The Full-Time Writer

This is one of the questions most frequently asked of me.

How do you become a full-time writer?

I am, and have been, a full-time writer (on and off) for the last ten years. The most recent “off” period, many moons ago, was simply because I was trying to get a mortgage on a first home, and the bank was like, “OH YOU’RE A FREELANCE WRITER SURE, SURE, WE KNOW WHAT THAT IS, EXCEPT THERE’S NO BUTTON ON MY COMPUTER THAT SAYS ‘GIVE FREELANCER A MORTGAGE NO MATTER HOW MUCH HE EARNS,’ OH WELL, SO SORRY, GOOD LUCK.” *toilet flushing sound*

This past year, 2013, was my most financially successful year yet.

You want to know how you become me.

In the loosey-goosey full-time sense, of course. To actually become me means cutting clippings of my beard, dipping them in a saucer of my heartsblood, reciting a thousand words of vulgarity that haven’t been heard by human ears since Caligula was prancing about, then eating the bloody beard puffs. With milk. Whole milk, not two percent, c’mon.

And it’s gotta be velociraptor milk.


Point is, full-time writer status: you want it.

But, I want you to slow down, hoss. Ease off the stick, chief.

You want to jump off the ledge and land in the pool 20 floors below. But it doesn’t work like that. I mean, it can — you might get lucky, you might survive the jump. Or, you might crash into some portly lad bobbing about on an inflatable Spongebob raft and kill the both of you.

Do not quit your day job.

I know. Your butthole just clenched hard enough to snap a mop handle. You hate your day job. The fact you call it a “day job” is a sign that you basically despise it as a grim, necessary evil.

But I’ll repeat:

Do not quit your day job.

Not yet.

If you’re going to become a full-time writer Cylon, you need a plan.

Becoming a writer — or I assume any flavor of artist — in a full-time manner is rarely the same thing as hopping to a new job, unless this art-flavored job is working for a company in the same capacity that, say, an accountant or a sex gnome would. (Hey, whatever, writers tend to have a lot of weird jobs, and I was a sex gnome at Merck Sharp & Dohme from the years 2002 and 2005. Trust me, you want some of that high-octane ‘sex gnome money.’) More likely, the job you envision is you sitting around your Art Space, sans pants, possibly sans underpants, creating art in the morning and rolling around in art money in the afternoon.

However, I’ll paint for you a more realistic picture: you, in a destitute hovel, hallucinating because you ate another bowl of ramen noodles with a spoiled flavor packet, and now you’re conversing with the water stains on the wall — and no, you’re not wearing pants, but it’s because the rats ate your last pair and you literally cannot afford any more.

That may sound like I’m echoing the old cry that artists starve and they don’t make any money oh that way lies dragons and ramen but that’s not what I’m saying. Artists starve most often because they didn’t have a goddamn plan in mind when they decided to foolishly disentangle from their old life in order to enter this new one.

They weren’t ready.

Think of yourself like a pugilist. A heavyweight boxer.

You don’t, on day one, step into the ring with Ivan Drago. You train, motherfucker. You punch sides of beef. You run through snow and lava. You let school-children pummel you with cricket bats. You bulk up. You gain new sassy skills. This is five-finger-death-punch time.

You’re probably not yet ready to be a full-time writer.

Here’s what you need to get ready.

First, and this is the most obvious one and yes I will return to this at the end of the post to repeat it as a call to action — but by the sassy miracles of Sweet Saint Fuck, you have to be writing. You. Have. To. Be. Writing. I don’t mean you have to plan to be writing, I don’t mean you have a story envisioned that you fully intend to write. No, I mean: you have to be writing now. Presently. In the midst of a mire of words. And this can’t be fucking new for you, either. You have to have been writing for — well, shit, it’s not like there’s an exact equation, so let’s go with the ambiguously uncertain TEMPORAL SHITLOAD OF TIME. Malcolm Gladwell said something-something 10,000 hours to get practiced at something, and while that number remains wholly arbitrary the truth is seeded deep just the same:

To be a writer, you have to write. To be a good writer, you have to write a whole goddamn lot.

So, that’s your first empty checkbox. Are you writing? Have you been for a long time?

Next up: are you capable of sustaining this writing? Do you have writing discipline? Can you plunk down in front of a computer and eject 2,000 words from your tap-dancing fingertips in a day? Despite a dog scratching at your door? No matter the construction work outside? Regardless of the toddler who’s crawling through your heating vents this very second in order to ambush you in your workspace — oh, and he’s got sticky jam hands and a full diaper and for some reason he’s got a bunch of magnets and he’s totally going to try to erase all your hard drives? Are you prepared?

Do you have one book in you, or a hundred?

Can you write scripts? Comics? Games? Articles?

If you’re going to Art for Money, you need to be willing and able to barf up all manner of words for all manner of money. (Excuse me, I’m now going to change my business cards to read ‘Professional Word-Barfer.’ Hold on. There we go.) If you’re trying to live off novels (*cue laugh track*), you’ll still from time to time probably need to take on other work. That might mean writing dialogue for some clunky online game. It might mean writing an article about the history of artificial bison insemination. It might mean I give you twenty bucks for you to write down really nice things about me and maybe also your social security number and your credit card information.

