What Is a “Real” Job?

I’m a freelancer. Under my given name or other names, I have

• Proofread books, articles, legal material
• Copy edited books

• Line edited books
• Written short stories, books, and curriculum
• Ghostwritten books

• Helped other authors develop their books
• Reviewed manuscripts
• Written standardized tests used in various states

For years, I worked in an office as a part-time or full-time editor. But as a freelancer, I work at home. For all of the above tasks, I have been paid by publishers or book packagers working with publishers. Yet, I can’t tell you how many times people have hinted at or even said outright that I don’t have a “real job.” By that I infer that people mean a job you do away from your home, one that pays benefits.


Is this (photo at left, representing someone working in the food industry) a “real” job? So, working on a computer at home isn’t?

I know people who have jobs outside of their homes but lack benefits, because their companies chose to avoid those. Would their jobs fall under the umbrella of “real”? I have also heard stories of people working in the food industry who complained about their jobs. They leave home every day to go to their places of employment. Does that mean their jobs aren’t real, if they say on social media, “I’m not gonna work here forever. Someday, I’m gonna get a ‘real’ job”?

When I searched for images to use with this post, I found a meme that discussed YouTubers. I chose not to use that image because I was not sure about copyright issues. Suffice it to say that some YouTubers make a large amount of money working at home making videos. Apparently, some people take issue with that.

Many writers are well acquainted with this sort of comparison. Some don’t think they can call themselves “real” writers because they either aren’t compensated for their work or are not compensated to the degree that authors like John Grisham or J. K. Rowling enjoy.

Still others have been told that they aren’t “real” writers, because they write books for children or teens. “Real” writers, according to those naysayers, write for adults.

Suddenly, I’m reminded of a conversation from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. You know the one.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day. . . . “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

The comment that really struck me was this by the Skin Horse:

Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.

When I struggle with being labeled as not having a “real” job or being a “real” writer, this conversation from The Velveteen Rabbit helps me move past the negativity of those who deem what I do as “less than” based on a subjective standard.

How about you? Ever been told, “You’re not a real [fill in the blank]”? What did you do?

Editing illustration from clker.com. Ghost writer image from seoblog.com. Chelsea Cheeseburger Shoppie and Petkin by Moose Toys. Pinkie Pie Equestria Girl doll by Hasbro. Photos by L. Marie. Velveteen rabbit illustration by William Nicholson found at commons.wikimedia.org.

42 thoughts on “What Is a “Real” Job?

  1. Even plastic dolls become real when they illustrate hurtful attitudes. And the Skin Horse is right: some “people don’t understand.”

    For decades I had a “real” job with benefits as teacher and professor. But I consider my free-lance work as a writer now just as real, because I’m writing memoir, revealing and REAL!. Great handling of a touchy topic, Marie!

    • Thank you, Marian! 😀 I’ve enjoyed your blog posts. What a treasure trove they are, especially with your family photos. Such a window into the past.

      Yes, that was the phrase that really resonated with me. People don’t understand. But it has to be “real” to us, even when others don’t understand.

  2. It seems these days, the traditional 9 to 5 jobs with benefits have gone by the wayside. Have you heard about those 20 something and younger gamers making a fortune playing video games? I suppose anything where you’re paid for your work qualifies as a job. Have a great week, L. Marie.

    • It does, Jill. And yes, I’ve heard about them. Many of them have their own YouTube channels.

      Yes, many jobs are dropping benefits packages unfortunately. So many college students are rethinking their career choices because of the changing job market.

  3. Haven’t been told to get a real job . . . Today. I just woke up, so there’s time. Another thing that throws people off is that being an author means you don’t need to wear office clothes. You can be in your pajamas if you want. So they think you lounge around the house. I get bugged about the hours too. Authoring isn’t 9-5, but 24/7. You don’t clock out of your imagination.

    • So true, Charles! I’ve worked 16 hours on projects some days, and still have to think about it when I turn off the computer. And I also get the comments about being able to wear pajamas all day and not having to go anywhere. Ha ha! 😀 I still have to go to the library, the store, the Post Office, etc. I can’t greet the world in my pajamas!

  4. I’ve been a freelancer for a long time now, and long ago I came to the decision that I was not going to address the question of “real” job. It wasn’t my problem. It was the problem of the person who raised it.

  5. Our infinite worth lies beyond all labels.

    So when someone comments on your lack of a “real job” . . . just smile and go back to doing what you want to do and being who you want to be.

    Write on!

