What it Really Takes to Make a Living Writing

Carol Tice

Confident freelance writerIt’s the question everyone comes to this blog with — how can I make a living writing? What would it take to enable me to pay all my bills just from what I write?

The exact answer is going to be different for every writer, depending on your background, your income goals, and the types of writing you’re willing to do.

But there are a few common traits I believe freelance writers need to be successful. Here they are:

  1. Self-confidence. You have to believe, deep down, that you can do this, or it’s really a non-starter.
  2. A network. You need a circle of friends or fellow writers who know that you’re looking for clients, and who will give feedback and support along the way.
  3. Willingness to do marketing. This is a business. Gigs will not come from the sky. You need to be willing to do consistent marketing to ensure a steady stream of prospective clients contacting you, so that you can pick and choose the best. Otherwise, you end up stuck writing for pennies.
  4. Big goals. Behind every well-heeled freelance writer is a cash cow client or two — the type that send reliable work every month. You have to aim high, beyond the local paper or small business on the corner. Set goals to move up and land better clients to get this sort of security, which is what makes freelance writing into a reliable bill-paying activity.
  5. Money-management skills. Earning well requires turning down some gigs. If you feel broke because you can’t manage your finances and live within your means, you take anything and everything, including gigs at rock-bottom rates from dysfunctional clients.
  6. Flexibility. Top-earning freelancers don’t just write about their favorite topic, or write when they’re in the mood for it. They learn to write well about specialized topics that pay well, and to write on deadline.
  7. Love of challenge. Pro freelance writers are forever taking on more difficult assignments and stretching their skills. to earn more Sticking with the status quo and what’s easy often results in skimpy pay.
  8. A drive to improve. Writers often ask me whether their writing is good enough to make a living. My answer — if you’re willing to listen, learn, and keep improving, you’ll be fine.
  9. Sustainability. You can’t need two weeks to recover every time you finish a big writing project, as one writer once told me they did. You have to eat right, stay fit, get enough sleep and treat freelance writing like the marathon haul it is, or you’ll burn out or get sidelined by injury.
  10. Persistence. Freelance writing isn’t a good way to earn quickly. It takes time to build a high-earning freelance business, and you have to be willing to slog along until you get there.

What do you think are the traits needed to make a living writing? Leave a comment and add your take.

44 Comments

  1. Jeanette

    Thank for sharing this. I have just started and I have a lot to learn:)

  2. Elizabeth Armenta

    I think this is a solid post that is worth sharing! I have some similar opinions about running a successful freelance business if you’d like to read them…

    http://www.writerliz.com/2/post/2013/09/running-a-successful-freelance-writing-business.html

    But to sum it all up, I think the two most important things you need to do to be successful are:

    1. Be a good writer! Because honestly, all of that other stuff won’t help you a lick if you can’t spell or compose a sentence.

    2. Run your writing business as a BUSINESS, which touches on a lot of what you wrote.

    Cheers!

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