How Do I Make A Living As A Writer?

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by fellow Top Ten Blogger Carol Tice of Make A Living Writing.

When I talk with writers about their dreams and what’s holding them back, it always seems to boil down to one thing.


Fear of looking dumb.

Fear of messing up.

Fear of failure.

Fear of being embarrassed.

Fear of screwing up.

Fear of succeeding and not being able to handle it.

Fear of finding out you’re just not talented enough.

I work mostly with freelance writers, but I think when it comes to would-be novelists, the problem is possibly even worse. That’s because novelists can go a long time without any feedback on their writing. They can work on that first novel for a decade and never show it to anyone, while their fears worm their way into their every waking hour and disturb their sleep.

The Way Out of Fear

I’m going to suggest a way out of this gloom: Get a job.

No, not a “day job” pumping gas or stocking grocery shelves.

A freelance-writing job. Get an assignment or two, writing for a magazine, newspaper, company, or website.

Why? A little freelance writing can work miracles for your self-esteem, as well as your checkbook.

Advantages of Freelancing Include:

  • You get to work with editors and learn how to improve your work
  • You see your byline in print or online (always an ego-booster!)
  • You learn to meet deadlines, acquiring writing discipline you can apply to your novel work
  • You learn to be better organized to fit in both freelancing and your novel work
  • You get to experiment with different writing styles and voices
  • You acquire better research skills that can help you find background information for your novel
  • You meet writers and editors who might help connect you to publishers
  • You can make mistakes on a smaller scale, and learn from them
  • You might interview interesting people who could inspire characters in your book
  • The freelance income can stave off having to get a real day job and help you preserve more writing time

There’s a myth in the writing community that you’re sullying your artist-writer hands by writing brochures, articles or blog posts. But the fact is, some of the most revered names in literature had workaday writing jobs before hitting it big. If freelancing was good enough for Joseph Heller and Mary Higgins Clark, it’s good enough for you.

Carol Tice teaches freelance writers how to earn more at her Make a Living Writing blog, which was recently chosen as one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers for 2011. Subscribers receive her free report, 40 Ways to Market Your Writing. Her upcoming Webinar (with fellow Top 10 Blogs winner Judy Dunn of Cat’s Eye Writer) is 30 Design & Content Secrets to Skyrocket Your Blog.

Will you try freelance writing in 2011? Leave a comment and tell us about your plans.

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23 comments on “How Do I Make A Living As A Writer?

  1. Ollin says:

    Thanks Carol! Never thought of freelancing before. And I never knew all those authors were also freelancers! I guess you just busted the myth that writers can’t make a living writing as they write their novel. Thanks for the wonderful advice!

  2. Cities of the Mind says:

    Great post! I’m working on getting my first freelance jobs right now. So far, it’s been all work and no pay, but I remain optimistic. Or maybe just stubborn. Any tips for how to get those jobs?

  3. K.M. Weiland says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing, Carol. I’ve toyed with the idea of pursuing freelancing one of these days, and this article is a perfect starting place.

  4. T.S. Bazelli says:

    Great post Carol! I’ve got a writing day job. It’s not fiction, but I’ve had first hand experience with some of the advantages you’ve listed. I work with a wonderful editor (he’s magic!) and a group of writers who offer feedback. I think the most important lesson I’ve taken away (for fiction) is knowing that there’s always something to improve, and that criticism is not a scary thing. 🙂

  5. Cordelia says:

    “There’s a myth in the writing community that you’re sullying your artist-writer hands by writing brochures, articles or blog posts.”

    I think you make a good point with this. Especially if you’re trying to create a “work of art” like a novel, it can feel a little like “selling out” to use your writing talents to write something for a paycheck. But you know what? For most of us, we’ve got to pay the mortgage somehow, and is it any better to be doing something completely un-writing-related for that paycheck? At least with freelancing, you’re using your skills rather than letting them go to waste.

    Thanks for pointing out all the various ways that freelancing can actually help a writer. I have to admit that I too have considered largely as a way to pay the bills; your post definitely made me look at it in a new light!

  6. Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Wharton, Dickens. Even Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beautiful books were polished by her journalist daughter Rose in what we know now was more a collaboration than anything else.

    If you want to be a professional writer, you have to learn to write professionally. Easy math!

  7. I’ll agree that “Fear” is a big hurdle to overcome for any of us writers. Fear and self-doubt seem to permeate the being of any given writer. I guess that’s probably true of people who aren’t writers, too.

    For me, the fear is two-pronged. I fear that I’m not good enough, certainly. I fear that I’ll never get published. But more practically, I fear that I can’t make enough in this field to support my family. I fear that my writing pursuits will leave my family in a difficult financial situation.

    I’ve read a lot of advice that it’s good for writers to diversify their incomes, to make money from multiple sources as much as possible. It does seem like freelance writing is one way that works for a lot of writers. But it’s that kind of advice that somehow found me in MBA-school pursuing an education that has nothing to do with what I love in order to secure a career for myself that has nothing to do with what I wan to do with my life…. I do that because of those practical fears. Which in the end leaves me precious little time to write (and definitely not enough to do any freelancing). I wish there had been more practical, “how-to” advice available to someone like me when I was younger, before I chose a career path that would take me away from what I love to do – writing!

