Ever been frustrated by the daunting task of making a (really good) living as a writer? I have some thoughts on what it takes …
Your friends and family might think you’re nuts for pursuing it, but it’s more possible than ever to make a good living as a writer — but (in my opinion), you need a few things to make it happen.
In this 16-minute episode, I talk about:
Voiceover: Rainmaker FM.
Sonia Simone: Well hello there, it is awesome to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger FM, the content marketing podcast. Copyblogger FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant. My name is Sonia Simone, I’m the Chief Content Officer for Rainmaker Digital and I like to hang out with the folks who the heavy lifting over on the Copyblogger blog. You can always get extra links, extra resources, show notes, and the complete show archive by pointing to Copyblogger.FM in your browser.
Today I wanted to update a piece of content that I wrote a couple of years ago that I really liked and I thought it turned out well, I thought it gave useful advice, and I wanted to just give you an updated version of it. It’s all about making a living as a professional writer. It starts with, if you like to write, if writing is a passion or an interest of yours, you were probably told at one point or maybe multiple points of your life that it’s just not practical to be a professional writer, that writers don’t make a good living. But, that’s not really true, and it’s especially not really true anymore, because the web runs on writing. All of that text that’s published on websites, all of those podcasts, any kind of decent video, all of that relies on good writing to make it work.
Now, we both know that not all writing is well paid, it’s regrettable that a lot of my dear friends who are journalists are having a tough time with more traditional outlets. If writing is your thing, it can be a great way to make a living, if you are willing to kind of embrace a couple of things and adopt a couple of things and learn a few things that may be new to you. I’m going to talk about my take on the seven things that writers need to make a living.
The first one is going to sound kind of squishy and hippie-dippie, not a major surprise to anybody who listens to me regularly, but I actually think it’s really a true thing that you need, which is you have to love the craft, you have to love the language. You have to care about words and you have to care about getting it right. Professional writers care about language. It just goes with the territory.
If you don’t get a little twitchy when you see bad writing, or bad usage, it’s hard to successfully make that transition to being a paid writer, much less a well-paid writer. Now, I will say you need love, but it’s not necessarily fun. If you go to your computer, or your tablet, or what have you, with a certain amount of un-fun feelings, that’s actually quite normal, probably the case for more pro writers I know than not. It’s not fun every day, but you do have to have a love for it that kind of transcends that not-fun moment.
The second thing you need if you’re going to make a living writing is you have to have an attitude of service, because you’re going to be writing for clients and you’re going to be writing for the audiences of those clients. Or alternately you’ll write for your own business, but for the audience that supports that business. You’re serving the audience that’s going to read the content, listen to the content, what have you, and you’re serving the business that pays those bills.
Now, it can be art and I think you should always strive for it to be art, but it’s not really self-expression. It’s selective self-expression at best. So, if that bugs you, then something that helps me to think about, it might help you, is that a great deal of the greatest art in history was made for patrons. When we are making something for someone else, that does not mean it has to be crummy, or cynical, or poorly crafted, or anything of the kind. It can be amazing, but you have to approach it from an attitude of service.
The third thing that you are going to need is a good dose of confidence, of professional confidence. Actually, better than confidence, I like my colleague Jerod Morris’s term, “primility,” which is pride combined with humility. You have to have some confidence, you have to have some pride just in doing the work. In the amount of time that you have spent putting sentences together, putting paragraphs together, thinking about the words, thinking about the music of the language, thinking about structure, and clarity, and all that stuff that writers think about.
You have to be able to have some confidence and pride in that. The flip side of that coin is you will never ever stop learning this craft, you will never completely master it. There is an element of humility there, and it’s a very wise thing to cultivate that humility and realize that there’s always more that you can learn.
The fourth part is where it can get somewhat non-obvious, that is that it takes training. You have the wordsmith part of being a professional writer, that’s the craft of writing, making good sentences, that kind of stuff. You also have, honestly no matter what kind of writing you’re doing, there’s a marketing component. If you want to get paid, you have to be able to persuade. Even if you’re writing fiction, you’re going to have to market that fiction, you’re going to have to find the audience for it.
Well paid writers understand the strategy of writing that makes things happen, whether it’s for fiction writers and of course we primarily talk about commercial writers at Copyblogger, fiction writers write to create strong emotional states and create kind of a transported world that people can go to. Persuasive writers write words that make people want to go do a thing, make them want to buy a product, make them want to sign up for an email list, all of that stuff.
If you want to be a well-paid writer and you are interested in going in the commercial direction, you have to get some decent training on things like copywriting, on persuasive writing, on using writing to sell, on writing with different commercial strategic goals in mind, that kind of thing. Obviously, Copyblogger has a ton of resources for you on that, just starting out with the blog and lots and lots of professional writers read our blog for which we are terribly, terribly grateful. We also have a whole free e-library with books all about content strategy and you can just go grab that for free.
