Earning a Living as a Writer

A couple weeks ago I read this article on Salon. In this article the writer talks the need for writers to be honest about what is actually supporting their writing careers. Whether is is being heir to a family fortune or having a spouse whose career supports your writing.

I come from the other side of this equation. I am not an heiress to any family fortune. Alas and alack my mom’s calling isn’t finance and business like the rest of her family. Her calling is nursing and while she’s done well and has been a responsible investor she certainly isn’t at the same financial level as her brothers. She married for love but it didn’t work out. My dad has gone through a series of career choices- computer programer, day trader, poker player- but he’s not exactly saving money for his elder years or to leave his children. His philosophy on money seems to be “You can’t take it with you.”

I have been writing for over 10 years. After several classes, conferences, and writing classes I started really pursuing the whole writing for publication thing in 2008.

I have to confess that as a single person working in the arts my biggest obstacle in writing is often money. I work in theater. Sometimes there is plenty of work, so much work that I feel like I need to take on as much work as I can, because other times there is less work. In addition to my full time job I regularly take on freelance wardrobe gigs doing laundry for other theaters. Or I babysit. Lately I’ve been lifeguarding and teaching swimming lessons. I’m trying to build a copywriting/editing business in hopes of earning some of my income by putting words on paper.

While I think the article makes some good points about money I also think that sometimes when you are writing it is one of those situations where the grass looks greener in someone else’s yard. I used to envy my friends who were able to be stay at home parents. I dreamed of meeting someone who had the kind of career and benefits that could sustain me and my writing dreams. But I realized in some ways maybe they also envied me. My fun job, the copious amounts of free time I must have since I don’t have kids.

Sometimes concerns over money cause me to waste perfectly good writing time. I enjoy the structure of going to work. Even though I dream of being independently wealthy I’m certain that if I were to win the Powerball tomorrow and be able to sit and write without needing to worry about paying the bills I would probably not get any more writing done than I do trying to fit writing into my life with two jobs.

What do you think? Is money a huge factor in your writing life? Do you wish it was a more talked about thing? Have you found creative ways to support your writing career?


Freelance Fridays- When to say No

It’s been a while since I posted about my journey into freelance writing but this week I had a relevant experience so I thought I’d share.

After my vacation in January I spent the rest of my time off trying to figure out some ways to earn a little extra money writing. I signed up for a couple content writing sites for when other projects are slow to come in.

A couple weeks ago I started getting a few more gigs through my fiverr profile. There is the potential for a larger custom order but it is being done in small pieces for now so that is very exciting.

I had a couple buyers contact me about work but then nothing came of that. Still, I started to feel like a real live freelancer. Plus I was making some extra money, from writing.

But then I had a buyer contact me about the possibility of paying for a book review. This one stopped me. I’m an aspiring writer so connecting with other authors and supporting other authors is really important to me. I went back and forth on whether or not to do the work. Part of me thought, well it is only $5, it’s not THAT big a deal. Part of me thought about all the authors I follow who offer their readers some grand prize in exchange for leaving a review on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes. Is the chance to win a prize really all that different than getting paid?

I looked at the book, I looked at the reviews, I downloaded a sample and I read through that and I ultimately I decided that yes, getting paid, even a small amount to leave a review is different from leaving a review and hoping to win a prize. The few times I’ve left reviews for books I’ve read because the authors are hosting a prize giveaway it has always been because I liked the book. As I write a review it is because I like that author and their work and I think others should read that work.

I don’t just go reviewing things willy nilly. I follow a lot of writers through blogs, twitter, and Facebook and I see them talk about reading negative reviews on sites and how much it affects them. These are writers who are doing well. Writers with traditionally published books who probably don’t have to worry too much if one reviewer leaves a bad review. I do love recommending books I really like.

As I sat there debating whether I should read this book and leave a review for $5 I just couldn’t do it. As a pre-published author I don’t want to get into doing anything that might look bad for my future career. Is one paid for review going to raise any read flags? Probably not but this is the internet. Things live forever on the internet. My name would forever be attached to this review. Plus I feel like it is a bit of a slippery slope. Sure maybe right now it was just one review but I worried that it could become a more regular thing.

As I get started in the freelance copywriting world I’m learning that you don’t always get to write about something you are passionate about or something you believe in. But it is sort of part of the job to put some of that aside and write. As a person who can’t eat gluten I can write about donuts, pizza, cupcakes, and cakes all day long. I have no problem writing to sell or promote a brand. It is part of the job when you are making your living with words.

But when it comes to leaving paid for reviews I said no. That wasn’t something I could do. It didn’t feel right. It was giving a false boost to something I didn’t really believe in and it could hurt my business and my own publishing ambitions.

I told the perspective client that I was unable to do the work because I felt it violated terms of service for both the site it the review would be placed on and the site I was working through. I cited my own writerly ambitions as a reason as well.

Have you said no to freelance work because it didn’t feel like the right thing to do?