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How to be creative and still pay your bills

Let’s face it. The vast majority of creative people (artists, musicians, writers, etc.) will never make it so big that their creative output earns enough money to pays their bills. I think that creativity thrives within limits, so maybe that’s not a bad thing, but a key problem still remains: how do you pay your bills? There are two standard options: a day job or odd jobs.

If you’re a writer, a day job will probably be just fine. But managing that if you have a tour (musicians) or a residency (artists) can be tricky. But fear not! With a little research to find out how some of the now-famous managed back when, the overwhelming evidence shows that there are a lot of weird ways to make money.

Before Steven King published his first novel, he worked as a high school janitor. Kurt Vonnegut managed a Saab dealership. J.D. Salinger was an entertainment director on a Swedish cruise ship (what the what?). T.S. Eliot was a banker. Johnny Cash was a Morse code intercept operator in the U.S. Air Force. Keith Richards was a ball boy at a tennis club. Jack Black was a telemarketer (although for some reason that kind of makes sense).

Marnie Stern sells plus-sized women’s clothing on eBay. Jack White was an upholsterer in his teens and early 20s (and even had a band called The Upholsterers), and recently opened a new upholstery business in Nashville. Crystal Antlers’ Johnny Bell is still a chimney sweep.

The great thing about being creative is that you can apply those skills to thinking up odd ways to pay the rent. To get your creative juices flowing, here are some things my friends have done and you are welcome to try:

Packing ready-to-eat food at a supermarket, selling wigs and fake mustaches in a carnival shop, late night janitor at a Gold’s Gym, night shift “counselor” (i.e. babysitter) for homeless teenagers at a shelter, stapling work gloves together with a massive foot-operated staple gun, human hair salesman, door-to-door salesman of plush toy soldiers that were dressed in U.S. military uniforms and marched on the spot singing Queen’s “We Will Rock You” when you squeezed their hands (this corresponded with the beginning of the Second Gulf War, so they were not very popular), remodeling a railroad tie homestead cabin in the middle of nowhere with no plumbing, doing a stock take of English rump steak sales every morning for three weeks at the local supermarket (she was vegetarian, no less), selling tickets for a sightseeing bus in Helsinki, hotel maid, hypnotist’s assistant, baseball umpire, mapping manhole covers for a surveying company in Baltimore, ambulance-chasing trainee reporter for a local newspaper, writing one paragraph for a soap company that paid as much as an entire year’s income from music, a telemarketer for business newspapers and books, a music teacher on an island for one week each month, and doing a voiceover for a snail-based beauty mask ad.

If none of those options are weird enough for you, one of my friends was a wife. You can’t get weirder than that!