    • What I like about freelancing is it’s the end of the fear of never getting published. Why, there’s your byline!

      I used to cruise down to the mini-mart every Thursday when I wrote for the alternative press, just starting out, rip that paper open, and just behold the beauty of my byline. There it was! I’m a writer!

      I think the ego boost of it, and the validation, really help you build the credibility — both to publishers and to yourself — that you’ve got what it takes.

  8. Excellent advice, Carol. I started out freelancing, and experienced all of the advantages you mention. I also thought it was a great way to come across new ideas for my ficticious worlds as well.

  9. junebugger says:

    Really interesting point raised! I actually never considered the other writing options other than publishing novels. Thanks for sharing!

  10. tahliaN says:

    I hadn’t thought about that. It would be a good thing to do while playing the waiting game, while others are looking at my work. After blogging, I have more confidence that I might be able to write more than fiction. I’d have to find out how to go about getting the work though. Research required.

  11. Interesting post, Carol. Anyone interested in kick-starting as a freelancer must bookmark those pointers.

    Along with these motivational points, I believe there’s one huge ingredient that goes in: Passion.

    I started a year back. At the time, I had a well-paying job and could have asked for more in the industry without any hassles. But I realised my passion was wandering in the faraway lands whereas my profession never touched them. Two were completely opposite. Action had to be taken.

    Like your post here, I had to read only a few such uplifting pieces and before I knew, I had become a freelance writer. I believe would-be freelance writers must be Pro-active. Before a lot of damage is done, the potential writer must realise it’s there in him or her and take the plunge even if fear prevails.


  12. clarbojahn says:

    Thank you, Carol, for a well thought out article. When I started my second career in writing I learned that you needed to be published in order to get published. Now I write for anything and everything I can in order to get published. For a treat I get to work on my ‘writing for self fulfillment’ only after I spend the agreed amount of time (made by me as an objective to a goal) on my writing for publication of what ever I think will be published.

    Your blog sounds like someplace I’d like to visit..Thanks for the post and for the link

  13. Thank you Carol,
    I’ve been taking a break from blogging for too long, (sadly not my choice) and I’ve realized that not writing seems to create more fear than writing.
    I am transitioning in to a new and less-demanding job next month and anxious to get settled in so that I can get back to what I’m missing most, writing, with the hope that the new job will allow me the time to really commit and explore ideas about writing full time.
    I will definitely consider freelancing, and I will certainly be checking out your blog!

  14. Very true. My freelance blogging allows me to write in a different way than I do in my manuscript (and actually get paid for it!) while still informing my creative writing – it keeps my writing gears oiled up and helps to relax my style, which started out very formal and academic (and can still tend to be). It takes writing to become better writers, so I agree that any avenue we can seize is important and by no means selling out, but putting our words out there and receiving validation. Thanks, Carol!

  15. I contemplated the idea of freelancing right at the start of my “writing” career a few years ago, after doing much research, I found that I didn’t think I was capable of writing something “on command” though I guess it depends on what subject you want to write about..

    I’ll def check out your website Carol 🙂

  16. […] offers writing advice as well as strategies to deal with life’s toughest challenges. … how to make your living as a blogger – Google Blog Search This entry was posted in Blogger and tagged answer, Burning, Living, question, “How. Bookmark […]

  17. Excellent! I have been thinking about freelance writing as of late so this post had perfect timing.

  18. Good timing Carol, I’ve just finished a writing MA, and the fear is worrying me like some kind of rabid animal. The questions of going back to my old career in animation just to keep afloat, or trying to make something of my writing has been keeping me in a state of tension. Fear of no money has stopped me researching further material for the second draft of my novel; I’ve felt the time should be spent working on animation showreels, and finding illustration agents -but it’s still just freelance work.

    If I can get enough projects each month, perhaps freelance writing is the better way out of this.

  19. aleek says:

    That is the perfect plan. And the reason I am training to be a journalist…

    As Henry David Thoreau put it:
    “‘How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

    And what better way to live, investigating, listening and observing the real world, finding out stuff and writing/documenting it all in your own words? And good journalism, well, it’s an art form.

    However, this plan is equally, if not more, competitive and unemployment/redundancies for top journalists aren’t the most heartening of figures. I would say that ‘doing a bit of freelancing’ isn’t as casual as it might sound.

    But your blog is a great place for writers in any situation to deal with any fear and doubt involved.

  20. Alexis Jenny says:

    I hope to break into freelance writing this year. I’d like to be a full-time writer, whether I’m working on individual assignments or larger projects.

    I agree that smaller assignments with more immediate deadlines can increase a writer’s confidence. Faster feedback/ publication can really change the perspective on the world of writing. And I don’t think anyone is “above” freelancing, even if the ultimate goal is novel-writing or something similar. Freelancing can pay the bills and sharpen your writing skills. What’s not to like?

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