And speaking of money — do you have some? Like, right now? No, I don’t want any (I totally want some) — my point is that writing money is not steady money. It does not flow to you weekly. You are not afforded the glory of a paycheck. It is erratic, random, sometimes appearing as if out of the mist. If you are not presently holding actual money in an actual bank account, you’ll probably be starving by your third month. And again, not in the romantic “starving artist” way but in the “holy shit starving isn’t romantic this sucks” way.

All the better if the money you have in your account is money you have already earned from writing. Because if you don’t have deals in place, if you don’t have evidence of future effort yielding future greenbacks, once again: you might be fucked. I worked my way to a full-time writing career with freelance wordsmithy — and when I eventually transitioned to writing novels, that transitional year was a tough one financially. Turbulence abounded.

Do you have health care? You’re gonna need that. This is less a problem nowadays, where a year ago I would’ve said: “You need to have a spouse with healthcare.” Thanks to the ACA (aka “OBAMACARE” aka “THE SWEET SOCIALIST KENYAN TERRORIST TEAT”), my family has healthcare that actually covers things and does not cost us in gallons of blood and pain. (Sidenote, if you think this is a good time to rail against the ACA, do not bother. Try that and I promise most sincerely to pepper spray you in the fucking mouth.)

Hell, let’s talk about your spouse. Do you have one? Does said spouse have a job? Hope so. That’s gonna be mighty useful in the coming moons. A steady paycheck, even a small one, can make the unpredictability and uncertainty of Full-Time Arting a far softer sting.

Are you planning on making money off novels? Mm-hmm. This is doable, despite what you’ll hear from the peanut gallery, but it’s not precisely easy, either. Consider: your average advance on a novel might be five, ten grand. Can you live off of that in a year? Nope. That is not full-time money. Okay, maybe you sell a film option, and are able to push some foreign rights deals. Let’s say that’s another… oh, let’s say thirty grand, to be optimistic. Can you live off of $40k a year? If you have a spouse bringing in cash, hey, that’s bad-ass. If you’ve got a family and you’re the only bread winner, then you’re below what most families make. And, let’s remember that those film and foreign rights are value-adds — not guarantees.

Hell, let’s say you just got a six-figure deal. Excitement! Except, that probably means three books. And it probably means ~$33k per book. Which, again, is kind of amazing. But, the reality check is, they might want one of those books a year, and is an annual $33k really the kind of money you can live off of? (If you live in a big city like New York or Los Angeles, that thirty-three thousand is what you’ll spend on groceries, I think. And therein lies another little secret pro-writer tip — if you’re writing full-time, go live in a place where your dollar flies very far.)

Maybe you’re self-publishing. What happens when your book — capably released, well-edited, nicely-reviewed — lands with a turd-splash? What happens when it generates a couple hundred bucks instead of a couple thousand?

Can you write more? Bigger? Faster?

Can you diversify your writing? Can you write in multiple genres? Across multiple formats?

Can you speak to varying age ranges?

Are you willing to say yes more than you say no?

Do you know what income you’ll have coming in for 2015? 2016? Two years down the line? Three?

These are all the checkboxes, penmonkey. These are the signs. You’re able to write a lot. You’ve got deals already cooking. You’re capable of flexibility and you’ve got opportunities made plain. You know what happens when one opportunity suddenly dries up. It’s still not safe. Being a full-time Artmachine is never the safe choice — but hell, you want safe, go work at a fucking bank. (Don’t worry, we’ll always take care of the banks. Poor people? Fuck them. Yay banks!) But if you want to love what you do, go be a full-time creator. I’m just saying, do so as wisely and as pragmatically as you can manage. Protect yourself, protect your loved ones. Don’t just quit your day job. Prepare a slow detachment. Build a parachute. Look for the signs.

And, I told you I’d come back to it:

Write. Write a lot. Write swiftly. Write with your own heart in mind but also the heart of an audience. Find that magic liminal space between what people want to read and what you want to write because that’s where you’ll generate the greatest income. Get better. Write more. Take more shots at the goal. Only the rarest of penmonkeys can build a full-time career off one book or one series. This is chess game time — you have to be writing now and thinking about what you’ll be writing three years down the road.

Good luck, word-birds. Fly free. But fly smart.

(And in the meantime, if you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum and you’re saying, “But I have barely any time to write as it is! Job! Family! Sleep! AHHHH.” Then may I once more point you to my Zero-Fuckery 350-Words-A-Day Writing Plan?)


* * *

The Kick-Ass Writer: Out Now

The journey to become a successful writer is long, fraught with peril, and filled with difficult questions: How do I write dialogue? How do I build suspense? What should I know about query letters? How do I start? What the hell do I do?

The best way to answer these questions is to ditch your uncertainty and transform yourself into a Kick-Ass Writer. This new book from award-winning author Chuck Wendig combines the best of his eye-opening writing instruction — previously available in e-book form only — with all-new insights into writing and publishing. It’s an explosive broadside of gritty advice that will destroy your fears, clear the path, and help you find your voice, your story, and your audience.




