Can You Make a Living as a Writer?

Earlier today, I came across an article in Forbes by MeiMei Fox that highlighted opinions on writing from four professionals in the industry. The question at hand: Can you make a living as a writer? And I have to be blunt. The answers these professionals gave shouldn’t discourage anyone from the calling of writing, but they should make every author question what the industry has become.

make a living writing

Are you willing to make a living by writing over and over and over again?

The first point of the article was that to make a living as a writer requires a person to be prolific. How prolific? One book every 12 – 18 months. I’ve personally cranked out a novel in four months. But I cannot imagine going through the entire sequence of planning, drafting, revising, editing, and then completing all of the work related to marketing in that short of a sequence.

It’s doable — don’t get me wrong. But I know from experience that life happens. The dots don’t necessary to create a plot or pull research together cohesively don’t always connect on schedule, either. They connect when the brain is ready to create the links. Yes, there are some people like Danielle Steele who are masters at that kind of pace. But I can’t help but feel like that kind of timeframe puts pressure on a writers that can backfire. Stress is known to hinder creativity.

Are you willing to do work that isn’t writing?

The second point, stressed by two of the four professionals interviewed, was that making a living as a writer really comes from all your side gigs, such as the consulting gig you get because someone notices your book. To be clear, I’m not opposed to writing opening doors. It’s fine to get some extra cash if your writing brings opportunities that you enjoy!

But if you are not earning income from the writing alone, what value does the writing itself have? Doesn’t telling writers that they have to depend on the peripheral work for their money devalue the words they’ve put so much effort into getting on the page? Why can’t people just pay writers to write? Why do they have to do podcasts, lecture, or any of the rest if they don’t want to?

I’ve posted content lamenting this conundrum before. But the gist is that I don’t think you should have to wear a hundred other hats to use the gift or skill God has given to you. After all, we don’t ask jackhammer operators or accountants to do a bunch of side activities as part of their job, do we? So, why is that allowable in the writing industry if it’s not allowable in others? Because we devalue writing culturally, that’s why.

Are you willing to conform and spend?

The last professional in the article offered several tips for writers, such as creating a catalog of multiple books (see the first point above), doing marketing (including paid advertising), and offering material (for free, no less) in exchange for email addresses from readers. Another tip included writing to market and instructions not to try to be unique. In other words, fudge breaking out of the box — just write what publishers know sells.

It is, but shouldn’t be

Is this the industry now? Telling writers to pay, expect non-writing work as a general condition of the job, give away work, and abandon differentiators?

It might be the industry. But it’s not what the industry is supposed to be. And it’s not what any writer should tolerate.