I’ve seen a little burst, lately, of writers around here complaining about other writers talking about income.
I get it. It can get annoying. Maybe it can be demoralizing.
But here’s the thing. If some writers aren’t transparent about what they’re earning, how are new or aspiring writers supposed to know what to aim for or expect?
I read a particular post today where the author talked about how writers aren’t supposed to write for the money. We aren’t supposed to think about the reward.
I’m just going to, as politely as I can manage, call bullshit on that one.
Writing is a profession. It’s a career. At the very least, it’s a job.
I have a master’s degree in writing, for God’s sake. I am definitely allowed to think about being paid for my work. I have a multi-generational family of seven depending on my ability to earn a living at my chosen profession.
No one would expect me to not think about how much money I was earning if I was a classroom teacher or an accountant or a doctor, lawyer, or grocery bagger.
As my friend Meg Stewart likes to point out, no one would say that a ‘real’ plumber only cares about the joy of pulling stinking, rotting hair clogs out of bathroom drains.
So, in case you need someone to give you permission, here it is: you’re allowed to think about how much money you might earn as a writer.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s make one thing clear.
Making a living as a writer is hard. It’s not particularly straight forward, even if you’ve been at it a long time. It’s rarely very stable.
It’s way less stable than, say, if you were to choose teaching, accounting, being a doctor, lawyer, grocery bagger, plumber, or pretty much anything else where someone gives you a regular paycheck as a career.
One month, you might make more money than you’ve ever earned in thirty days in your whole life. And the next month, you might be pretty grateful that happened, because it all drys up again.
There are a few things you can do for yourself, if you want to be a full-time working writing, that will make this whole thing a little easier to stomach.
Keeping your head above water takes some effort. And, frankly, it takes some community. At least, it does for me. It’s not only unhelpful to have successful (mega-successful) writers posting about how writers shouldn’t even be thinking about money, it’s harmful.
We’re in this together. At least, you and I are. I’ll do my best to be transparent and teach you what I’ve learned. Hopefully, you’ll do the same for the writers who come up behind you.
And as we do that — all of us will be able to keep our heads above water. Here are three things that I think are really essential for that task.
You Need Income Streams
I can’t stress this enough.
Here’s some transparency for you. I earned $10,000 writing on Medium in November. I felt like I had arrived. After decades of hard work, finally, things were coming together for me. Honest to God, I was on Cloud 9.
This was the bomb. I was able to get out of debt in one fell swoop.
I made $8,000 in December. But that’s okay. It was the holidays. I did some traveling and wrote a tiny bit less.
I earned $5000 in January. Well. Maybe January is always slower. Lots of people start writing in January, the writer pot gets spread around more widely.
I’ll barely earn $3500 in February. Alright. So something’s happening. Some algorithm change or whatever. Who knows? I don’t have any control over it and I’m really big on not hyperfocusing on the things I can’t change.
I’ve worked hard to build my own audience and since I’ve been able to earn about $3000 to $4000 a month writing on Medium for more than a year, I’m confident that this is where I’ll level out at.
I’m pretty confident, actually, that this is the amount of money that I can make on Medium with the audience that I’ve worked really hard to build and the amount of work I’m able to put into it (writing mostly every day.)
This is what it looks like to build an audience and write for them on Medium, without Medium pushing my work out extra or doing anything beyond providing a pretty awesome platform and curating some of my stories the same way they curate some of anyone else’s.
But maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe in March I’ll earn less and in April even less, until I’m writing for free. It could happen. And if it does, I’ll be okay.
Because I have several income streams. Does a reduction in my Medium income hurt? Well, yeah. Obviously, I would have loved to stay at $10,000 a month. I’m only human. But I earned about $4000 in October, and September, and August, and so on. So I’ll just think of those higher months as a bonus.
And in the meantime, I teach online writing workshops, work with coaching clients, and write novels — all of which bring in income.
More importantly, any of those could be expanded, if Medium really did fall completely off a cliff and I needed to replace that baseline $3000 to $4000 a month that I’ve depended on for more than a year.
You Need to Widen Your Idea About What it Means to be a Writer
That brings me to this second point.
When you think about how you can build income streams, I highly encourage you to broaden your thinking on what it means to be a writer.
Think about writing as your business. You own this entity — You Writing, Inc. And whatever work you do, you’re doing it as an emissary of your business. (That goes, by the way, with any kind of regular job you might need to take for a while. Maybe Starbucks hires You Writing, Inc. to provide barista services five afternoons a week or whatever. That’s okay.)
When you wrap your head about that, everything you do serves your writing.
I teach. I coach. I blog. All of that, every single bit of it, counts as me being a working writer. If I only considered writing novels as real writing, then I’d be miserable. I don’t want to be miserable.
If You Writing, Inc. needs to take on some shifts at Starbucks or somewhere else for a while, to bring in some income, that’s okay. It’s all in the mindset. Really. Give it a try.
You Need to Manage Your Expectations
It can take a significant amount of time to get to where you’re earning a living as a writer.
It took me twenty years. Maybe you’ll get there faster than I did. If you’re older than twenty, you might. You’ll have some life experience that will help.
You might be able to quit all that shift work (or whatever your day job is) for a while and then maybe you’ll have to go back to it when whatever source of income gave you that option dries up.
I’ve done that half a dozen times.
You Writing, Inc. isn’t a flash in the pan. It’s not an overnight success. It’s not something that will go away, unless you let it.
If one source of writing income peter’s out, it’s up to you, the CEO of your company, to go out and drum up some more work. And maybe for a while that work will be farming yourself out as a contract worker to someone who’s going to give you a paycheck and a 401K and health insurance (or some combination thereof) for a while.
Guess what. Those sources of income aren’t 100 percent stable these days, either. Income streams are always a good idea.
And no matter what anyone else has to say about it, I’ll always be around to be transparent about what it looks like to be a full-time working writer. And that means sharing what I earn sometimes. Because it’s important to me that other writers figure this out.
It’s important to me that you figure this out.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.