Writer’s Digest


  • Actually all I want to know is how to file my fucking taxes when I’m writing with a day job. So far I’ve been able to avoid registering with the Writey Taxy Police because my income has been at hobby levels, but if/when I get serious about writing for cash on the side, what do I do?

    Most writing books that deign to discuss the business bits go into tons of detail that’s great if writing is your only job, but they don’t discuss what you do if you have a day job you’d like to keep. Are the taxes filed separately or do they mix into some hideous inky gumbo? Do I have to register as a business? Do I really have to file every quarter? I’m not actually making money, so really?

    Anywho. Appreciate the post! Not too many writers writing about writing (urp) remember to mention that you need to not starve to write.

  • Some “story problems” you never saw in math class, dear ‘writers’……
    “Sex gnome” = “Paralegal”
    Writers + Money = Laughter
    Wendig + Keyboard = Magic

  • Things work differently in the UK, and here’s how it went down for me:

    Until May last year, I was unemployed and claiming what’s known as Jobseeker’s Allowance (or “Scrounging Off the Hard Working People of Britain” if you’re the Daily Mail). I was on what’s laughingly called a work placement scheme. In theory, said scheme is meant to help you get work. In practise, you travel an hour to the place and use their computers to do the very same searches you do at home.

    Last year, they did a self-employment course. The guy running it found out I was an author and freaked out about how I was FALSELY CLAIMING AND WAS GONNA GO TO JAIL. This was bollocks. When, on the very rare occasions I actually earned enough royalties to get paid, I declared said income. I was not “cheating the system”.

    However, there were bonuses in opting to going self-employed, mostly not traveling an hour each week to be treated like shit. Like not having to go into the Job Centre every fortnight (a harrowingly soul-destroying experience). And because I was earning royalties, I didn’t lose other benefits (housing and council tax for those that care).

    So I took the plunge. I didn’t have any savings. I was (and still am) getting paltry royalties quarterly. I am living on the breadline. On the other hand, every hour is mine and mine alone. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone working full-time, but if you’re unemployed… weigh the pros and cons, make sure you know what you can claim for, and balance your books.

    • I feel for you, Misa. I remember days like that well, and you’re right – you get treated like a dumb farm animal. I’m a ‘stay-at-home mum’ now (I believe that’s what the Daily Mail call us women who refuse to get a job just so they can use the entirety of their earnings plus any savings to pay childminders while they do said job…) so we rely as a family on my husband’s wage for a steady income. If I get to a stage with my writing where I can make enough money for the odd treat or holiday, that would make me very happy. Beyond that… well, I haven’t let myself even think about that yet.

      I admire your grit and determination. The Daily Mail-ers have no idea just how tough it is being unemployed and ‘written off’ by the employment sector. Good on you for sticking with what you love and working out the best way to do that. I wish you every success with it – and that you soon get to a stage where those royalties are big enough to offer you a great life.

      Keep flying the flag!

    • Hear, hear! I used to be a jobbing actor/playwright/etc,etc and that whole signing on shit when you are between jobs is utterly soul destroying and deeply depressing especially when you end up getting turned down for the jobs they send you for because of being overqualified!

      I’m now a SAHM ruining the economy because of my selfish refusal to get a job rather than putting my children first, honestly you just can’t win in this country at the moment, but yes I would go self employed every time rather than put myself through the benefits system again. It just isn’t worth it.

  • “Do not quit your day job.” I haven’t even started my day job, but I have a feeling writing is going to become that much harder when I do. Oh, well. I guess I’ll deal with it for a few years, at the least. Until I do make enough from writing to make it worth the full-time effort. That, or I magically find a spouse in the near future. Personally, I think making loads of money from writing is actually the more likely scenario… 😛

    • April 22, 2014 at 10:41 AM // Reply

      I can say from experience that writing absolutely becomes harder when you have a day job, because the job eats up so much of your time (/energy/soul). Until I quit my last job (the only time I’ve ever done so as a career choice to work from home), I’d been in an office for something like 18 years straight, and while not physically demanding work, it was mentally exhausting, so by the time I came home I was just ready to crash for the evening… eat some dinner, watch something on TV and zone out, and go to bed.

      But, of course, if you want to work on your writing, you can’t do that. Gotta use what time you have at home to write, write, write, which means giving up something (likely TV and possibly some sleep, though perhaps merely eating comfortably while you type as you consume sustenance). One serious suggestion: Get to bed a bit earlier than you may be inclined to, get up earlier than you need to for your day job prep, and write first thing. I hate getting up earlier than I absolutely must, but by doing so and writing before my “job day” really started, I always started off feeling like I’d accomplished something I really wanted to do before having to deal with the job I didn’t really want to do. It also put a real priority on what I wanted to do rather than feeling drained but obliged to do it after the day at work.

      Hope it goes well for you.

      • I found that formula to be very effective – once the cobwebs cleared the morning writing was not just productive, but actually of reasonable quality (my editor’s words at the time, not mine). So much easier to go to work already feeling accomplished for the day, and letting the “day job” snuff out that little flicker of light from your soul. You just renew it the next day.

