How To Be A Full-Time Writer

Fact is, a lot of writers work day-jobs unrelated to writing. And there is, obviously, nothing wrong with that. I did that for many years myself, and though it can be tricky, it guarantees stability.

For me, though, the dream was always to pack the cubicle farm walls with C4 and blow them sky-high. So, this is about that. This is about fulfilling the dream of working as a full-time writer.

Please to enjoy.

1. Best Get Mad Skills, Son

That might be “skillz,” with a ‘z.’ Sorry for any negligence on my part. The point remains the same regardless of spelling — you cannot survive as a full-time writer without the skills to back it up. You can’t just one day up and decide to make a living as a hard-workin’ trench-crawlin’ penmonkey if you cannot write well. Know your stuff. Get to a comfortable level. If you can’t play baseball, you don’t join the Phillies. You don’t join the CIA if you can’t fire a gun and spy on dudes. Don’t attempt full-time writing without first learning your craft. If you leap into the dark chasm, don’t forget to bring a flashlight.

2. The Slow Detachment

Most successful full-time writers don’t one day roll out of bed, brew a cuppa joe, then tell their day job boss to eat a bucket of whale dicks and then declare themselves the President of Writerland (capital: Inkopolis, population: one deluded penmonkey). Start by building a resume. Write part-time. Earn some cash. Then earn more. Gather clients and publishers while also writing some material for yourself. Build to it.

3. When To Punch The Eject Button

The best sign for when it’s time to take the leap? When your day-job is officially holding you back from earning out. When you’re able to say — based on evidence, not liquor-fueled guesswork — “Man, if I wasn’t working 40 hours at the Big Dan Don’s Nipple Clamps And Taintscratcher Half-Price Market, I’d start making some real coin at this inkslinger gig,” then you know it’s time to start pulling away from the day job.

4. Waggle Your Toes In Those Part-Time Waters

Diving into a cold pool or sliding into a hot jacuzzi, you ease in so as not to shock and/or scorch your privates into crawling back into your body. (Actually, I wouldn’t get into a jacuzzi. You ever check out the water jets on those things? It’s Hepatitis-City. All varieties: A, B, C, X, Z, Prime, v2.0, Exxxtreme Triple Nacho, etc.) Hepatitis aside, it helps to have steady income rolling in, even at reduced levels. Go part time with the day job (or pick up a new part time job). It reduces the financial shock, I assure you.

5. Your Own Personal Version Of The Hunger Games

Actually, these games are more like: “Am I still hungry? Did I eat all my Beefaroni? Did I lick the dust from the Ramen noodle flavor packet? I win! Or I lose! I’m so hungry I’m seeing angels!” Win or lose, expect to occasionally be hungry, both figuratively and literally. But that’s okay (as long as you don’t starve). Be hungry! Hunger to eat, hunger to pay rent, hunger to not die of exposure: all powerful motivators to force you to write. You learn a lot about things like “inspiration” and “writer’s block” when you’ll be kicked out of your apartment if you don’t put fingers to keyboards and start telling stories.

6. Like A Boss

It sounds great — “You’ll be your own boss!” You think, yeah, okay. I’ll get the executive toilet. I’ll get motherfucking foot massages. I’ll get a solid gold pen-holder that looks like a dude golfing and I stick the pen in his ass to make him putt (aka “The Putt Butt Pen Cup,” I just trademarked that shit, so, uhh, dibs). Thing is, being your own boss means you have to be your own hard-ass. Your own voice of dissent, your own chastising shadow. It means you have to be a little bit of a dick to yourself. “No Scotch before noon! No video games, and only a fifteen-minute masturbation break! Write, you little story-goblin, write!”

7. A Goal-Driven Life

Best way to be your own boss: set goals for yourself. Short-term and long-term. Set a word count goal for each day. Set aside portions of your time to hunt for jobs or seek places to submit your work. Plan to have the first draft of a novel written in three months, submitted to agents and editors or self-published by six. Plan for tomorrow, for next week, next year, and the next ten years. You can’t just wing this shit.

8. The Deadline Is The Lifeline

Deadlines you set for yourself or that are set for you by potential clients, agents, publishers, or the random jabbering machine-elves you see after you eat that moldy lunchmeat you keep finding in your fridge, will be your saving grace. Deadlines give you purpose, direction, clarity. They are a goal set externally. If someone doesn’t give you one and you’re, say, working on your own 10-book space opera cycle about Laser Moons and Star Dragons, set your own deadline. Put it on the calendar. Work toward it daily.

