Saturday, January 19, 2013

Making a Living Part 1- Finding Time

The "happy housewife" is the ultimate dream of many aspiring freelancers.
Photo by Victor
When I opened my Facebook account this morning, I found a message from a friend: "How do you make a living?"

It's a good question, and one I intend to begin to address today. How does a writer make a living?
Well, for many aspiring fiction writers, the answer is; they don't.

Very, very few writers make a living by writing fiction exclusively. Stephen King, James Patterson and JK Rowling might have bank accounts which allow them to write at their leisure every day, but for the rest of us in the ranks of the as-yet unpublished (but hopefully washed) masses, large royalty checks are the holy grail, the dream that we pursue every time we send out another query or submission.
Even for published authors, the checks are often too small, and too far between, to be considered full-time income. The vast majority of fiction writers hold jobs in other areas. Many are experts in a particular field, and draw upon their knowledge to enrich their writing.

For most of us, making a living as a writer means freelancing. For those who aspire to write full-time, or who want to earn a living working from home, it's important to understand how freelancing works, and how the dream differs from the reality. If you're interested in making a living as a freelance writer, this series of blog entries is for you. I intend to cover the basics here, to let you in on the secrets that might make your entry into freelancing a little easier. I'll talk first about the hours that go into freelancing, and give you some practical tips on how to find time to freelance. I'll also talk about where to find jobs, and finally how to run your business while balancing the writing life with everything else. 

My office is a chair in the corner of my bedroom where I sit with my laptop, cats and fish. Yes, really.

I can't tell you how everyone who works from home makes a living, or how to make a million in your spare time, but I can tell you how I make a living and what I have found works, and doesn't work, for me. If you're determined to make a living at writing, read on, young grasshopper. It's not easy, and it's not for everyone, but it can be done.

Scheduling is the most critical, and often the most difficult, part of being a freelancer. Most people seem to think they can freelance in their "spare time", without realizing the importance of relaxation. The truth is, freelancing is a job. It requires time, commitment and energy. My personal schedule is relatively simple:

7-8:30 AM Personal writing. This is my time for writing fiction. Starting the day this way allows me to feel productive and reduces my frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed.

8:30-10 AM Morning chores, including caring for our numerous pets and getting my own breakfast.

10AM-1PM This is the first chunk of my freelancing day, in which I focus on actual writing, editing or other client work.

1-2PM I take an hour for lunch, before coming back to work.

2-5:30PM I dedicate these hours to project work before taking a break for making and eating supper, and hanging out with my kids.

7PM-10PM (or later, depending on how my week is going)- Working or seeking out more work.(A topic I'll address later when I discuss how and where to find jobs.)

I follow this schedule, in general, from Monday through Friday,, with exceptions for the days my kids have appointments and lessons. I tend to work in 3-hour stretches. Some people can work longer at a time with fewer breaks, others might need to stop to get up and stretch their legs more frequently. The important thing is not to follow the same schedule as someone else, but to discover what works for you.

My schedule is wide-open... at least until I start adding in everything I need to get done in a day.
Each of those squares represents a half-hour of possibilities.

  In order to make my schedule, I sat down and blocked out the hours of my day in a grid, and entered all my activities into the blocks. Although I don't follow the schedule religiously, having it on paper allows me to keep better track of which project I'm working on in a particular day, so that no one client gets neglected because I'm too immersed in another project. It's a good way for a freelancer to discover their "time sucks" (one of my big ones is Facebook), and where they need to adjust their expectations of just what is possible to get done in a single day.

Controlling one's time is the most critical aspect of freelancing. Freelancing is a job, like any other. It requires self-discipline and focus, as well as determination and a high tolerance for risk, disappointment and isolation. It's not for everyone, and it's not a get-rich-quick scheme. It can, however, be a viable way to make a living.

Still think you want to try making a living as a freelancer? Look for the upcoming installments in this blog: Where to find jobs, which will cover not only where to look for clients, but how to land jobs and manage your business, and Finding Balance, which will discuss in more detail how and when to accept jobs, how to balance your personal and professional life, and how and when to say "no".

Happy writing!


  1. Excellent topic, Mary!

    I'm glad you have cats. Otherwise, your caption would read, "I sit with my laptop and fish," and I would have pictured you sitting in your La-Z-Boy, casting a line into an offscreen brook. Hmmm ...I can see it now: a movie about Mary's bedroom, titled "A River Runs Through It"...

    1. *laughing*

      I suppose you could say that I fish for jobs in the data-stream...
      Actually, my 55 gallon fish tank would make a dandy pond. Hmmm... the possibilities. ;)

  2. Thanks Mary! Can't wait to see future installments.


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