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Make a Living as a Writer: A Simple Strategy That Works

by | Jun 16, 2014

There is no one way to be a writer, you know. And there is no wrong way that will handicap you forever.

Writers are usually thrilled at the beginning, eager to dive in and earn a living from their writing skills. Two weeks later, a niggling worry creeps in: how does someone earn a living doing this?

How to earn money as a writer

My career began with visions of a novel, a mystery I spent two years writing at night after work. When I could not land an agent, I tossed it on the shelf. However, the writing bug had bit me hard. I set out to write, come hell or high water, using whatever talents I had, for whoever would hire me.

This mentality helped me develop a formula I use to organize and prioritize my writing work, making sure I maximize my earnings and challenge myself to connect with new markets and clients. Here’s how to put this formula to work for you.

The 25/50/25 rule

To make a decent living from your writing and make the most of your time, look at your clients and projects from a new angle. Break your work up into these categories: 25, 50 and another 25 percent blocks of your writing time. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it.)Here’s what that looks like:

The first 25

What can you write easily and earn a few dollars doing? The first 25 percent of the formula comprises these projects: the small magazine that loves local writers, the paid blog post, the filler piece, even the writing mill stuff.

This sort of material isn’t great, but hey, it brings in a check, income you can bank on, as tiny as it may be. It validates you — you are indeed earning a living writing. We all like to succeed, and this is where you feel safe.

However, you don’t want to get stuck in this rut. Limit this kind of work to 25 percent of your writing time to encourage yourself to stretch further.

The 50

These markets challenge your skills and experience. Whether you’re writing newsletters for area businesses, magazine articles, resumes, grants, white papers, or a company’s blog, you’ll figure out your sweet spot after a few months.

Spend half your writing time seeking and performing for these markets, and expect to land about half the clients you pitch. These venues keep you on your writing game, they pay and many of them become returning clients and markets.

The second 25

These markets fall into the “almost impossible” category. You dream of breaking into these babies. You drool over those dollar per word pieces in glossy magazines. You’d love to be a regular blog contributor for a national site or the go-to person for a local business’ copywriting work. These markets scare you to pieces, and you feel you’ll never reach that bar.

Keep seeking them: the more you study these opportunities, and the more you pitch them, the more you understand them. If you stick around long enough in this business, you’ll reach one. Then two.

How to put the formula to work for you

Make sure not to distort these percentages by second-guessing your abilities. There’s a reason for the 25/50/25 rule. It requires you to continually reach up, and as a result, your writing matures.

Soon your markets in the 50 category are paying more than when you started. Your lower 25 consists of a higher-caliber stable of gigs. And that upper 25, your dream jobs, assumes an even higher status because what you used to put in that category is now in your 50.

Apply the 25/50/25 rule to more than your markets. Use it for your advertising. Use it for time spent on social media. Use it for your speaking engagements, as I did, growing from online chats, to coffeehouse book clubs to conference keynotes.

Or let your upper 25 consist of time on your novel, your highest level income dream. After four years of freelancing, I pulled my book off the shelf and dedicated my upper 25 to its future since I’d grown my lower 25 and my 50 to support myself. Lowcountry Bribe was ultimately published, the first in the Carolina Slade Mystery Series.

Creating a writing business that supports you full time and earns a decent income will not happen overnight. It might take several years.

But between the 25/50/25 rule and keeping 13 pitches in play at all times, you’ll find yourself earning a living at this craft. Be diligent, and you’re on your way to realizing your writing dreams.

How do you divide your writing time?