  • I can’t echo this advice enough. And then say still don’t go full-time until you’re actually losing money by staying at your day job. And even then the transition is rough. I had a nice editing side business going for a while and was making great money and it got to the point where the time was right for me to go full-time. We had money in the bank, a spouse’s regular check, that same spouse’s family healthcare, and I had a whole chunk of future work lined up. My first month full-time I made more money than I ever have in my life. Then I didn’t make any money for two months. No money at all. I had no idea how slow payments were until they were my only source of income. And that kind of stuff can really suck the joy out of what you used to love doing. And then the taxes. Oh lord, the taxes.

    I recommend my current life where you sign on with a great company to do a job you love with benefits, a regular paycheck, but that still let’s you work from home pantsless by choice.

  • I’ve been editing and writing for slightly less than half my life. I went full-on full-time freelance 3 years ago. Without the first 15 or so years to build me a skillset and train the discipline to sit and work, I’d be flipping burgers in a diner, telling all my good stories to the fry cook on my right, and he’s probably way more interested in the Fry-o-lator. It’s not something you race into.

    It’s not easy. There’s a delicate balance between working on my own stuff as working on other peoples’ stuff as finding other other peoples’ stuff to work on. It’s regularly scary and regularly a source of agitation and envy as I look at other people doing “professional” stuff “better”.

    And taxes are a baleful quarterly nightmare in feeling guilty about not keeping that one receipt you really thought you had.

  • Great post Chuck. All you say is true. I worked, my husband worked at day jobs. We raised three children, put them through university and now they are all working, married and raising their children. I will be 71 this year have a book published and have been writing since I was 8, as a hobby. I am retired so I get a pension, and have a S.S. check coming in monthly. I probably will never make a ton of money off of my book, but at my age I don’t expect to. I also have a blog and enjoy reading other blogs, like yours. :o)

  • Or, yanno, you could get a day job as a writer. I’m paid either a generally adequate salary or a market rate contractor’s fee to write things like technical manuals, sales presentations, website content and grant requests. I write fiction in the downtime, between jobs, and of course, at home on my own time.

    And yes, if you’re self-employed or a contractor, get an accountant.

  • April 22, 2014 at 10:16 AM // Reply

    I’m another who chose the spouse with a job route. In recent years I morphed full-time mom into maybe half-time writer (I still have a part-time job that pays, and I still have those kids, the ones who morphed from annoying toddlers into annoying teens, which is less all-.absorbing). I’m not getting rich, but at least I’m finally publishing.

    And declare that income–because you can also deduct the costs. As long as you don’t lose money every year (if you do that, the IRS will declare it’s a hobby and you won’t be able to deduct any more than you make).

  • Honestly, a day job doesn’t have to be so bad. There are rumours about jobs that get paid AND are actually fun. Not all the time, of course not, but nothing is fun all the time. Not even writing. Perhaps you can score a part-time job and still get paid. Perhaps not having to worry how to feed your offspring into next month will even have an even better influence on your word-count than a whole 24 hours of no-pants-time every single day. And apart from that, it doesn’t hurt to get out into real life occasionally.

  • April 22, 2014 at 10:31 AM // Reply

    Many thanks, Chuck, for single-handedly changing my mindset from having been torn up thinking that what I heard again and again at writing seminars was true — that if you want to be a successful writer, focus on one thing and become really, really good at it — to now knowing that not only is it alright to be a diverse writer as far as genre and format go, but it’s in fact a very good thing to be able to do. Over the years I’ve been writing short stories, comics, TV series concepts, screenplays, and lately been designing tabletop games (while doing graphic design, copywriting, and editing as those necessary evil day jobs), and it does my heart a world of good to hear that THAT is the right kind of track to be on. Having said that, I’m only here at the moment whilst waiting for InDesign to download for a graphic design job that’s getting me a bit of money…


    Meanwhile, I’d love to get an ART HARDER MOTHERFUCKER mug, but my three-year-old is now sounding out words, so that’s a poor idea for a while. I would, however, be interested in a mug or shirt that says WILL ART FOR MONEY, should such a thing become available.

    All the best, and thanks again.

  • So very true, Chuck. I sold a piece to a magazine yesterday. The editor loved it. Truly enthusiastic about it. He’s booked it into the next available slot, which is in four months. I get paid when the magazine hits the streets. I’m pretty sure I’ll want to eat some time before I get paid four months from now so it’s churn, churn, churn out more stuff. This just isn’t the romantic writer in the cottage life I envisioned before I tried to feed myself off it. If you’re lucky enough to have a day job, keep it.

  • @David – You not only get an accountant, if you’re in the US you file for an LLC, have all writing earnings deposited there, and then pay yourself a salary from those earnings so you avoid being whacked with self-employment taxes. (Your accountant will tell you about all of that.)

    It took me over 25 years to make “writing fiction” my EDJ full-time. With a lot of non-writing EDJs to start, while working on my fiction on the side. One EDJ dovetailed into me writing computer software tutorials for my customers at the store I worked at, one of which suggested I sell them online. So I did. Meanwhile, I was also editing, doing freelance articles, etc.

