10 Tips For Writers Who Are Trying To Make A Living (And Save A Little Cash, Too)
Here's the good news: being a writer is free! Here's the bad news: food, rent, clothes, electricity, tuition, laptops, and medicine are not free (in America, at least). There's a reason that we have that classic "starving artist" stereotype. Writing is not exactly a "get rich quick" kind of career path. But even if you don't have any money or any wealthy relatives on the brink of death, you can still keep your writing alive. You just have to be smart about it. Here are a few tips for writers on a budget, because it's hard to write the next Great American Novel when you're down to your last ramen packet.
Let's get one thing out of the way first: you can be a "real" writer and have a day job. You can be a soulful artist and still make savvy financial decisions. Heck, you can be a poet and start a retirement fund. There's a weird idea out there that artsy types are destined to forever be languishing in outer-borough hovels, burning their manuscripts for warmth. But being broke does not make you a more legit artist (trust me), and sticking to a budget does not make you a square. Embrace your writer identity, and embrace your tightfisted, coupon clipping identity, because it'll take both to survive:
1. Get paid to write
Yeah, I know—easier said than done. If you already have a 9-5 job that you don't hate, and you're OK with coming home and writing your screenplay from 6-midnight every night, then you don't necessarily have to join the seedy underworld of freelance writers. But if you're trying to make money from your writing right now, check out online freelance writing boards. Look up how to pitch to your favorite publications (a lot of online magazines and blogs have pitching info in their "contact" or "about" sections). Talk to friends who freelance, cobble together a portfolio of writing samples, and start getting your work out there. Even if you prefer writing fantasy epics to listicles, you'll learn a lot from the experience of writing consistently for a deadline.
2. Find free public spaces to write
Sitting alone in your house every day from dawn until dusk, staring at a blinking cursor on your computer screen isn't for everyone. Sometimes you need to get out of the house to write—but you don't have the money for a co-working space or an upscale cafe. Check out public parks (many of them have free wi-fi), the public library, hotel lobbies, food courts, public plazas in office buildings, free museum lobbies, and even laidback bars and coffee shops that will let you sit and write without buying a coffee every five minutes.
3. Look into grants and contests
Have a specific project in mind? Write a project proposal and apply for a grant. Have a few short stories hanging around? Submit them to a contest. There are a lot of non-freelance opportunities to earn cash with your writing, all it takes is a little online research and the occasional personal statement. Grants and contests have the added benefit of looking pretty sweet on your writing resume, too.
4. Use the public library
The library, man. It's amazing. Beyond sitting and writing in the library, you can get free books from the library. You can download the Overdrive app for free e-books and audiobooks from the library on your phone. You can take free classes at the library, use the computers or wi-fi to write, reserve rooms for workshop meetings, access news archives for research, rent movies, and rent technology (depending on your local branch).
5. Be smart about the internet
The internet giveth and it taketh away. The internet is an invaluable tool for the writer on a budget: you can find freelance work, write on Google docs, do research, listen to music, and so forth. But being on a budget usually means that you don't have unlimited time to spare. Consider a free "self control" or Cold Turkey app if you find yourself flipping through your ex's cousin's high school Facebook photos instead of actually writing (your time is valuable!).
6. Start an informal writer’s workshop
Writing is a lonely profession. Whether you're a full time freelance writing hermit, or an after-work writer struggling to stay on track, having a writing workshop group can be a huge help. Gather together any writer friends you have, ask them to invite their writer friends, and get together once every week or two to share your work and offer constructive feedback. It's a lot of fun, and so much cheaper than grad school.
7. Take care of yourself
Working multiple jobs and hustling to make ends meet can be taxing on your mental and emotional health. Remember to take breaks, get enough sleep, go outside sometimes during daylight hours, and add the occasional vegetable to your nightly bowl of instant ramen. Find cheap ways to relax, like a hot bath, a night in with friends, or re-reading a favorite book. It's shocking, I know, but an unhappy and exhausted brain will not produce better writing.
8. Manage your time
I'm not saying that "time is money" exactly, but... time is not not money. If you're balancing writing with a day job (or five), make sure to schedule your writing time and stick to it. Tell your friends that you can't go out tonight because you have to write. Set timers and alarms if you have to, just find a way to get your butt in that desk chair on a regular basis.
9. Figure out your priorities
Do you mainly want to write for yourself? If so, don't quit your day job. Do you want writing to be your primary career? Apply for paid writing positions, or find a flexible position that leaves you with time to work on your memoirs. Are you not quite sure yet? Well... sit down and do some math. Figure out how much time you can afford to devote to writing on a daily basis, and decide if it's worth the trade off. Make an honest-to-god spreadsheet with your monthly expenses and income. It's perfectly possible to survive and also write, but you have to know that you're willing to make the sacrifices.
10. Stay motivated
Don't lose hope! It can be frustrating to face all that rejection, and all those awkward side gigs, and all that 99 cent pasta. But the only way out is through, so keep going, even when you're feeling broke and unmotivated. No one else is going to show up and tell you to write so... you have to be that person for yourself. Also, order normal coffee with milk and a shot of flavor, it tastes the same as a flavored latte and it costs half as much.