I am taking a blog hiatus, and will feature a combination of previous posts and guest bloggers each day through August 10th. Please keep visiting and commenting!
I tapped my fingers on the smooth granite counter tops — they would not be ours for much longer. I glanced across the kitchen at my wife, then looked away. I didn’t want to say the words because my silence would keep it from happening. Right? Freeze time? Change our entire situation? But she said them for me.
“We have to move into your parents’ basement.”
A few months later, the downward spiral of my business complete, we moved 150 miles away from the community we loved to the place I had grown up. At 32 years old, with a wife and four kids, that five-month stint in my parents’ basement felt like the biggest failure of my life.
It was the best thing that could have happened to us.
With two published co-written books under my belt and a few meager leads to follow, I decided to try to make a living as a writer. The following are five things I learned while building a life out of words:
1) Know how much your writing is worth (but be willing to write for way less). Based on previous projects, I could charge a premium to help people write their stories, but that meant waiting for the right project, and time was something I didn’t have. So I took on anything I could find, for whatever amount the person could afford. Sometimes I was fortunate enough to find book projects that represented six months’ worth of income. At other times I wrote one more SEO article, one more blog post for hire. I try to appreciate the projects that fill up the gas tank as much as those that pay the rent.
2) Lean before you leap. My dad uses this phrase, and I can’t guarantee it originated with him, but it’s a wise outlook on chasing your dreams. I got paid to write for two years before leaping into it full time. If you want to make a living as a writer, there’s often an uncomfortable leaning period where you test the water and work double-time (day job and dream job). The alternative is leaping without looking, which I don’t usually recommend unless you have a safety net (e.g. trust fund, winning lottery ticket, or spouse making six figures).
3) Don’t try to start something brand new – utilize the knowledge and contacts you already have. My first published co-written projects were memoirs, so in the early days I focused on finding other clients who needed me to help them tell their story. I had a proven body of work, and it was an easy sell. Recently I focused on helping local pastors turn their sermon series into small, self-published books: I have experience self-publishing, and my dad is a pastor with a lot of contacts. People already exist who will pay you to write within the boundaries of your experience – you just have to find those people.
4) Invest in relationships with other writers. Believe it or not, there are writers out there who stumble on to projects they can’t do or don’t want. Mingle with writers on Facebook and Twitter and, even better, in real life. Be a nice person. Promote their work. It’s much easier to make a living as a writer when you have friends in the field and you work together.
5) Embrace the idea of living an adventurous life. I’m 35 years old and at times I feel like I’m way behind: I don’t own a home or have any sort of financial security. But recently I went on a 4-month cross-country trip with my wife and four children (granted, we did lose our brakes coming down the Grand Tetons, but life can’t be all roses and rainbows). I even finished writing my first novel. When I’m not comparing my life to the lives of others, I’m content.
If you want to make a living as a writer, you can do it. But you have to be creative in monetizing your talent, persevere through lean times, and perhaps work harder than ever before.
What are the biggest hurdles to becoming a full-time writer? What are YOUR tips for writers considering it?
Shawn recently wrote Building a Life Out of Words, an E-book detailing his first 18 months making a living as a
writer. He lives in Paradise, Pennsylvania with his wife and four children, blogs almost daily at shawnsmucker.com, spends way too much time on Twitter and Facebook, and continues to build a life out of words. (Oh, and he has no connection with the jelly people, but thanks very much for asking.)
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