Our writing series continues today with a post that addresses several of the questions you posed last week, particularly those that concern making more time and money for writing.
On paper, writing is a relatively inexpensive venture. All you really need is a computer and an internet connection, and you’re good to go. But what is often overlooked is the fact that writing takes LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS of time…and as they say, time is money.
Now let me be clear: I’m certainly not an expert on the subject of making money. Dan and I have old furniture, old cars, an old air conditioning unit that's probably killing the environment, and we can’t afford a vacation this year. Some months are famine; others are feast. But for what it’s worth, we’re both self-employed, both pursuing our dreams, and both happy in what we do….and we don’t live with any debt except a mortgage payment. (Good thing we also agree that new furniture is overrated!)
So based on my very limited, very imperfect experience, I've put together some pointers for making more time and money for writing. Feel free to “choose your own adventure” based on your current lifestyle and desires:
If you want to quit your job to write full-time:
1. Go the risky route ONLY if both you and your spouse are totally on board. It's way too much strain to put on a marriage if one person is not sure.
2. Stop caring about what other people thing because some people will think that you are crazy.
3. Take the time to learn how to do self-employment taxes right… and keep up with your expenses. Be prepared to write a big ole check to the government each year.
4. Find a few good clients! This is important: two or three predictable, well-paying clients are worth 30 one-time writing jobs, believe me. I made more money as a freelance writer than I’ve ever made in my life because I signed contracts with just a few appreciative, resourced clients. Sure, I was writing marketing copy about new mammogram machines at the local hospital and articles about church planting in Alberta for the North American Mission board, but I was making a good living. After I got my first book deal, I dropped my most time-consuming clients to make more time to write. This was a good decision, but we took a financial hit from it. The best thing about steady clients—especially if you’ve signed a contract with them—is that they add some predictability and consistency to your income as a self-employed writer.
5. If possible, find writing jobs that reflect your interests and long-term goals so that you can do some platform-building while making money.
If you just want to make more time to write…
1. Pay attention to your natural work habits. Do you get more done when you have a whole day to do something or do you work better when you have some constraints? Are you more productive in the morning or at night, with music playing or without it? I’ve found that 90 minutes is my magic number—it’s long enough to feel like I can get something done but short enough to convince me I better get crackin’—and so I’ve organized my day around several 90-minute writing blocks. If you take the time to figure out your most efficient working style, you’ll get more done than if you tried to force a prescribed schedule onto yourself.
2. Remember that you’re always writing. I do my best writing when I’m taking a shower, jogging, driving, or unloading the dishwasher. Menial tasks give our brains time to indirectly think about our writing and work out the kinks. So keep a notepad and pen on your person at all times!
3. Choose a time each day or each week to focus exclusively on your writing and guard it like a mama bear. Treat it like an appointment with a boss or a client or the president of the United States.If you break it, make it up later. Show up even if you don’t feel like it. Don’t make an excuse to yourself that you wouldn’t make to someone else.
4. Unplug. I know it’s right there on your computer, but if you can avoid Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere while you’re writing, you will be shocked by how much more you can get done. Also, you will be my hero.
5. Set an egg timer. Lock yourself in. Disconnect the phone. Get a babysitter. Do whatever you have to do to limit distractions and keep your writing time sacred. I use my phone as a timer for my 90-minute writing sessions. Sometimes I try imagining that I’m locked a cell for those 90-minutes. Yeah, I'm extreme like that.
6. Additional resources: Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk about nurturing creativity, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
If you want to make money…
1. Freelance: See item #4 under “If you want to quit your job and write full time” for my most important advice regarding freelance writing. You probably won’t make a lot of money these days writing single articles, although it’s possible to make some. Check out the 2011 Writer’s Market to see what options are out there, and be sure that you’ve studied a publication well before you submit a query or article. With articles, you are typically paid per word, and publications often have a set payment. You’ve reached freelance nirvana if you can earn $1 per word. (Note: I’ve never earned that much for an article!)
2. Advances: If you’re Sarah Palin, then the advance on royalties supplied by your publisher for your book is enough to make you independently wealthy. If you’re anyone else, it probably isn’t. Book advances range from $1,000 to 1 million and vary a lot depending on your publisher and your credentials. The nice thing about advances is that they come in big chunks. (For “Monkey Town,” my advance came in two chunks: the first when I signed the deal and the second when I turned in the finished manuscript). The not-so-nice thing is that this advance often has to carry you through the two years it takes write and publish a book, so you don’t spend it all in one place!
3. Ads: If you’re a blogger, putting ads on your site is a great way to make some extra money. I useBeacon Ads because I find that the ads are tastefully done, not too obtrusive, and basically in line with things that are of interest to my readers. If you can, try to maintain as much control as possible over your site and the ads that appear there. Otherwise you could end up with tacky, distasteful ads that bring the whole site down. How much you make on ads will depend on a lot of factors—how many spots you have available, how many of those spots you fill, how much of a commission your ad network gets, etc. If you’re feeling nosy, you can get an idea of about how much I make from ads by visiting my advertising page.
4. Affiliates: I’m an Amazon affiliate, which means that if I link to a book and you purchase it after following that link, I get a tiny commission from Amazon. You don’t make a whole lot of money doing this unless someone randomly decides to add a big screen TV to their shopping cart after they’ve followed your link…which has been known to happen from time to time.
5. Speaking: Ironically, the real money in writing is in speaking. The great thing about speaking is that if you can develop three of four really good talks that you use over and over again, the amount of work you have to put into each event declines over time, but the pay remains the same. Plus, you get better and better as you practice…and you get to travel! Try to set a fee and stick to it. (I have a lower, more negotiable fee for churches and ministries.) It should be assumed that your host will pay expenses. I hate asking for money, but I’ve learned the hard way that events that don’t pay me for my work tend to turn into giant black holes that suck my time and energy away. If you’re going to take three days to fly across the country, speak multiple times, and sleep in a dorm room, you really need to make it worth your while.
So, what are you working on right now? Trying to quit your job? Struggling to carve out time to write? Unsure of how to make money doing what you love? Feel free to share your own advice, questions, and ideas!
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