    It wasn’t until Hubby got a job making twice his pay that he literally gave me a loving shove to pursue my dream of writing fiction full-time for a living. (I was making a decent wage writing and self-pubbing various software tutorials at that point.) I was terrified, because the non-fiction paid. Not fantastic, but enough I was working from home and earning consistent numbers every month.

    After six years of Hubby working at that job (county) he was eligible for the state pension plan (not very much at all, less than $500 a month). BUT, by that point my fiction income was steadily growing every month (12+ books by then) and my publisher offered me a sweet deal to take my pen name exclusive with them. Now, 50+ books later, I’m not Stephen King, but at least some of the stress is off me, and I’m keeping Hubby retired. He became eligible for Social Security (a little over $1k a month) so that helped a little as well in terms of bills.

    HOWEVER, I have fibromyalgia. I went over 2 years without health insurance, until Obamacare kicked in, because the Cobra insurance was too expensive for us to afford once Hubby retired. That sucked. A lot. I had a period around 2010 where my writing production dropped due to my health, which hit my income. Fortunately, Hubby was still working at that point.

    So it’ll be 6 years on 8/8 since my first fiction book was published. And I still get the sphincter-clenching fear every month when I’m writing, because all the weight and pressure is on MY shoulders. Hubby takes care of the house and the furbabies. I have elderly parents with health issues. _I_ have health issues. All it would take is one cold-hearted swipe of fate to knock me off my game and screw up the delicate balance going on right now.

    This is not a day job for the weak-hearted, for those who say they need a “muse” to be able to write, or who take eight years to produce a rough draft. The most consistently successful “day job” writers I know are the ones who apply asses to seats and fingers to keyboards, every day, all day long, and write. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    The lightning strikes people hear about some authors are just that–lucky hits that are nearly impossible to replicate deliberately.

    But I know lots of successful writers you never hear about on the NYT or USA Today bestseller lists who are making decent livings with their writing. It’s consistency, determination, willingness to never stop learning about the art and craft of writing, always striving to improve, and dedication.

    And caffeine.

    Lots and lots of caffeine.

    • This is usually my go-to suggestion for people as well, because there’s some legal protections with an LLC – but definitely do this with an accountant holding your hand, because there’s so much finagling here, it isn’t even funny.

  • Here’s a question: How do you get the “write me random crap for money” gigs? I imagine one has to solicit them, and that requires some sort of portfolio. Does one write practice [random crap] for a portfolio? Does one have to find a less selective, perhaps pro-bono gig first, to have a legit entry for the portfolio? Are portfolios for visual artists and I’m being dumb? A post about how to get the kind of writing work that isn’t your dream job but pays the bills might not be bad. If you’ve already written it, I apologize.

    • Yes please! Approaching the industry like that is scary when all the experience you’ve had has been through the ore traditional channels: apply for job, interview, got job or not.

    • It involves knowing what you want to do and diligently — and patiently, and according to all proper guidelines — writing and submitting work to that end. Bonus points go toward making friends with folks in the industry and building a proper platform (the proper use of that word) that demonstrates your expertise in a given realm.

  • All those questions are like fists, dude. It’s waaaay too early in the day for this. But yeah. Now that I’m awake. YEAH.

    The only thing I’d add, and forgive me if you touched on this and I missed it between those question-punches, is if you want to be a writer, surround yourself with writing-related things. Like, subscribe to stuff. So you get it in your inbox and are forced to see it every day. This site is a good one. I wish I knew of more sites like this one–sites for serious writers, with equal respect for *all* writers (both traditionally published and self-published), very little bickering, respectful discussion, no cliques/bullies/trolls…you know, a positive environment. Very few have such a good culture as this site. Can anyone recommend some? I’m specifically looking for a forum. Terribleminds is great, but I can’t exactly start a new post asking for help or advice on something.

  • While writers are going to write (like you do), do you know any that do other things? Art? Music? Interpretive dance? I found 15 years ago in music school that I couldn’t bring myself to settle down to just one expression… so I went into teaching, haha. Can writing be just one of many jobs, many artistic expressions?

    Super-biased question from someone who also makes jewelry, hurhur.

    • Why not?
      Pros: You set the pace. You do things you love.
      Cons: You build up a demand for one form of creative output, and it overwhelms your ability to produce other creative outputs.

      Sounds like a nice problem to have, no?

  • I’m going to echo what a few people have said about day jobs and writing on the side. The steady paycheck is very nice indeed. But there are some real challenges that come with it that I had to learn the hard way.

    1.) You are so fucking exhausted at the end of the day. I barely had enough energy to put on my pajamas much less write anything remotely coherent. This mostly led to a few feeble attempts at writing before giving up and succumbing to the soothing glow of television.

    2.) The less responsibility you have at your day job, the better. You might be better off hiding in a back room and filing or answering phones or whatever. It sounds awful, I know, but the more responsibility you have, the more you’re going to be struggling with what I mentioned above. I went after a position with more responsibility, because it was challenging and the pay was awesome. But my writing suffered. More responsibility meant dealing with more problems, which meant anxiety-induced insomnia a few times a week. Yeah, it was a blast alright.

