizations. Of course there are exceptions, just as there are the few unicorn bloggers who’ve built blempires (that’s my new term for blog + empires—creative, right?), who’ve monetized a side gig into a primary gig tour-de-force (or this might be an urban myth). Among authors, Cormac McCarthy, who doggedly avoids “work” for his art, comes to mind. But there are many, many more authors and every other type of “creative” who supplement—and I’d argue inform and enhance—their creative lives with side gigs.

All that said, I would not turn down a patron the likes of the Medici family. Is that still a thing? I mean, I’ve already worked for the devil.

So, tell me, do your gigs feed each other? Which makes more sense for you—compartmentalizing or integrating your hustles? Got a killer hustle? Do tell!

*Now, go read these blogs and enjoy the serious and not-so-serious takes on gig life! Got another? Let me know in the comments!

How to Get Rich Blogging (it’s satire, folks) on Fatty McCupcakes

What Transcribing Audio has Taught Me About Blogging on I’m Sick and So Are You

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40 thoughts on “All One Big Happy Hustle

  1. My side hustles have side hustles! At the moment, I work 30 hours per week for a medical communications firm, plus 20-30 hours per week for a company that produces industry newsletters. When I have the capacity, I also take on one-off editing projects; lately, I’ve been working on online training materials for a range of audiences, from college campus leadership to engineers. And occasionally I take on the odd graphic design project as well. I don’t think I have the temperament to be a graphic designer, but oh, how I love designing — the hours just melt away. My work is such a mix of straight and contract work that I’m not sure what my true side hustle might be. The designing, probably. (Not the blogging; nobody pays me for that!)

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    1. That’s a lot of hustling! I’m so impressed you do the copy and designing end of things. No wonder you get so much work! Sounds like all those things–even designing can inform writing, I think–feed your creativity. Now you just need about 36 hours in every day!

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  2. I have several “gigs” going right now — my 8-5 is working as an admin assistant for a salvage auto auction. Very interesting work and I like it for what it is, but definitely not a dream job. I also work 2 nights a week cleaning a couple of banks for extra cash…and somehow in between these things I write. I blog, submit essays and short stories to contests, and plug away at my novel. I have 2 self-published novels on Amazon that I’ve basically given up on promoting because I put them out there before I really did any research so and only ever made, like, $200. So. There’s that.
    Hopefully someday soon I’ll be able to figure out how to trade the bank-cleaning gig for some paid writing gigs. Sigh.

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    1. I wonder if, with your work, cars make it into your writing a lot. I think it’s wonderful to develop knowledge about something you don’t read a lot. (Like poets who know a lot about medicine, for instance). That’s tough to see your novels out there, languishing. I know I have one novel that will never see the light of day–my thesis, necessary to cut my writing teeth but that’s it. Keep writing and submitting–that’s all we can do. Just saw on Twitter that Lit Hub is looking for essay submissions (on the writing life, etc.). I’ve gotten some nice publications of my short fiction lately but no $. And then there are freelancers who use the online job boards to compete for business writing jobs and end up making maybe 10 cents a word. I don’t recommend this! Thanks for your thoughts, and best of luck!

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      1. Actually my next few blogs are dealing a lot with my anxiety over cars lol
        I’ve always been a bit of a nervous driver and working at a place where I see totaled vehicles all day hasn’t helped that. I just bought a new car and it’s caused all sorts of bad anxiety for me.
        I’ll have to check out Lit Hub, thanks!

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  3. As a homeschool mom nearly out of a job (1 student left and almost out), anything else is my hustle. Thanks for that term. I’m too old to be on top of the vocab and I don’t know what COB is. 🙂 My hustle is teaching writing & lit to other homeschool kiddos. My personal writing trumps all because, being 47, I’ve got limited time to make it happen. I’m hungry, so hungry for….what? At this exact moment, an agent.

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    1. I’m so glad I’m not the only one. COB=Close of Business (day). Businesses might not even use that term anymore! I’ve seen your posts on your teaching of writing–that’s awesome. And I would imagine it informs your own writing. Best way to improve is to teach others, I think. Gotta be hungry. We’re at the same place there. I keep putting off blogging about it because my fingers are crossed so hard! For my MS, I have one partial out and two fulls–and will send another query within the next couple days. I feel confident about my letter but the whole book has to be spotless. And I keep doubting myself. Glad we’re in this together. I’m so rooting for you!

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      1. And thanks for the definition of COB! I am actually going crazy with the waiting. It was easier before I got requests! My hope is enormous. I try to tamp it down, but gosh, if I don’t get an agent, this time will be the hardest to pick myself up and get back in there. But I will. I’m just cringing, is all.

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    1. Where are the Medicis when we need them!? I think you’re right. Can’t imagine what my writing would be like without the gigs that are my kids–I don’t typically call them gigs, but you know… Thanks so much for checking out my post! Best of luck with all your gigs!

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  4. I love this! What a great attitude to cultivate toward side writing gigs. When I read your job description my eyes glazed over, but then you so keenly demonstrated how a seemingly mind-numbing task can be used to enhance your creative work. There is much to learn! And all is material, right? I don’t really have “side gigs”–it’s more like a career which works well around my writing. I work for myself, part-time, as a private educational consultant. This also involves supporting students in learning about literature and composition–sometimes creative writing, too. It takes a lot of energy, though, and sometimes working in a book store looks more attractive. I used to juggle jobs a lot more. These days, I’m more focused. Time is short.

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    1. Thanks for visiting my blog, Evelyn! Your work sounds inspiring–if a bit tiring. I remember my days teaching college composition, waking up in the middle of the night with ideas for their essays. Working with students takes an extra modicum of discipline–to be able to ensure you have enough time for your own creative passions. Yes, focus is key!

