Can you make a living as a writer?

Viewing time: 4 mins 36 secs 

The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? Can you make a living as a writer? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.

Transcript: 

Can you make a living as a writer? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, still in pandemic mode.

I have a question from Zach LaPenna, a writer based in Walnut Creek, California. Here’s what he’s asked by email….

I recently graduated from college and I have my first IT job at a large company. The thing is, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I have a great idea for a novel and I’m wondering if I should maybe spend the next couple of years saving up my money so I can quit and write full time. Is that a good plan? And can you really make a living as a writer?”

Thanks for your question, Zach. Yes, you can really make money as a writer, but it’s not easy — especially for fiction. Fiction is a bit more like a crap shoot than a career path. It’s kind of like wanting to be an actor. 

Yes, some people become George Clooney or Angelina Jolie and they make buckets of money. But the vast majority of actors struggle to pay their rent and need to have second jobs to survive. Fiction writers are much the same. For every Margaret Atwood, there are thousands of Margaret Anonymouses. And, similarly, for every Neil Gaiman there are thousands of Nameless Neils.

If you’re willing to write non-fiction, however, your chances of success are much higher. There’s a big demand for content — for websites, for brochures, for reports, for ads — and if you can meet that need, companies will welcome you with open arms. 

Just be aware, however, that the skills you’ll need don’t relate only to writing. You’ll also need to learn how to market yourself, how to negotiate, how to price and how to manage your own time. 

Another point, if you’re serious about business writing, is to declare a niche, or area of specialty. For example, it might be food. Or travel. Or gaming. Or IT. Your work will be more satisfying if you focus on a subject you really know about. As well, it will help you build your reputation which will make it easier to market yourself.

But, Zach, I know you’ve said you’re interested in fiction, so here’s what I recommend. DON’T quit your day job, until you have your first six-figure book deal. Instead, write before or after work and do it every day. If you write 250 words a day, five days a week, you’ll have 65,000 words by the end of a year. That’s just a little bit short of the 70,000 words you need for a novel. Not bad for someone who’s writing the equivalent of a medium-length email every day. I’m sure you can do that!

If this feels too un-writer-like for you, let me tell you about the first jobs of some famous authors. Robert Frost was a newspaper boy and a light-bulb-filament replacer in a factory. William S. Burroughs was an exterminator. Vladimir Nabokov was an entomologist. Douglas Adams was a hospital porter, barn builder and bodyguard. J.D. Salinger was the entertainment director on a Swedish luxury liner. And Stephen King was a janitor.

Zach, it sounds to me that as an IT worker you have a pretty good job that should still allow you to write 250 words per day.

Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from the American director, producer and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan:

“Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.”

Zach, many people resist the idea of doing two different jobs at once, perhaps feeling that it represents a failure to commit. I view it differently. After all, if you still have a way of earning a decent living while doing something you love — writing fiction — then you have the best of both worlds. It’s a strategy of simply keeping your options open.

*

If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes.

Links

Your Happy First Draft

Scroll to Top