You want to make a living writing.
Here’s how I do it. It may not be a good way for you to do it. Then again, it might be advice that transforms you from a feast/famine disaster into a consistent earner.
I wake up and work. I work until I earn a predetermined sum. Then, I can decide to work on speculative projects, engage in marketing or watch re-runs of old sitcoms and marvel at how many technical schools buy ad time on afternoon broadcast television.
I thought some of you might find my approach interesting.
So, here it is, my system for making a living as a writer.
Get a Number Part One: How much money do you need to make per month? Do the math and get the number. Don’t forget to consider taxes. Don’t use a budget that’s hopelessly optimistic or stupidly inflated, either. You want THE number.
Get a Number Part Two: How much money do you want to make per month? Most of us would prefer to have an income that exceeds our current needs. Assuming you have some desire for upward mobility or increased stability and security, you feel that way, too. Come up with a goal number. Leave the billionaire daydreams behind for now, though. Think in terms of what would really satisfy you.
Some Simple Math Part One: Add your need number and your goal number together. Now, divide by two. Let’s say you need to clear $5,000 per month and the idea of making $10,000 really resonates with you. $5,000 + $10,000 / 2 = $7,500. We’ll call this your target number. It’s more than you need, but less than you want.
Some Simple Math Part Two: Take your target number and divide it by 22. That’s the approximate number of working days in a month. If we use the hypothetical target number above, that would equate to roughly $340. That means one would need to make $340 every working day to hit the target number. We’ll call this your daily number.
Hit Your Daily Number… Every Day: Wake up in the morning and start working. Keep working until you hit your daily number. Once you hit the number, feel free to do more or to focus you remaining time on marketing efforts or other endeavors that will make it easier to hit that daily number in the future. If you do earn more than your number, resist the urge to apply the difference to the next day’s mark. You want to create a habit of hitting your daily number every day.
Don’t Apply Overages: So, you had a day that exceeded your daily number. Congratulations. Don’t start carrying over that “surplus” and applying it to future days. Every day is new. You wake up zero and you don’t stop until you hit your daily number.
Don’t Count Pre-Payment: You landed a gig that supplied you with $1,000 up front. That’s great. However, it does NOT wipe out your daily number. It doesn’t touch your earnings requirement at all, because you haven’t done the work yet. Think in terms of the actual value of the work you’re doing every day, not in terms of how much you’ve been paid already or how much you may earn at completion. Writers have a nasty tendency to mellow out for a few days after they collect a nice payment. That’s understandable, but it throws things out of whack in the long run. You must train yourself to hit your daily number every day (or as close to it as humanly possible).
Do Correct Deficiencies: You called it a day even though you fell $100 short of your daily number. It’s okay. It’s going to happen. Life is like that. This system forgets overages and starts new every day. That’s because it’s always nice to end a cycle with more money than you planned to earn. The system is less forgiving of deficiencies. If you fall short, distribute the deficiency over the course of the next three working days. In the hypothetical case of being $100 short on a $340 daily number, that would mean you’ll need to generate $377 per day for the next three days. Make the adjustment every time you fall short.
Don’t Count Potential Income: Don’t count chickens that may or may not decide to lay eggs. If you’re spending time on a personal project that you believe COULD be eventually be worth $X, so be it. Feel free to dive right into it AFTER you hit your daily number with activity that WILL put money in the bank.
In Case of Massive Failure. You missed your mark by $100 one day. The next day, you missed it by $80. The following day, you were $100 short again. Then, you completely screwed up and had a day that fell $200 short. Now, the amount you need to earn in order to cover the deficiencies is huge. You’re screwed.
That can happen. If it does, revisit the amount of money you’ll need to make per day to hit your goal number for the month. If the resulting figure is reasonable, proceed using it as your daily objective. If the number isn’t reasonable–and that can happen if you have several bad days–do the same thing with your need number.
If that isn’t reasonable… Well, you’re going to have a short month unless you managed to put together a few overage days (remember, we don’t count any daily surpluses) earlier in the month. If you never exceeded your daily goal and you’re not going to hit your need number, it’s time for some serious reflection about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
You may need to find ways to tighten your budget. You may even need to consider making your living in some other way. If you can’t consistently meet your needs with your earnings, you’re either going to be living on the street or in deeper debt. Neither option is particularly wise or attractive.
Why This System Works
- It forces you to realistically assess the amount of work you’ll need to do.
- It breaks down income generation into manageable, easy-to-understand chunks.
- It prevents you from inadvertently resting on your laurels during good times and it doesn’t let you off the hook when things are tough.
- It encourages you to earn more than what you need to squeak through life (both by establishing a daily target in excess of expenses and by refusing to allow you to get soft just because you had a few days with overages).
- It gives you a legitimate shot at your “dream” number because you don’t use daily surpluses to relieve the daily “pressure” to hit your mark.
- It helps you to train yourself to be a consistent earner and eliminates the dreaded feast and famine cycle.
Challenges to Working the System
Sometimes, you might not have enough work lined up. The solution? Find it fast. Then do it. Some days, you may need to resort to unattractive millwork or other low-paying efforts to hit your mark. You might think that sucks. Maybe it does. Nonetheless, it’s necessary. It insures that you’ll earn what you need to earn and won’t leave you short of money if you spend time on pursuing new opportunities that don’t come to fruition.
You’ll need to figure out how to determine the value of the work you do. In some cases, that’s easy. If an article pays $50, you know that you can put $50 toward your number upon its completion.
In other cases, it’s tough. Bigger projects require research time and other elements. You’ll need to estimate the total amount of time necessary to complete those projects and then estimate the equivalent hourly earnings associated with them. That way, if you put in two hours on a larger project, you’ll know how much it’s “worth” when computing your daily earnings.
It’s hardcore. It’s unforgiving and it’s relentless. I guess that makes it a little like life, huh?
What about Moving Up?
If you’re spending chunks of light days churning out cheap stuff to hit your mark, how are you ever going to escape the rut? How are you going to move up the ladder to better paying jobs?
Basically, you’re going to pursue those better opportunities and you’re going to market yourself after you earn your daily bread. That might make for some long nights in the beginning. However, it’s going to produce a series of days that allow you to pay all of your bills, too.
If you’re moving up the pay ladder, you can expect things to get easier as time passes because those efforts will pay off. Eventually, those tough days of grinding will begin to disappear.
I know some people wills say one is better off doing more self-promotion, gig hunting and marketing on the front-end in order to make it easier to hit the daily number in the future. That can be true. Unfortunately, those efforts don’t always pay off quickly, if at all–and you still need to eat until they do. By setting a daily objective that you WILL meet every day, you eliminate the risk of freelance famine. In time, you’ll even build up enough of a cushion that you’ll be able to cut yourself a little slack now and then, if you’d like.
So, FWJ amigos… Opinions? Insults? Accolades? How do you do it? Discuss.