How I Earn a Living

Many moons ago I wrote a post explaining that it is possible to earn a comfortable living as a writer.

The post generated a lot of comments, which makes me happy. I like comments. The post also generated a number of personal emails, which makes me, I think, even happier.

Most of these emails asked me the same thing:

HOW can you earn a comfortable living as a writer?

Ah, right, I did overlook that.

For me, it was always about balancing salaried writing with personal writing. When I decided to do this for a living, I sought out any writing job I could find that would provide a salary and benefits. What I found was a weekly newspaper gig, which paid terribly but offered up a regular byline and a wealth of experience. Weeklies are still a great place for any unpublished writer and, since the hours are sort of flexible, I found time to write and send out plays, which earned me a few (very few, but, hey, a few is still a few) bucks on the side.

Newspaper writing, I learned, gives you just enough credibility to get better paying work. I went from working on a newspaper to a private school’s Communications Office, writing web stories and press releases and editing the alumni magazine. This Communications Office job led to a better Communications Office job where the web stories and press release stuff was left to other people. I just do the magazines now and I always look for ways to make the articles fun.

But the real fun — the reason why I got into this profession in the first place — was to write my stuff. I find time to do that, too.

If my stuff makes money, great. But if , for example, I receive 114 children’s book rejections or watch one of my plays fail in a very, very public way, my salaried writing income cushions the blow. Sure, I might not be writing exactly what I want to be writing about, but I’m still writing and still earning.

Your Writing Career story will almost certainly be different from mine because there are many paths to earning a living as a writer. But the key, as I mentioned in my old post, is doggedness.

Be patient. Be determined. Be focused. Be resourceful. If you really want this, then promise me that you’ll never, ever, give up, OK?

I’m rooting for you.

45 Replies to “How I Earn a Living”

  1. Yay, I’m the first to comment on one of you posts. Yay – is there a prize for that? And of course, I’m able to be first even though I live on the left coast, because I get up at an ungodly hour (which I note you refuse to do). But here is an example of one of the pluses of being an early riser. Your post popped up while I was writing away at 6:30 a.m. my time. Writing, by the way, with no remuneration in sight — BUT — I agree with you. Never give up. I enjoyed reading about your journey into earning a writing living. It will be fun to hear what others say. I earned a MA in English (because, I mean, what else is there to do when you love to read and write?) and promptly got my first paying job for a small feminist newspaper in New Jersey called New Directions for Women. Pay was smaller than s h – -, but the experience was overwhelming. In fact, it led me to believe I could never make a living writing.
    But I haven’t given up trying!

    1. Congrats on your commenting firsties! Your achievement is especially impressive considering that you start work before 6:30 am. (And, yes, I find you insane.)

      You peaked my interest when you mentioned New Directions for Women, so I Googled it and found only a Califorina-based rehab center. Oh, well. Such is the way of the newspaper these days, eh?

      1. Oh my gosh – I never thought of googling this old history of mine. I thought you were joking about the rehab center, so googled it myself. If you stroll down a bit further, you find, and a wonderful little piece about the now defunct, but once breakthrough first feminist newspaper in the country. I WAS THERE. Ohhhhh, the stories I could tell. (And maybe some day I will.)

  2. Yeah, that whole pesky bill-paying thing. I had the same problem when I became a professional historian. Unless you have a trust fund (I don’t), or marry wealthy (I didn’t), you can’t really live large while doing history stuff. Which is why I “sold out” (you know, after I was laid off) and went into Big Pharma doing something decidedly non-history related. But the money allowed me to do the historical research I love so much. (You know, when I’m not goofing off and not doing it.)

      1. I came back to thank you again, especially for the last few lines of encouragement. I’ve taken an impractical route on my quest, so the only thing I have on my side is “doggedness” — hahaha! — it’s nice to be reminded of this. Hope you’re having a great day!

  3. I’ve been asking, “What does writing web blurbs or scripts for videos have to do with my fantasy novel?” It’s not like I can word my query, “Hey, Agent Ma’am! I get paid to put words together that are completely unrelated to this great fantasy novel! Now doesn’t that make you wanna find a publisher for my book?” So, I needed this post. They ~are~ unrelated, except I use the money for the blurbs to support my real writing. For now. 🙂 Thanks!

  4. I love your advice of balancing out salaried writing with personal writing at first. Will tweet this out for my followers who hope to become full time writers.

  5. Thank you for sharing this! You have that elusive “made it” thing going for you… And your advice on biting the bullet and doing the things you’re less excited about–but pay– is something I always need to hear!

    1. I think what Catherine means here is “Another way to cushion your writing career is to be a dog and get yourself a sugardaddy/mama.” Just need to find an insanely rich, very old, unhealthy person with no heirs, then the writing will be a cinch.

  6. Thanks, Mike, for the reminder to keep going. So far my “freelancing” has been more like “freeloading” off my husband, but your post is an inspiration. I’m off to go write something now.

  7. Hey, I was just peeking at Amazon and saw that Sarah Gives Thanks has a pretty decent “best seller” ranking and even more impressive…you’re #11 in Books > Children’s Books > Biographies > Social Activists, category! Well, done…and there’s still time to buy your book, right?

    1. Isn’t it great? I am so blessed.

      Last week (for about half an hour) SARAH even creeped up to #3 in that category!

      I did a little jig.

      And yes! There is plenty of time to get a copy before Thanksgiving. The publisher reprinted the title and has plenty on hand!

  8. Glad you’re able to make enough using your writing skills to earn a living. I never considered journalism as a way to write and earn money. I never thought anyone would be interested in anything non-fiction that I might write – until I got into blogging. Now, it might be something to consider.

    While my writing doesn’t make me enough income to live off of, Royalty and ‘Public Lending Rights’ cheques come to me in the spring of each year and, occasionally, I get paid to enter classrooms to talk about my books with grants from either an Arts Council, the Manitoba Writers’ Guild or the Writer’s Union of Canada. In between times, I’m in schools subbing as an EA, but I always pop into the libraries of schools I’m in and chat with the librarians & teachers in an effort to promote my books. 🙂

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