    3.) Schedule time to write and stick to it as if your life depends on it. A good lesson for day-jobers and full-time writers alike. All that writing that Chuck talks about will not get done unless you make time for writing and stick to it. That being said if you know you’re going to come home at the end of the day and fall asleep at your keyboard, then maybe nights aren’t so good.

    I wish I wasn’t such a dumbass that it took me eight years to figure all this out, but there it is.

    • Totally with you on the responsibility front. When I had less responsibility, I felt more creative, even the crap I created had some sort of awe about it; maybe that was due to being in the early throws of it all, I can’t say for sure. But, the moment I took responsibility, in exchange for money, I felt stagnant and have found it harder to be creative at times.

      I’ve found a way around it now; just write through it. But sometimes I wonder if I’d be happier without the added stress, and then I think about how good unprocessed meat tastes, and how my children have now been on an aeroplane, and I realise why I did it.

    • Excellent points on the day job. I’m totally with you on #2 (well, and #1 and #3).

      I’ll throw this out there: Stay out of management positions – the added responsibility ends up coming home with you at the end of your shift, and it is a horror show.

      • Completely agree about management position, Jeff, ESPECIALLY about the horror show. I was in one (a management position and a horror show) for a few years, and the longer I stayed, the more my energy and creativity went into the job and not the writing. The stress led to drinking, which snubbed out my writing. I have since nixed the management position AND the drinking and am writing more than I ever have. We really have only so much energy and creativity to use, so we might as well use it on something that matters.

  • Totally awesome post! Still in the day-job while I dig through the writing trenches.

    So you have a lot of great advice here, and I totally agree and plan to keep it. What I’m wondering is if you could recommend some resources (perhaps in an additional blog post?) of places to find all these writing gigs of all various shapes and sizes. I’ve been building up my own list of places to query and submit but I just wondered if you had some sage recommendations and words of wisdom as you always do. Maybe you’ve done this already and I’m the idiot that missed it, but I thought I’d ask.

    Also happy birthday!

  • I’ve been a full-time writer for thirty-five years, with the exception of taking on jobs as an editor here and there, mostly just to keep my head in the business sector of writing. The only loans a bank would ever make me were secured loans. In other words, if we didn’t have something they could take, be it property or a bank account filled with cash, it was no go. But we managed.

    On the subject of taxes, an accountant is a very good idea, though it didn’t take me long to figure out how to do my own taxes. I paid attention to what my accountant did for a few years, and then I learned how to use the IRS as a free accountant.

    Then, after about five years, I went back to using an accountant not because doing my own taxes was particularly difficult, but because it was far too time-consuming. If you make enough money from writing to file, get an accountant. The time saved is more than worth the cost.

    • Excellent point on the accountant – private firms/individuals can be a cash-sink. If you have the wherewithal you can learn how to do it, but wow that’s a lot of thinking. Generally, our institutions look down on “creative accounting” so that’s right out.

  • I am a devoted writer. Not at the Chuck standard of productivity yet, but working on it and trying damn hard to write every day regardless of ‘inspiration’. So far this is working very well. I had a side business of editing too and I am currently full-time, which is awesome. I love my life right now.

    But reading this…I don’t know if I want to be an utterly full-time writer. You would think it would scare me less because I have already made the trad work to indie work transition…but I just don’t know. I think I would rather continue to do a mix of editing and writing. This isn’t really a question, I just wanted to leave my thoughts in case anyone else was having the same ones.

    • I’m not of a mind to ever leave my “day job”. I love what I do; it also provides food, health care, and even a discretionary budget for things like toothpaste.

      I admire anyone who can make writing their only gig and live on it; I also fear them for they are mighty.

  • Sage words. A lot of look before you leap here. It’s reasonably easy to take wild risks when you only have your own stomach growling at you. Once you take on some responsibility for other stomachs, you better be up for the challenge (read: have a plan), or willing to fallback on autotomy to save everyone.

  • Awesome stuff! I’m eighteen and in high school for another two years and my love of writing is making all my big life decisions too damn difficult. Thanks for this post, it’s great reference!

  • I think this whole writing full time ideal comes from delusional thoughts of churning out Stephen King earning sized bestsellers. You churn out a book, and sit back to reap the rewards. A lot of people just don’t get how difficult and time consuming being self employed is.
    I am lucky, in that I have a pat-time job, and write part-time. But I still get up at 6am to write, before my family is up and about, and the demands of the day start encroaching on my written time. I have found, over the years, that you simply have to love what you do, be passionate about it, before you can even think about turning that into a full-time gig.
    And the hard work starts long before then, while you’re still in that job you hate.

  • I just made the leap from day job to full-time writer. As in, two weeks ago.

    Am I able to check off every box on Chuck’s list? Nope. Most of them, yes. I’m a writer who writes, and who writes a lot. I used to telecommute for the day job, so I’m used to working from home. I’m still figuring it all out, but so far, I continue to write and produce a lot.

