Can You Make a Living as a Writer?

I’ve worked as a writer and an editor ever since I graduated from college. Much of that time, but not all, I supported myself. Once my children were born I began allowing my husband to support me and my family. I was lucky that I had that option. I still worked and brought in money as a writer and editor, but I didn’t have to pay all the bills. Not every writer has that luxury. That said, we could have used a larger income from my writing and editing over the last 10 years that we have lived in California, and I’ve had some trouble increasing my income.

That begs the question, can you make a living as a writer? Yes, you can. It’s not easy. It takes work. You must believe you can. And you must take action.

I’m not a good example to follow. I made the choice to focus a ton of my time on building platform, and I didn’t totally know what I was doing. (I also raised two stepkids and my own two kids along the way, but many writers must do similar things.) I spent more time on platform building than was necessary; my platform building could have been done more effectively.  And I could have done more writing that would have amounted to paychecks and advances; this might also have amounted to platform as I accrued more readers.

As always, hindsight is 20-20. Today, my vision seems pretty clear. Here are a 6 lessons I’ve learned from my past that I’ll be putting to use as I move forward:

  1. When you get a book idea, write the damn book. Yeah, go ahead and write a book proposal if you want to try for a traditional publishing deal, but write the book while you are waiting to hear form an agent or acquisitions editor. And if you don’t hear by the time you are done, get the book edited and designed, publish it and go on to the next project. I’ve got at least seven or eight books started or published in a condensed form (which means unfinished) that never got written because I was waiting for someone to back me or approve my idea. All of those books could be providing me with some sort of sales by now (meaning money and platform).
  2. Do what you do best and what you love. I stopped writing articles, which is what I’m trained to do (I’m a magazine journalist). In other words, I turned away from what I do best: writing. And I stopped writing about the subjects I love most. And then I wondered why I never made that much money. Duh. Follow your passion. Write what you know and about what interests you. There is money to be made writing articles. I just turned in a piece that took me maybe 10-12 hours to write, and I’ll receive $1000 for that effort. Not too shabby. And there is money to made in writing books if you write enough of them.
  3. Trust your gut. Everyone always tells me I’m spread to thin. I do too many things. As a writer, you can make more money by writing about a variety of topics. Yes, specializing is good, but specialize in a few areas. Plus, its more interesting.
  4. Learn something new all the time and put it to use. I’m constantly learning. I can’t hardly put everything I read and hear to use, but I try. I have a huge list of things I want to do, should do, must try. Try one a day or one a week or one a month. This is especially true when it comes to platform building.
  5. Don’t be afraid to fail or make mistakes. I’ve made a bunch of mistakes. I tend to rush into things without knowing all the facts, to try things without reading the manual, to publish stuff without utilizing a proofreader (even though I say you should have a proofreader). I’m always in a hurry to get moving, try something, do something, get to my end result, achieve my goal. So, I sometimes fail. I have typos. Oh well. So what. I get a lot done.
  6. Never say can’t and there is no such thing as “try.” I’m a perpetual optimist. I believe our thoughts are creative. I believe we create our own reality. I believe every challenge is an opportunity. Can you make a living as a writer? Of course, you can. Believe it. And go make it happen. Combine your passion and your purpose. Get inspired. Take action. Do it.

I was inspired today to write this post by something I read–three posts by literary agent Rachel Gardner–about how to make a living as a writer. In particular I was struck by the post about volume–and the fact that I have not written so many of my books. Shame on me. I suggest you read all three of them. They are well worth your time. You can find them here:

Make a Living as a Writer Part 1
Make a Living as a Writer Part 2
Make a Living as a Writer Part 3


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  1. Thanks so much for sharing – this article was so perfectly timed for me!

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