Supporting Yourself While Writing the Great American Novel

So, you're writing the great american novel.  Or memoir.  Or screenplay.  You know it, but the world doesn't quite yet.  So somehow you have to support yourself while you finish it.  What to do?

Two schools of thought: Book_books_pages_265007_l

1.  The best way to support yourself while writing is to take a job completely and totally unrelated to words.  Being a barista, for instance.  Or working in a factory.  Or as an attorney.  The idea being that a job unrelated to writing actually gives you the mental space needed to think deep thoughts about your work, which option #2 does not.

2.  The best way to support yourself while writing is to have a writing-related job, such as teaching writing, ghostwriting, freelancing articles, whatever.  This allows you a more flexible schedule in which to insert time to work on your true love, the novel, and also helps you to hone your skills.

I have chosen the second option, because as far as I'm concerned, there's no better life than the life of a writer, even when it sucks.   And accordingly, through the years, I've experimented with various writing-related activities to earn money and learned quite a bit about each of them along the way.  When I've got a bit more time on my hands I'm planning to turn this knowledge into a product of some sort.  Sound good?

In the meantime, here's my list of writing-related activities with which you can support yourself and the pros and cons of each.

1.  Ghostwriting.  One of my favorites–it is lucrative, fun, and fascinating.  What's not to like?  Though many people refer to writing articles for websites as ghostwriting, I stick to the more traditional definition and relate it only to books.  The downside is that it can be very, very time-consuming.

2. Copywriting. Another fun one, if you have a mind for marketing.  Copywriting includes writing marketing materials for businesses, websites, sales letters.  If you're good, you can make tons of money.  But here's the rub: you really have to be good at it, able to prove, for instance, that your sales letter copy got a high response.  To improve your skills, you can take a copywriting course at an online university.

3. Freelance Article Writing.  I used to do a lot of this for traditional print magazines.  It is how my writing career began and for a long time, I was happy with it.  Fun, lots of variety, interesting people to meet.  The bad thing is that most magazines pay poorly.  Very poorly.  And you'll go nuts trying to make enough money writing only articles.

4. Coaching and Mentoring. Helping writers one-on-one, coaching them to keep the flow going, and mentoring them by reading their work is one of my favorite things to do.  This can also be done in a group setting, which is a bit less time consuming.  Pay runs the gamut, depending on your experience, but you can get caught up in having stacks of manuscripts to read at all times.  Trust me on this.

5. Teaching in Academic Setting. This is the old, traditional way that many literary type writers earned their living–teaching at colleges and universities.  Advantages are many, including a flexible schedule and okay pay.  Disadvantages are that you have to struggle for tenure, you have to read a lot of manuscripts and you have to deal with college-age kids.

6. Editing and Critiquing. Another traditional occupation.  You can edit and/or critique manuscripts for aspiring writers on a free-lance basis, or you can take a job at a publishing house.  Pay can be okay, though you're not going to get rich.  You must have an eye for detail and a knowledge not only of story, but grammar.  It is not for everyone–my career as an editor for an online publishing house was very brief because it turns out I hated it.

7. Info Marketing and Creating Small Websites. This is an area I've not tried yet, but plan to create a couple websites on an experimental basis and see what happens.  The idea is that you figure out a specialized niche, put up a website, put ads on it, watch the money roll in.  Then create another one.  You might not make a ton on each site, but combined, they can give you a nice passive income.

What did I miss?  Anything?  How do you support yourself as a writer?

 

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3 Comments on "Supporting Yourself While Writing the Great American Novel"

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Jessica
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08/12/2010 01:00
I make my living as a Technical Writer, which means writing manuals, voiceovers for e-learning and other corporate documents. It pays well and it’s usually not too hard to find an opening for your services. As mentioned though, you do need to have an eye for detail and grammar. Also, the more technical knowledge you have about formatting documents and the inner workings of your word processor the better. Although it has its difficult days, I love it simply because I have ‘Writer’ in my title and I don’t need to have a published work to convince sceptics of my… Read more »
Charlotte Dixon
Guest
08/12/2010 08:58

Jessica, You are fortunate to have the skills for such a great job–I know some technical writers make a pretty good living. Plus, it allows you to live in places like China! Was this something you trained for or did you just start doing it?

Jessica
Guest
08/12/2010 16:56

My father was a Tech Writer when I started working so he took me under his wing and taught me. We also have a huge library of books on the subject, so if I didn’t know something I have a fair idea of where I can find the answer. My family is of the opinion that you can train yourself to do just about anything if you read enough about it.

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