  6. What a timely post, Linda! Even though I have a “real” job, it’s not one that I’m happy in. It’s a good job, but only on occasion do I feel any real intrinsic value to what I do. I was raised to be focused on getting a real job, any job as long as it provided benefits. It made for some serious tension between me and my husband in our early years together while he was the “breadwinner” and I was gallivanting around getting my master’s in English and writing stories. I didn’t realize at the time how hard it would be to get a viable editing job in a relatively small town, and I didn’t have the confidence to start my own business. But I can’t look back at the time I lost.
    The problem with writing is that so many publications (literary journals, for example) do not pay anything, and yet, if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you have to submit, submit, submit and be grateful for any publication you get.
    I have a lot of admiration for people like yourself who freelance. It is a real job because YOU are the boss 🙂

    • Oh Marie! Our paths have such similarities! I started at the bottom–proofreading. I moved up over the years to production editor, to associate editor, to full editor. But I’d spent many years listening to people comment on how useless learning about writing was. It’s funny how no one ever comments on how useless a billion dollar movie is. Yet it was made from a story.

  7. Like the person above me said, working from home really is a dream job. I think people say it because they’re jealous. You don’t want to get me started on this topic. I might get personal and tell you about the times I was told I really wasn’t childless/childfree by chance because I didn’t adopt. That prompted me to write an article about how getting knocked up (for most people) is a piece of cake compared to the complexities and costs of adoption. Oh wait, I guess I actually did get personal. Heh. Well, there ya go.

    I’m hanging in there one more day with this, UGH, humidity. I hope they’re right and that it will get better tomorrow. Whew. I left that other state to get away from this c*&p. ;-P

    • The humidity has been brutal, hasn’t it???

      Oh, Lori. Did people actually tell you that?? Why do people dare to say things like that?? I’ve had to hear something similar about being childless–like, “You don’t know anything until you have kids.” Me: “I can’t have children.” As in I am unable to. Does that mean I’m doomed to a life of stupidity because I can’t?

      Glad you aired your frustrations. That’s the beauty of writing!

  8. Judging from the comments, people seem to do this everywhere to make themselves feel more important, not just in the writing community. Having started writing adult fiction for a small press, where small presses are generally respected, I was shocked when every one of the 2009 kidlit debut groups excluded me because my first YA novel came from a small press. They told me I wasn’t a “real” YA author because my book didn’t come from a Big 5 or established corporate publisher of children’s books.

  9. Actually, in music, often the societal misunderstanding lies in the saying, “you’re not a real musician until you chuck everything else that seems like a ‘real’ job.” Then you’re looked upon as a bum!
    But more to the point, I often explain my (he)art as saying I’m a ***working*** musician…meaning there’s many facets to the job. (teaching, doing school special programs, masterclasses, composing, collaborative work with other (he)artists, gigs, weddings, recording, studio work, concerts, etc etc)
    You have listed several of your own ‘working writer’ facets above…
    Brava, L.Marie for chucking everything else that seems like a ‘real’ job to do the job you are meant to do!

    • Thanks, Laura! 😀

      I saw some memes about musicians that addressed what you brought up. Sigh. Why can’t people just be who they are without having to put up with nonsense comments???

      Yes being a working writer has many facets. Sooner or later, you wind up writing just about everything it’s possible to write.

  10. Oh and ps- I love your application of one of my favorite childhood stories (which I also passed onto my own kiddos) to our station in life as (he)artists.
    Mmmmmm: the Velveteen Rabbit is one of us.

  11. Apparently, a real job is a magical place where you go to complain about being there… *SMH* Some people are just bucket-fulls of jealousy and it’s one more way to make themselves feel better about not pursuing a career they really enjoy (or at least refusing to find enjoyment in what they’re currently doing).

    At least, that’s one way to look at it. 🙂

  12. I hear ‘ya. I’m a writer who writes a blog. A personal one that keeps me productive and engaged in the world around me, helping other people feel better about themselves. Am I paid in money? No. I’m paid in comments and a sense of well-being that I could never find when working at a “real” job. Does this make less valuable in our world? Some people would say yes, but I don’t listen to them anymore.

  13. I just read the title of an article on Linked in. It said that people who work remotely get more done. My granddaughter works for a small company in Oakland. In Sept. she and her boyfriend are moving to Seattle so he can work on his doctorate at U W. She’ll be working remotely along with two other employees who live in the Seattle area. At least she won’t have to fight the traffic.

    I have trouble convincing myself and others that I have a real job. People seem to think I’m available whenever they want me to be, and I have a hard time telling that, no, I need to stay home and work. The problem is, I don’t really NEED to stay home and work; I want to.

    • Nicki, I know what you mean. Writing is work. I can’t think of a single bit of writing that springs fully formed out of the ground. It takes time and effort. Even thought time is part of that effort. And there’s household stuff that has to get done too.

      Some people think, “Oh she’s at home. I can just call.” But I have to keep track of my hours on some projects. So I’m not always available though I’m at home.

  14. Oh, boy ! This hits home for us. Way back and once upon a time, when a young man and I were to wed, everyone and anyone asked what he did or, even more interesting, what his degree was in. We still, to this day, try to explain in Pooh terms what a comprehensive art major is. I remember my aunt saying “oh, he can paint dishes”. Yep. He worked for others, eventually formed his own business, worked at home with it, rented office space, then, we bought this house with an outbuilding.

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