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  5. I run a small gardening business during the short MN growing season, and then I paint and write (don’t make anything on my writing – yet) during the off-season. I love the change of pace from season to season, and I love creative “work”. We’ll, it’s not so much work when it’s so enjoyable. Having multiple “jobs” is pretty fulfilling.

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  6. Love that term “blempires”! Perfect!
    My “side hustle” (love that term, too!) is teaching (creative writing), which pays very, very little. On the plus side, my adjunct status does give my husband and me free gym/track time, so … there’s that! LOL Seriously though, my side gig is great, not particularly artistically fulfilling, but satisfying in its own way.
    This is a great blog post that has definitely made me think about my “hustles,” Rebecca. 🙂

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  7. I’m not sure how I feel about the term side hustle. I guess it is because I have only heard women mention their side hustles…it makes me think it is somehow less legitimate way of making money. If you are good at something, you should get paid what you are worth…but the world doesn’t seem to work that way. Le sigh.

    I also keep feeling annoyed on behalf of Fatty McCupCakes as there are so many scammers that want her to pay for the privileged of making money through them.

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    1. I definitely could have written a whole other post on the term “hustle” and its pejorative connotations–like we’re pulling the wool over would-be employers’ eyes! Of course, one of the main troubles with freelancing, contract work, or whatever the latest hip term for it is: a lack of stability. I’m no expert, but, outside of Uber and Lyft drivers, maybe, I would imagine the majority of contract workers are women–many of whom get insurance through their spouse. (I have heard recently of groups trying to pull together to secure health insurance for freelancers.) Freelance writing is its own kind of special beast, because it’s attractive to so many. And so many freelance writers are willing to write for practically nothing to get a foot in the door. Of course, I am more than happy to have my creative writing published without me making a dime (paying my dues to the muse, I suppose) but I expect a fair rate for the freelance writing I do for nonprofits (also creative, but in a different way). I guess we all have to weigh the value of our work–and that’s not always in dollars and cents and job stability and health insurance.

      As much as I love Fatty McCupcakes regaling us in such a funny way with the stories, there are unsavory characters out there who seem to be doing their best to swindle writers. I’ve always gotten my clients through word of mouth and have never even used one of those online job boards, where the competition is fierce. I’m definitely counting my blessings for that.

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      1. YES!! I guess that is why the term feels a bit wrong to me. The whole “gig economy” seems to sell itself as great for freedom (as you can choose your own hours) BUT I totally agree it is so unstable. It’s great for the massive companies who can pay small amounts for freelance workers without having to cover benefits etc…

        I also reeeeeally strongly disapprove of those ponzi-like schemes where (mostly ladies) are meant to sell make up/supplements/whatever. I’ve seen those called side hustles too. 😦

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  8. Amen! I could go on and on. Totally right–freelancing is freedom that comes with a big huge cost. (Lack of security, insurance, 401K, etc., etc.) No surprise I saw an uptick in my freelance work during the recession, when nonprofits were laying off their on-staff writers. Sorta makes me feel like a scab sometimes! And I hear you about the pyramid schemes trying to sell me makeup or leggings I won’t use. One reason I stayed off social media for as long as I did! Somebody on top is benefiting from all this labor; unfortunately I don’t know him or her! I also liked the article you posted on Twitter–about the uptick in everybody trying to monetize their hobbies. Will take a closer look at that. Thanks for this discussion. So much to hash out! Thanks for stopping by my blog–I appreciate it!

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  9. Great topic. I think a common misstep from the creative community is immediately eschewing business as “gross” and “evil”. Sure, corporate environments can be terrible, but they also have a lot of valuable skills and lessons to teach about discipline and structure.

    Those lessons can very much be applied to the business side of writing, which I believe is called “publishing”, and that a lot of writers lament. Especially when they lack said skills.

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    1. Yes indeed! No one wants to sell their soul to corporate America and let their art wither and die. But most of us do want to eat, and the number of authors who don’t have to work outside their art is small. And, you’re so right, some business marketing and comms skills come in very handy with regards to creative writing. Also I’m told agents might even like a little business savvy in their authors. (Ahem. Hear that, agents?) But really, storytelling skills are needed everywhere–for-profit, non-profit… Thanks for stopping by the blog. And I just checked out your latest post. Great stuff!

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      1. It’s true, and (this is a whole different can of worms) I have a lot of issues with how the “democratization” of the internet had the (un?)intended side effect of making consumers think all art should be free. It makes those business and marketing skills even more important for creative types, because they have to know and prove the value of their worth in a world that now often sees creative output as something that is great but not worth paying for.

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  10. I worked in internal communications for a pharmaceutical company for a few years (yes, big, bad pharma) and it was a great learning experience – including learning that pharma companies do a lot of good. Now I am do communications and marketing for a non-profit, which I adore. I’ve done some freelance magazine writing in the past but found that I prefer to write essays and memoirs for the sheer joy of it. So to conclude, I love it all!

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    1. I love it all, too. I can even get excited about a direct mail letter, which is a little ridiculous, but it’s all storytelling, right? We marketing/comms folks also, generally, have to do quite a bit of interviewing, which is a skill I’m so glad I’ve honed. I look forward to checking out your website! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  11. You’ve hit upon a conundrum that I wonder about, too. Is my blog a side hustle on its way to being more, or is it something I do to keep meself entertained along the way to finding a side hustle? I’m a storyteller by nature, so whatever my hustle is it’ll involve words.

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    1. There are so many enjoyable ways to make money–with words. I realized early on I’m too much of a neat-freak, design-wise, to have a blog with ads (love your site–just followed), or the patience to learn about other ways to make money blogging. I’m definitely a writer who blogs, not the other way around. Blogging is wonderful for the supportive community, and like you say, entertaining. And good training grounds for whatever writing gig comes next!

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