    I’m a writer who sells. I have past sales and current sales and future sales lined up. I have a good deal of money in savings, over two years worth, assuming no other money at all came in. And I have health insurance (thank you ACA.)

    I’m not making enough money off the writing to fully support myself. I don’t care. I couldn’t take the day job anymore. I needed a break. I had to jump off the cliff, as it were.

    So I’m leaping in with both feet for a couple of years. Possibly longer, as I have been making money at the writing and I do continue making money at the writing. I also have additional revenue streams, like creating ebook covers and formatting.

    Will I make it? I don’t know. But I’m working and writing and learning and having a blast and working some more. (Yes, I’m working MUCH HARDER now that I don’t have a day job. But I knew that would be the case going in.)

    Chuck’s list is good. I agree with it. In an ideal world, I would have been able to wait.

    I couldn’t. So I jumped in. And sometimes that’s what you have to do.

  • When I was younger, pursuing a career in another art form- acting, dance and theater- I had lofty ideals of creating “real” art and not “selling out.” That crap had been burned into my brain by university professors who didn’t have to worry about day jobs because they made decent money and had health insurance, while they were paid to wax philosopically all day long about being a working artist, while not actually being a working artist. (Phew that was a ridiculously long sentence but I sort of like it.)Then life got real.
    Being any sort of artist means you live life in a constant flux between two worlds and two parts of yourself. The pragmatic world where you do whatever will pay the bills and the creative world where your soul will thrive. Often the stuff of our souls isn’t highly valued by the ones who are doling out the money.
    My husband and I own a TV company. He is the one who does all the creative work on that and I mind the biz part of it. As much as we’d love to work on the next Star Wars or epic blockbuster, reality shows and other nonsense is what pays the bills.
    Another excellent article. One I wish I had read when I was 20 years old.

  • My comment is purely about jobs that allow you time to write. I work for 911. In my city, our monthly schedule is as follows –

    Week One: M-Th (12 hr nights 6:30 PM – 6:30 AM) Fri-Sun Off

    Week Two: M-W (12 hour days 6:30 AM – 06:30 PM) Thursday Off, Fri-Sun (12 hour nights)

    Week Three: M-Wed Off, Thurs – Sun (12 hour days)

    Week Four: Off

    I work seven 12 hour day shifts and seven 12 hour night shifts a month. Night shifts when the weather is crap, or in the winter are very slow. I can write all night. The week off is the most productive for me.

    Our center has a very extensive paid training period of about nine months. You won’t be writing anything for the first three, and probably very little for the remaining six. The money is decent in my city, starts at 15 or 16 an hour. The benefits are excellent, and when you leave work, the job stays there. That said this can be an emotionally demanding job, there is significant turnover in the industry.

    This is a great job for creative types, especially if you have ADD or ADHD because of the heavy multitasking. The schedule works well, but the schedule is God in this job choice. I know what I am doing for the next year. There is no being late or calling in ten minutes before shift. You will work holidays and we draw for vacation in November for the following year. So, there is tons of built in flexibility because of the schedule, but that is where the flexibility ends.

    If you are looking for a decent paying job with an open schedule look at your local 911 center. There are generally academies several times a year. See if you can sit in for a night to see if you would like it. It is a completely different world. If you live in a small town you may be the only one on duty. My center has a minimum staffing model of 12 dispatchers per shift.

    If your center is like mine you will have 12 weeks off a year before vacation. I take four 2 week vacations a year, by using my vacation time in conjunction w/ my week off. Then the other eight weeks I stay at home and write, or work overtime. Anyway, maybe this will help someone find a good fit.

  • I’ve reached a sweet spot where the day job thing’s concerned. I work part-time at a job I enjoy and whose staff I consider to be family. The time I have for everything else is balanced between chores / errands, fitness, and writing.

    I’ve thought about writing full-time, but it isn’t possible with me. My niche is tiny, and I’m frankly not interested in writing for other markets just to earn more. I’m happy where I am, and I’ve got lots of stories in my head that’re clamoring to be written down for my specific audience.

    I also find that I like having two careers. It’s a nice balance. I like the fact that I’m able to go out and spend time in the real world, mixing it up with my co-workers and pretty much absorbing a lot of material for me to use in one way or another in a story I’m writing (or a future story). If I have a bad day at work, at least I can come home to my writing, where things are good. And if I’m struggling with my work-in-progress, I’ve got my day job to distract me. My royalty checks might be minuscule, but at least they supplement my other earnings, and I don’t feel pressure to maintain a certain level of sales to survive.

    My husband works part-time, but we’re still covered under his insurance, and we don’t have kids or a mortgage. So those definitely help, too.

  • I am very, very lucky: I get a disability pension for having a disability, and while it means I’ve Buckley’s Chance at finding regular work, I do get the free time to write and improve, while still getting paid. It’s pretty sweet. If you have a proven disability, anyway. For everyone else, this is great advice from someone who’s Been There, Done That, Bought the T-shirt. Thanks, Chuck. I’ll regurgitate this exact advice to anyone I meet who needs it.

  • Excellent advice Chuck, thanks. I am also grateful for your reminder about your writing 350 words a day plan.

