If you’re as passionate about writing as I am you’ve probably dreamed of making it your full-time career. Imagine ditching your day job and having the freedom to travel or work from home, to be creative, to set your own schedule and spend all day doing what you love!
The idea is great, but the reality is another story. Getting paid for your writing can seem almost as impossible as becoming a Hollywood movie star, right? Where do you even start?
So many people want to be writers and so many people fail. You hear more and more about how hard it is to make it as a writer; how only 1% of manuscripts sent to traditional publishing houses actually make it into the bookstores, and how some authors end up getting ripped off by vanity publishers who charge them $1000s and then never sell a book. Is there even any point trying?
How to make a living from writing
Yes! Of course there is! I have made my living from writing for over ten years now. I write part-time, because I am a mum too, and I get more work than I can accept and often turn down jobs. Whether you’re looking for full-time work or a side hustle, there is a whole lot of writing work out there!
If you want to be a novelist, go for it. It’s a more difficult path than I’ve taken but it’s possible. Creative writing can pay and often writers starting out dream of being fiction writers.
But there is a huge market out there, much bigger than fiction, that writers often overlook.
If you want to support yourself financially with writing then freelance non-fiction is a fantastic option. You might be thinking, “I don’t enjoy non-fiction. It’s just not creative enough.” But freelance non-fiction writers do a wide range of interesting work. Okay, I admit, some of it (like writing a product description) is just plain B.O.R.I.N.G! But the majority of jobs are varied, challenging, involve interesting research and are actually incredibly creative.
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Here’s a guide I wrote for new writers: Want to be a Writer? Start Here.
Some of the non-fiction work I have done:
- Reading comprehension passages for school tests about any topic I wanted: Rainforests, ocean exploration, raising chickens…
- Tourist guides to exotic hotels
- Co-authoring (as a ghostwriter) a book about child development
- Editing and ghostwriting a memoir
- Advertorials for: a hairdresser’s new products, a College course, and a mystery health products box.
- Brochures for a government department
- Editing research for a rocket scientist
- A script for a radio advert
- Website copy for a photography company
- Creative essays about real life issues
- Blog posts and lots more!
Non-fiction challenges you to change your style to fit a particular client’s needs and whenever you are challenged–you learn. The more you try out the more you learn, your writing improves and with this new improved writing something amazing happens–you get paid more for less work!
It’s true! Over time you can demand higher fees for your writing because you are just that good, that fast and that in demand. You will be able to pick and choose the jobs you want. Yes, initially you will probably have to do the boring ones, like product descriptions for ridiculously low rates, but just keep pressing in and moving towards your goal of professional writer. Before you know it you’ll be getting your dream jobs. And once those dream jobs start rolling in, so will the money!
Invest in your writing skills
With writing that old saying “good things take time” is usually pretty accurate. It does take time to learn the craft of writing well. Invest in yourself and learn as much as you can.
Take a course, get an assessment of your writing (I do inexpensive assessments if you want some feedback on your work, just contact me and I’ll let you know how I can help) read books on non-fiction writing, and, of course, read good writing!
Getting a mentor is a fantastic idea for new writers (I had a few mentors) as you learn an incredible amount from having your writing critiqued. I know it can be scary to have someone tell you all the things you are doing wrong but a good mentor will be both honest and encouraging. Look for someone who gives you lots of suggestions for improvement, teaches you writing techniques, and also lets you know where you are doing well. I have been on both sides: as a mentor and being mentored, and I highly recommend it. I love learning from the amazing editors and writers I work with and always value their feedback. Learning the craft of writing never stops! You can always improve.
Where do you start then?
- Get some feedback on your writing–through a course, a mentor or a writer friend. (Or flick me an email with a summary of what you are working on and we can chat about how I could help you).
- Try writing on a site like Medium. Medium has free and paid writing, non-fiction and fiction. You can write about anything and you get feedback from other readers and writers, and editors if you send your work into a Medium publication. I quite like writing for this site if I feel creative and just want to get something out there. It’s great for new writers too because not only do you get to share your work but you can learn by reading the work of other more established writers. Here’s a guide I wrote on Medium for new writers.
- Work out what your niche is and write for magazines, small publications and websites in that area. Do you have a field you were trained in, a hobby, a skill or an interest area that you could write passionately about? Writing about what you know is a fantastic way to break into paid writing (yes, I know that’s the advice everyone gives but its true!) When you write about something you know, something you are excited about and interested in, that comes across in your writing. There are magazines and websites on every imaginable topic (some will pay and some won’t) but do your research and you’ll probably find one or two that can become a regular source of income for you. Look for small ones that probably don’t get a lot of writers pitching ideas. You are more likely to get published in small niche sites and papers than in the New Yorker or Cosmopolitan. You don’t have to stick to your niche of course. I’ve written on all sorts of topics from age gap dating, to the benefits of swimming, to World Leprosy Awareness Day!
If you’d like a resource to help you pitch your ideas to editors, go here for a free guide to the pitch format that I’ve used successfully for ten years.
Writing as a job is still a job
I sometimes see people on Facebook or writing sites talk about their dream of writing for a living and it looks something like this:
If writing was my full-time job I’d be free to pursue my dreams. I’d write when the creative urge hits. I’d lie in the sun and watch the money roll in.
Okay, not quite like that, but you get the idea. I hate to sound discouraging or pessimistic, (perhaps it is like that for some writers?) but the writers I know, including myself, work hard.
We work long hours (I often work late into the night), we do jobs we don’t enjoy sometimes (yes, I did those 1000 product descriptions), we have weeks where we earn nothing, and it takes a lot of self-promotion, rejection and perseverance to make writing a career. My first writing “job” was an unpaid but regular column in a local newspaper for a town of 1000. Writing is hard to break into, but once you get that first job you’ve done the hardest part! After that it just gets easier and easier.
Writing isn’t the fantasy that some people imagine but it is an incredible career. Writing is the most satisfying, rewarding and enjoyable work I have ever done. I can sit for five hours typing up articles and not even realise that any time has passed. I daydream about my work, I look forward to it, I get excited about it.
Writing is my dream job. And if it’s yours too then I’d encourage you to go for it! Keep learning, keep trying, and get that writing out into the world.
Good luck amazing writer! Let me know when you get that first job!
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