9. Tumble Outta Bed And Stumble To The Kitchen

…and pour yourself a cup of whisk… er, ambition! One thing, though: full-time writing isn’t a 9-to-5 job. It isn’t 40 hours a week. Sometimes it’s 30 hours a week. Sometimes it’s 60. Sometimes it means working on weekends. The luxury of being able to tell stories for a living means sacrificing some of that expected schedule. But hey, fuck it, you can nap on the job if you want and nobody’s going to fire you.

10. Hannibal, Mr. T, Face, And That Other Guy — Rorschach?

The full-time writer appears to undertake his mad crusade alone: out there on the bow of an empty ship, slicing stories into clouds with his épée. But you need a team. You might need a CPA to do your taxes, a lawyer to handle intellectual property issues, an agent to sell your rights, and further, self-published authors may need editors and cover artists and e-book designers, oh my. You can customize your team further: beta readers! Whiskey tasters! Ego-strokers! Frothing zealots! Choose your squad wisely. Full-time authoring is a gore-caked, blood-soaked, viscera-entangled battle for your very soul. Or at least for next month’s cable bill.

11. The Cup Should Rattle With Coins

Save up. Repeat: save up. Save your motherfucking money. Pile it in heaps and sit on it like a dragon nesting on his hoard. Money from writing will come, but it comes slow, unsteady, and inconsistent (insert crass joke about ejaculating). You don’t get a weekly check. You go into a full-time writing job with nary two pennies to rub together, you just dicked yourself hard. You’ll be eating your pets in no time.

12. “Is There A Line Item For Internet Porn?”

Also: learn to budget. Because the money you get comes in in fits and starts, you have to know you can pay your bills over the next many moons before the next check comes rolling in. Make sure you can pay your electric bill before you go buying some other fun-time bullshit. Pay ahead if you must. Pragmatism. Stability.

13. More Fun Financial Realities That Will Poke You With A Pointy Stick!

Taxes are going to be a knee to the groin. Some clients won’t pay on time and you have to turn into an asshole to get your money. Contracts will sometimes read like they were written in Aramaic, then translated to German, then mangled by an insane spam-bot. People will try to take advantage of you and your time. Financial institutions will barely consider you a human being. Stay out of debt because debt will shank you in the shower when you least expect it — credit card debt is in particular to be avoided. Credit cards are like little nasty Horcruxes or Sauron-infused Hobbit bait. So tempting to use. And a bad idea all around.

14. Critical Care For Your Lumpy Slugabed Body

Bold statement time: if you cannot afford health care — even bare bones bottom-dollar health care — then you may not be ready to go full-time with the writing gig. You need health care. If something happens to you — pneumonia! lung collapse! sucking chest wound! gored by a coked-up water buffalo! — and you don’t have health care, the debt you will take upon your shoulders will make Earth-wielding Atlas get the pee-shivers. It’s not nice, it’s not fair, but it is what it is: take not your health nor medical care for granted.

15. The Paradigm Shift Of Pay-For-Play

Ahh. The old day-job. When you could, conceivably, rise to the level of your own incompetence and sit around watching funny cat videos all day long and still get paid for it. Ha ha! Sucker. Those days are gone. You’ve now entered into a more pure relationship between effort and compensation, as in, the more effort you put into something, the more work you put out, which means the more money you earn. Fail to work? Fail to create? Then you fail to get paid. On the one hand, this is really cool: your every word matters. You can calculate how much you must write to buy coffee, pay for dinner, rent a van-load of strippers. On the other hand, it means you don’t get vacation days. You don’t get sick days. A day you don’t work is a day that accumulates nothing toward your needs. You’re the hunter, now. You don’t hunt? You don’t eat.

16. The Lie Of The Romantic Writer Life

Get shut of your illusions regarding a full-time writer’s life. Last week I told you about the Lies Writers Tell, but this is one I didn’t put on there — the writer’s life is needlessly romanticized. It’s not Parisian cafes and staring at clouds. It’s not wistful pondering and perfecting the Great Novel that we have within us. It’s pantsless and desperate and you grab lunch when you can and guzzle coffee because it’s there and you’re surrounded by papers and email feels like drowning and are those jizz tissues and why are my fingers blistered and bloody OH YEAH IT’S ALL THIS STORYMAKING. Nary a whiff of romance to it. But it’s still pretty bad-ass to do this for a living. So, stop complaining.