  • Some people here have mentioned about the worry that it’s hard to find the time to write when you’ve got a day job. And it’s true. I work as a waitress for my day job. Except I work at night. Which started out great when I was only working 2-3 shifts a week. But, I very quickly found that wasn’t enough to live off of. So, now I work 5-6 shifts a week. Yes, they’re shorter shifts than full time jobs, but it’s so much more physically demanding. I have a decent commute, too. But honestly, I hate all jobs. Except writing.

    If you have the passion, you’ll find a way to fit your art in. Sometimes I write on the bus. My boyfriend and I share a car. Some days of the week, I’ll drop him off at work, then go hang out at a coffee shop and write for the hour or so until I have to work. It’s not a lot of time, sure. But I think that when you’re starting out especially, writing doesn’t have to be a marathon event. Give it what you’ve got when you’ve got the time to give it. I don’t care if it’s fifteen minutes. That’s like, 400 words. That’s a paragraph. Maybe a couple. That could be a quarter of a chapter that wouldn’t have existed if you didn’t give yourself the chance to write since you thought there wasn’t time.

    I post at least 4 times a week on my personal blog. I’m currently working on a serial fiction story (separate from the serial fiction story coming to life on said blog), I’ve got a novel being edited that I want to release self-publish this summer. (I got some good feedback from agents, but going to try the selfie thing. I want to put out a lot of stories, and I don’t want to worry about non-competes. We’ll see how it goes…) I’m organizing, revising, and editing the 50 flash fictions that I wrote in the last year and will put it on Audible, I read a lot (or at least, I listen to a lot of books during my commute). I find it inspiring. I have so many ideas for the next book, and the one after, and a dozen more at least.

    This is why I think and hope that I’ll make it to professional, full-time writer status some day. Commitment, abundance of ideas, efficiency, speed, and every time I have to go to my day job it inspires me to art that much harder so I don’t have to go there anymore, someday.

  • Great words of advice, Chuck. Whether most of us (myself included) actually follow it is another matter. But it’s nice to be hit over the head with the proverbial spatula every once in awhile, you know? As someone who’s at the freelance writing stage and must always remind himself to keep his eyes on the prize, outside feedback from someone who’s actually DOING IT is wonderful. I’ll keep coming back, for both the advice and the laughs! Your candor is much appreciated as always.

  • I know people might throw poo at me for saying this, but, but…just hear me out a little bit…

    I’m attending an MFA program right now, at a fairly cheap school. And what everyone tells you about MFA programs is absolutely right – they aren’t a guarantee of success, they are a load of debt unless you’re paid to attend, and they DO suck up a bunch of your time. However…however…IF you’re willing to work super hard at it, and as Chuck says, say yes more than you say no, it can be a big help.

    I was able to use my degree to get into a technical writing position. It’s not glamorous, writing an encyclopedia of instructions for people in the insurance biz, but it pays the bills, allows my wife to be at home with our daughters, and is a pleasant enough job where I can come home and write stuff rather than just doing shots of whiskey and putting a gun in my mouth.

    Yep. I’ll have debt for a long, long time to come, and I’m probably stupid for saying it, but it’s been absolutely worth it for me. I’ve got a decent job, I’ve worked with a lot of good writers, and I pour myself into it whole heartedly, which has upped my game in a big way.

    Commence the shit slinging. *Lowers shit-proof visor.*

  • Thanks for going down this road. I am hoping to reach that dream one day. I like the way you pointed out that you have to be able to write everything. Even stuff you hate. I am exploring learning different types of writing including script writing which is an avenue I never thought would interest me. Ironically, it does. After reading your post I feel like I’m on the right track.

  • Hey Chuck. Nice post. I’d submitted my resignation yesterday … when people used to ask me what I do for a living, I said, “I’m an e-mail manager.” Well, fuck that, I say.

    I’ve a spouse who is also a writer (not in English, but on the level where she’s winning awards and has magazines asking her for work to pay for), and I’ve the full intent not to let her down. Hell, if we make $33k a year, we’ll be the PENMONKEYLORDS in this country, where getting $15k / year qualifies you as “filthy rich.”

    I opened a private entrepreneurship last year, made some money doing copywriting (SPENT IT ALL! MONEY? WHAT MONEY? I NEVER HEARD OF NO MONEY …), em, right, and, of course, wrote dozens of stories on commission, got some contracts writing for video games (yeye), but it’s all very unstable and shaky … however, having met somebody I truly want to spend the rest of my life with if not in comfort than at least in the happiness of the struggle (the good fight! we are the romantic knights of the pen! On guard!), it would be dishonest of me to sit in this office and dream of doing something that actually matters for a day longer than the mandatory ’30 days before we take away your iPhone and your laptop’ notice period.

    Fuck it, every time I post here (which is not too often) I subconsciously take on parts of your writing style it seems. So you know what? I’m going to buy “The Wealthy Freelancer” from what I’ve remaining from my last commission, and buy your fucking book, THE KICK-ASS WRITER, next.

    Because, if my shit is doomed, it can’t hurt, can it?

    Wish us luck.


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