Copyblogger is known for content strategy and writing advice, but did you know that we certify content marketers? If you have a great writing voice and are willing to learn rock solid content strategy, check out the opportunity to be a Copyblogger certified as a content marketer, by going to rainmaker.fm/certification. Don’t delay, because our enrollment period opens in mid September, 2018. That’s rainmaker.fm/certification.
The fifth thing every professional writer needs is discipline, is that ability to get the butt into the chair and get the work done. There’s not really any way around it, right? You can create hacks and habits that will help you get it done, but you can’t be a professional writer unless you can put the time in to put the words together. I am a giant fan of creating small habits and then rolling those up into bigger habits.
I’ve written about that a few times, I’ve podcasted about it a few times. And so, if that’s what it takes and your discipline is not where you’d like it to be, I tend to have all kinds of resources here on the podcast about that, because I have a hard time with it. So I have lots of advice to share with you about how I work with that, but you do have to make the time to put the words together and craft them well.
The sixth thing that you’re going to need, and I touched on it a little bit earlier, if you want to make a good living as a writer, no matter what kind of writing you’re going to do, you have to be willing to be a marketer as well. The word fairies, the writing fairies are not going to fly in through the window and give you a giant grant to just kind of write whatever you feel like. It’s not going to happen, and you know it, and I know it. You might as well kind of take control of your own thing and be willing to learn more about how to get people interested in what you’re writing, and how to do the kind of writing people want to pay for.
On one level, that’s very obvious and very self-evident and yet, so many really capable writers that I know just prefer not to do it. I think that they prefer not to do it, because they feel like it’s not what good writers do, right? Like, good writers don’t do any marketing, good writers don’t write commercial material, good writers are above all of that. I would encourage you to do what you need to do to work through that idea.
There are a lot of ways that you can care about your craft and do really excellent work and do the kind of work people want to pay for, but you have to be willing to do it. It’s actually quite interesting. There’s a kind of a science, it’s a soft science, but there is a science to communicating with an intention to persuade, and communicating with an intention to do all the different strategies of content marketing. The kinds of things you write to get attention when we’re in a very crowded sort of a verbal environment on the web, and then the kinds of things that you write to educate somebody about a product or a service, and the kinds of techniques that you use when it’s time to maybe sell something.
It’s a whole new set of things to learn, and they’re all quite interesting, and they can all be done in ways that are not cheesy, or creepy, or dopey. I would really encourage you to pursue that if you’ve been a little reluctant. Again, we have like a million things for you to look at on Copyblogger and I have a couple of posts that have some ideas for you along those lines. Again, you can find them in the show notes by going to Copyblogger.FM.
Then, the final thing that I really want to encourage you to pursue, if you want to make a living as a writer, if maybe you are a professional writer and you would really like to make a better living as a writer, which I’m all about that, I support that, I think it’s a good goal, is you need to get some support in place. You need to get some other people who understand this peculiar way that you have chosen to make a living and can help you out with the tough times and encourage you when things go well. I think so often we turn to our families, we turn to our significant other, or our parents, or whoever it is, and we kind of expect them to be that support crew for us.
I think that is tricky and often, it just doesn’t work, because you have to recognize that what you have chosen to spend your life doing is peculiar. Unless those people are peculiar in the same way, they’re going to have a very hard time getting it. They’re going to be worried about you, they’re going to tell you that making a living writing is just not really in the realm of the practical. It’s not really fair or reasonable to expect people who are not writers, who don’t make a living as creatives, to support you as you’re trying to figure it out and you’re trying to kind of do new things with it.
Find a community, again, I mean, it can be as simple as just talk with the folks who comment on the Copyblogger blog, and go to their blogs, and make connections there. You can come to the Authority community, there’s a whole thriving community of content marketers there who get what you’re doing and may have some advice for you, as well as encouragement when things are … when you’re having a tough day.
But, get that community of support. I think it’s one of the most important factors in helping you get through the bumps. There’s always bumps in the road. Anytime you do something that most people don’t do, you’re going to encounter problems, and hurdles, and frustrations. And if you have other people who have kind of been down the same path, it’s so, so helpful. It just really makes a world of difference.
So, that’s what I’ve got for you today, my take on the seven things that writers need to make a living and not just to make a living, but also to make a good living. If you have additional thoughts, if you think I’ve missed one, or maybe there’s one of these that’s really been powerful for you, I always love when you come by and leave me a comment, let me know your thoughts. Again, you can just go to Copyblogger.FM and let me know what’s on your mind. Thank you so much for your time and attention and I’ll catch you next week. Take care.