I keep getting email from people who want to know how they can become highly-paid, creatively-fulfilled professional freelance writers like me.

Here’s what I tell them: you can’t. At least, you can’t be both of those things at the same time, unless your name is JK Rowling or some other Famous Author. In fact, in my experience, creative fulfillment is inversely proportional to earning potential.

It goes like this:

Rate the creativity of each type of writing on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. Then rate how much money you can make doing it.

I’m halfway through a novel for young adults (ie, children) that blends myth, adventure, and the classic coming-of-age theme.
Creativity = 5
Money = 1 (ok, really, 0)

Yes, I know, there’s Rowling, et al, but let’s face it, in general everyone’s first attempt at a novel sucks and mine is no exception.

I write and publish non-fiction articles and book reviews for a variety of magazines.
Creativity = 4
Money = 2

Ok, some people make decent money by writing for the National Glossies, which is writer-speak for “magazines you have actually heard of,” but breaking into those mags as a freelancer actually requires selling your first-born. Seriously. I’ve seen the contract. And I’m not willing to do that. At least not yet. Adolescence is coming.

I write grant proposals for non-profit agencies to secure funding from various private, corporate, and government sources.
Creativity = 2
Money = 4

There’s a certain amount of doing-good-work satisfaction to this job, but it’s pretty formulaic.

Then there’s corporate copy writing. I’m just getting into this field now, and some assignments are tedious in the extreme. Currently I’m explaining how Widget A stacked up against Widget B on the survey of People Who Use Widgets.
Creativity = 1
Money = 5

So you see, the writer’s life is not as glamorous as it may seem. And it costs a fortune in coffee. But I truly love to write, and there is nothing I would rather be doing, even when I’m writing about widget surveys. I’m Snoopy with a typewriter.


37 thoughts on “

  1. You’re livin’ the dream, Sister. 🙂
    My brother does the corporate writing gig and affectionately calls it “whoring.”  He’s got four kids, but he and my SIL are thinking in the near future, she’ll earn the bulk of the bread (she has an MSW), so he can teach.

  2. yes…… I appreciate your definitions. Many moons ago I asked a woman who was a well-known writer on staff of our local newspaper (since gone on to a national paper in D.C. last I heard) for some advice on writing as a career – I was about to make some career changes and having always loved to write was looking into various things -If you really love writing and want to continue writing (fiction/poetry), do something else to earn a living – if you write all day for money you won’t write later, or at least it will be damned hard.I love writing still – and I do not make a penny from it… nor many pennies for the day job I DO have. but life is good to me, all in all, particularly these days it is ludicrous to complain considering the plight of so many…blessings to you and yours,D

  3. Snoopy with a typewriter, yes. As the daughter of an author, I have a need for writing in my life; however, I long ago realized that it is one hell of a hard way to make a living. Sadly, so is the path I’ve chosen.

  4. thanks for stopping by… glad you liked the poem…
    and fyi:  it may be worth selling your firstborn as they reach the hormonal teenage years… it HAS to be better than keeping them!!! they may be fun to write for, but they are hell to live with!

  5. I saw your profile picture on one of the blogs I read and said to myself “OH NO THAT”S A BUNNY! IS THAT A BUNNY!? THAT’S A BUNNY!” all excited like, and I came over just to see the bunny.
    So you know.. I’m here, perusing the rabbit.
    Have a great day!

  6. Sorry, back so soon – I read a bit and decided that not only do you have a rabbit as your photo but also in your title, but you have funny little children and fun anecdotes, to boot.
    So I’ve subscribed.

  7. Meh.  At least you’re not a young and stupid college student who doesn’t know what she wants.  I’d be a writer too, if I could just be happy at it, even if I didn’t make big bucks (assuming I make enough to avoid starving to death, which is part of the “being happy” deal).

  8. My Ubby would say that writing a technical book on a computer language that will be outdated the second his book’s glue is dry equalsCreativity – 2 (someone else wrote the code)Money – What money?But hey, at least he can be Googled. What more can an author want?

  9. Thank you for this insight into the writer’s life…
    You forgot this one:
    Spend hours every day writing whatever comes to mind, laboring over posts and comments in an effort to entertain your weblog readers and to help them to grow…
    Creativity = 5
    Money = 0
    Satisfaction = 9

  10. I don’t write for money, so for me it’s only the joy of crafting stories.
    I think any successful writer shouldn’t have the money angle in mind , since that saps one’s creativity.

  11. I made a living writing newspaper releases for a college public information office, and after a couple of years, I grew to hate it.  Had to please too many people — two levels of supervisors, my sources, the newspaper editors, the readers, and myself.
    I LOVE writing on Xanga.  For no money.  I try to please my readers, but if I can’t, it’s not too big a deal.  Luckily and happily, I do please many of them, and the unpleased are still generous with their love and friendship.
    Xanga can’t be beat.

  12. Ya know thats kinda true about the arts too. If Im doing a graphic that requires real artistic personality I get paid zippo…if I do some boring thing that can only be called art because of the medium and I have to do it while maintaining the look that 40 people on a panel wanted then I get paid more. If its fun, they dont wanna pay you if its not fun they beg you with bucks to do it….aint life grand?

  13. you got it about right, I’d say.   Although if you’re counting your novel as even a “1” when it comes to money, you must really be doing something right! 

  14. Sounds just like my acting career (hear the joke in that last word there?)We don’t do it for the money. Just the pure joy of it…
    And the off chance of booking a few national commercials to pay for eight years of college (that’s combined..I”m not raising idiots here.) Or a great idea that sparks a #1 Best-seller.Ahhhh, the creative life!
    Ryc: You crack me up. You think I don’t pay attention? I’ve heard you say (seen you write) on a few occasions that fashion isn’t your passion (did that sound gentle enough?) lol

  15. Coffee is worth every penny.  But I’ll stick to painting…I’m not much of a writer anyway.  But, coffee still costs a small fortune.

  16. Have you sold any fiction? I’m merely a dabbler but I found the non-fic was a drastically faster and easier sell each time. Fiction is so much more work and as of yet nothing has sold (not that I’m trying all that hard). I don’t know if that’s universal or just reflective of my writing skills. Though I imagine the non-fic to fic market ratios are not exactly even.

  17. How do you get into the corporate copywriting thing? I have been a freelancer for 10 years and always had a day job to back me up.  But then my two-year old got kicked out of a daycare. I happened to be working there at the time.  So I lost my job and decided not to go back to a day job.  Now I am copy editing when I can get the work, and writing parenting articles.  My editor just asked me for exclusivity in the parenting market and even though they haven’t asked me to sign anything I am worried that if I don’t grant it I will lose their patronage- to the tune of about $300.00-$400.00 a month.  (a good chunk of my rent money).  So I am looking to diversify.  Any pointers?
    I appreciate it,

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