Wednesday, December 30, 2015

To Make A Living As A Writer, Try Broadening Your Horizons

Every writer who's ever put words on the page has had the same fantasy. In fact, if you've had it, you've probably guessed it based on that sentence alone. Just so we're all on the same page, though, the fantasy is for you to be allowed to write what you love, and for those projects to pay you a living wage.

Which is different from a killing wage. Significantly different.
It doesn't matter if you're a novelist or a script writer, a master of horror or a weaver of romance. Whatever your area of expertise, and your preferred type of project, the goal is to reach the point where you don't have to worry about taking a break for lunch. Where you can wake up whenever you damn well please, sit down at your desk, and focus completely on the story you want to tell.

Some of us get to that point sooner than others. Some of us are never going to get there. Which is why this little piece of advice is one that I feel compelled to give. Are you listening? Good, because...

You Can Write More Than One Thing

When I was a much younger man, I thought that the only way to make a living as a writer was to be a novelist. I wanted that job bad enough to taste it, and if I'm honest the taste has never gone away. It gave me a lot of practice writing fiction, and when I was just starting out I even managed to win the odd contest or two. It wasn't until I got into college that I realized there was more to the world of writing than being a novelist. There was, for example, my school newspaper.

Hey, you need to start somewhere.
It doesn't sound like much, but short of an occasional gift certificate or tiny check, the paper represented the first paycheck I'd ever earned with the written word. It wasn't enough to do much at $5 an article, but it was a proof-of-concept. It was real evidence that there was a market for my skills. More importantly, it made me realize that I could still work on my stories, while earning money writing something else as well. There was no need to drive a delivery van, or sit around in a security shack, when I could just write instead. This knowledge didn't shift my personal focus from the goal of writing fiction for a living, but it did make me re-evaluate the idea that I had to have a day job I didn't like while I was working on said focus. After all, if there was one opportunity out there, then there had to be more... didn't there?

There was, as it turned out. What I hadn't realized was there is text all over the world, and writing is a skill that translates pretty well from one project to another. I made contact with other local newspapers to get work as a stringer and occasional feature writer. I managed to wrangle a short-term position writing articles for a men's magazine. I wrote ad copy for catalogs, and product descriptions for websites. I joined websites where I wrote reams of articles, earning up-front payments, as well as earning royalties and revenue share on some of my work. In the past few years I've been running this blog, as well as my gaming blog Improved Initiative, and I've worked with a lot of publishers who needed help producing rules and mechanics for tabletop roleplaying games. And somewhere in there I've published two dozen short stories, and completed at least one novel-length manuscript.

The result of all that work? Well, I'm certainly not in that six-figure range. Hell, some years I'm barely in the 5-figure range. However, I've made a lot of contacts, and I've learned a lot about the business of being a professional writer. More importantly, though, I've managed to pay rent on time, and buy the occasional cheeseburger, with nothing more than word count. Not because I kept my nose to the grindstone, and refused to step away from the one true calling I felt for writing books, but because I recognized that I had to do more if I expected to put "writer" on the profession line for my taxes.

That's the secret I would share with anyone who wants to claw their way up to that final plateau. The day might come when you get that book deal, or you self-publish the next big series that locks you into a bigger tax bracket for the next ten years. But between now and then, you've got bills to pay. So why not use the skill you've been sharpening so hard for so long?

Lastly, if you're looking for places you can start making a living as a writer, I'll save you some searching. Just check out Where To Find Online Writing Jobs, and Make Money Writing (By Joining

As always, thanks for checking in with The Literary Mercenary! If you want to help support me (and possibly get me a little closer to that future where all I do is write blogs and books), then consider stopping by my Patreon page to become a patron today! If you'd prefer to get regular updates on my latest and greatest, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter!

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