17. “But They Shall Not Take. . . My Wristwatch”

Working on your own there is a propensity to let time fritter away, whether by your own hand or at the behest of others (“Well, you’re at home, can’t you grout the bathroom?”). You will sometimes need to defend your time with sword and shield, with tooth and nail, with mecha-grizzly and cyborg-puma.

18. A Horse Of Every Color

The name of the game is diversity. It is no longer easy to survive as a full-time writer splashing around in only one pool. It’s hard to be Just A Novelist. Hard to be Only A Screenwriter. See this hat rack? WEAR THEM ALL OR STARVE. You’ll write blogs and articles and books and movies and games and secret vampire erotica and recipes and — well, whatever it takes to keep doing what you do. This is part of the “freelance penmonkey” moniker I assume — I’m ink-for-hire, man, I’m a rogue word-merc out on the fringe. And this diversity is what helps me survive.

19. The Slow-But-Steady Burn Of Self-Publishing

Self-publish. Do it. Seriously. Don’t do only it, but do it. Here’s why: first, while there’s no advance, you get a great return on the per book (especially if you also sell direct). Second, it’s steady money. Traditional publishing has a lot of value (and you should do it, too), but it’s freakishly slow sometimes. Write a book, edit, agent, publisher, pub edits, and on the schedule a year down the line. Self-pub starts to pay out slow and steady right from the beginning. Having it as part of your arsenal of penmonkey weapons speaks to that “diversity” thing I was just talking about. (Related: “25 Things About Self-Publishing“)

20. Kickstarter My Heart

If you’ve got fans, you could try Kickstarter. I’ll do a post on Kickstarter eventually but for now it’s worth mentioning that it is not and should not be treated as a Gold Rush or as easy money or as a guarantee. But it is an option for a penmonkey with some fans and an ability to throw together an interesting campaign on a story that might not otherwise exist without audience intervention.

21. Know The Many Faces Of Your Income

Know how royalties work? Or advances? Or per/word work-for-hire? How about rights? Or how Amazon pays out via KDP? You’ve got many options to earn out with writing, and it helps to have those options sliced and diced like an autopsy victim on your authorial desk. You also might earn some coin with speaking engagements, teaching opportunities, consulting gigs, hobo hand-jobs, feats of drunken heroism, etc.

22. Know The Value Of Your Work

That value is not “zero.” That value is not “cheap.” You know what’s cheap? Taco Bell. You know what’s free? Titty twisters. Chalupa diarrhea and nipple pain does not a writer career make. That’s not to say free and cheap can’t be part of your overall strategy. They can. But they are not the sum total of said strategy. Also: don’t write for exposure. There’s a reason getting caught outside and perishing is called “dying from exposure.” I mean, it’s probably a different reason, but shut up, it works metaphorically.

23. Shakespeare Got To Get Paid, Son

Nothing else needs to be said on that one.

24. Didn’t I Mention Wearing Lots Of Hats?

Diversity also means taking on other tasks as a writer: you are no longer just penmonkey; now you’re in marketing and advertising and publishing and editing and all that shit. Gone are the days when an author writes one book a year, sends it off to his publisher, and lets them carry the burden while he rolls around on a bean-bag stuffed fat with cash. Sad and perhaps not fair, but if you were waiting around for life to be fair, you might as well also wish on a star for a leprechaun to come and tickle your perineum with a dodo feather. Assemble many talents. Be like the Swiss Army Knife.

25. ABW

PUT THAT COFFEE DOWN. Coffee is for writers only. Ahem. Sorry. ABW: Always Be Writing. It’s easy to lose that in the full-time writing career — easy to fall prey to emails, to agent-hunting and marketing your books and doing book tours or whatever it is you need to do. The thing to remember is all must be subservient to the content. Be generative. Create. All else is slave to that; your writing is not slave to anything. The most important hat you wear, the most bad-ass motherfucking weapon in your authorial arsenal, is your work. Your stories are your world; they’re what help you do this thing that you love.


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57 comments

  • Excellent article. I especially like the part about stumbling to the kitchen 🙂 And, the ABW is sooo true. Some of us just can’t escape it even if we wanted to… but do we really want to escape it?

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