Trying to Define “Enough:” How a Freelance Writer Makes a Living

August 2014 Stats:

Total Earnings: $4,823.73 (maybe $4,523.73, since I just found out I need to do additional edits on a $300 piece I thought was complete)

Completed Pieces (all types): 73

Essays/Articles Published: 40

I’m actually writing this on Labor Day, because I have two huge feature articles to complete this week and I am pre-nervous that I won’t have enough time to complete them.

(I should have enough time. I have yet to miss a deadline. Plus I have all the interviews done; it’s just a matter of turning all my research into, you know, cohesive and original thoughts that share a unique and valuable idea with the reader.)

But the more I move up in this career, the more time everything takes. My daily to-do list contains as many action items like “contact [NAME] to schedule interview” and “follow up with [NAME] about high-res photos” as it does actual writing.

I mean, interviewing people and doing research is part of actual writing. And, as I wrote in my Ask A Freelancer advice column this week, feature articles tend to pay much better than other types of writing.

But I’m starting to get twitchy about the amount of work I have to do and the amount of time in which I have to complete it. I’m good at calendaring and timeblocking when I need to work on each piece, but there’s not a lot of breathing room in my schedule.

On the other hand, I’m doing extremely well for cash. Last month I completed over $5,000 in assignments, this month I completed nearly $5,000, and I’m already pretty sure I’ll beat $5,000 in September just by looking at the amount of work I’ve got on the docket.

Which brings me to the next question: how much money (and how much work) is enough?

I feel like I can’t say I’ve earned “enough” until I’ve finally paid off all my debt. Like, every month until I’ve paid it off completely has to be treated as a “earn as much money as possible” month, and once that’s taken care of I can look at my finances in terms of savings and sustainability.

(This month I’m also paying freelancer estimated taxes, and next month I’m paying my 2013 taxes because I took that extension to work with my CPA, which means that in the next two months I will be paying nearly $3,000 in taxes on top of all my other payments.)

I’d actually like to think that earning around $5K a month is “enough.” I’m still watching where every dollar goes, because that’s a habit that doesn’t go away easily, but I’m not worrying about whether there’ll be enough money at the end of the month to pay the rent.

Finding a way to earn around $5K a month and feel like there’s enough days at the end of the month to take a weekend off would be ideal. I suspect that will also come with practice; it’s astonishing that I’ve really only been doing this level of freelance writing for about three months, since the tipping point where people started asking me to write “as Nicole Dieker” (and paying accordingly).

So yeah, this would definitely be “enough,” if I could keep this level of writing and money going.

We’ll see what happens.

Next month: Although it’s officially “topic TBD,” I bet I’ll tell you how September went and how I was able to balance my increased workload.

See the previous entries here.

Nicole Dieker is a freelance writer and ghostwriter, and is the only member of the band Hello, The Future!

Photo: Kate Ter Haar