How To Make A Living As A Writer
A case for selling plasma, signing up as an art assistant, and keeping an eye out for Craigslist gigs.
A professor of mine told me that I would “make it as a writer,” since I knew how to work. To put this in context, I went to a university full of incredibly wealthy people (with some moderately wealthy people mixed in), so sometimes my classmates would ask me things like, “Are you sure you want to have a job while you’re in school?” All this started to give me a “Good Will Hunting Complex,” which was only heightened when a doorman on campus mistook me for the janitor.
Needless to say, while living under late-stage capitalism, one job is rarely enough––it wasn’t then and it isn’t now. Anytime I manage to get ahead, something happens, like getting a ticket for hopping the subway turnstile, or backing into someone’s car and leaving a golf-ball sized dent, or finding out that I actually do have to pay my federal loans back.
Luckily, I always find a way to make money. There’s an endless supply of side hustles out there. You can donate your plasma or let some guy take photos of your feet. I wish I could tell you all my tricks but too many of them are illegal. (My boss might be reading this!) Here are just a few to get you started.
Did you know you have money coursing through your veins as we speak? It’s called plasma! To harvest it, they stick a massive needle in the crook of your elbow and drain out your blood. When they get enough, they spin all the plasma out and shunt the blood back in through the same needle. The whole process takes about an hour, so I’d always bring a book––it felt like I was getting paid to read! The best was when I would go with a friend. We managed to really turn the vibe around in the donation center (Funny how moderately depressing places become charming when you have someone to giggle with). The whole process is only worth it for the first eight donations, because after that the payments drop significantly (from around $100 to around $40). Also, if I had to guess, there must be some negative health repercussions in store for me down the line, since they made me sign an exorbitant amount of paperwork…
Did you know that once an artist gets famous enough they don’t have to paint their own paintings? You can do it for them for minimum wage! (As long as you have some basic artistic ability.) I did this for a few years, but I was lucky enough to work with a friend, so it felt like we were getting paid to hang out and get carpal tunnel. Depending on how much time you spend with your boss, this job can be psychologically taxing––there’s nothing more draining than talking to a rich person who pretends to be poor (a trait of many artists). It started to wear on me when the one I worked for told me to “ask my parents for money” after my car broke down, or that I should quit my jobs and focus on pursuing my dreams if I “really want to be a writer.” Ultimately, I got laid off when he didn’t want to give me a raise.
The best places to find paid research studies are the bulletin boards at universities. I participated in one at Columbia where I basically just played a VR game and took a quiz to see if I’m a racist (it turns out I am, just a little bit, but towards white people, so no biggie). I’ve done sleep studies, market research studies, hour long online surveys in which I was asked to imagine and describe my future in detail in exchange for a $25 Amazon gift card (the future didn’t end up being anything like I imagined).
But it’s not all fun and games: Once I was put in a dark room and shocked at random intervals by electrodes hooked up to one arm, while I gambled online with fake money. The unexpected brutality of the shock treatment left me crying uncontrollably afterwards, while the research student stared at me with obvious distaste. When he handed over my $30 he said, “You know you signed a waiver, right?”
Craigslist is a treasure trove of side hustles. Throughout my adult life I’ve turned to Craigslist to augment my income––especially when I lived in New York. One of my best gigs ever was cleaning a man’s studio apartment in Bushwick every two weeks for a year. He paid me $100 each time, which amounts to a higher hourly wage than I’ve received at any job to date.
A lower paying but still enjoyable gig was turning cards for a quadriplegic bridge player. He paid $10 an hour, which was five dollars less than minimum wage, and I had to bike to the Upper East Side each time. But at least there was a free buffet lunch. Plus, being around so many old people made me feel young and alive (I was 23). Even after all those hours turning over playing cards, I never figured out how Bridge works. I wasn’t getting paid to think!
For every reasonable Craigslist ad, there are five perverse ones. Foot modeling is a good middle ground, in my opinion. My feet are far enough away from my head that I can emotionally distance myself from them. At a low point, I let a man photograph my feet for two hours in 30 degree weather for a measly sixty bucks. But I’ve also sold my used skate shoes to a foot enthusiast for a hundred––enough to buy a new pair of Nike SB Blazer Mids. Skateboarding is not a crime, and neither is selling your dirty footwear to perverts!
Just like in all professional spheres, you have to know your limitations. Once, in NYC, I came across an ad offering $300 to fight another woman for a private audience. Since I’d spent four years of my life in the boxing gym, I figured I’d give it a shot. However, the more I texted back and forth with the man who posted the ad, the more I wondered what I was getting myself into. He wanted to film the fight and I would have to wear a bikini. Plus, it sounded like it was going to take place in an abandoned warehouse.
Eventually the truth came out: The girl, of course, was not real. I would be fighting him, while he wore a speedo. Ultimately I decided not to do it, which you probably figured, since I’m still alive. But the man (Hi Pat!) texted me sporadically for a few years afterwards, from various phone numbers, seemingly forgetting that he told me I have “obvious insecurities about my body” since I refused to wrestle him half naked on camera, and that my attitude would be “better suited for janitorial work.” Everything comes full circle!