Young Writer wondering about the future

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Kiteya

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Hello! So I'm a young writer, still wondering what the future's going to be like. I've loved writing since I was a kid, and if I had my way would just do it all day every day. But of course, I can't pay bills like that. I'm just nervous about life after college, I guess. What's it like being a freelance writer? Thank you!
 

themindstream

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This is not strictly a reply about freelance writing, but at your age I was struggling with the same dilemma, the desire to write vs the need to have income to live on. What I know now, I know from having made lots of mistakes and only in the last few years (and some major life implosion in the process) have I actually come back to writing.

Also, most of this applies to fiction writing, which I gather is your interest from your post history.

If you love writing for the sake of the art, trying to channel that energy into making "enough money to live on" from writing can threaten your enjoyment of the writing (and if, like me, you have anxious tendencies that cause you to freeze under pressure, your ability to get anything written).

Freelancing for a living limits your ability to be choosy about projects. There are fairly limited opportunities for fiction writing; most postings are for nonfiction. A lot of it these days comes from "content mills", websites that will pay you a little for lots of copy that they hope will generate them lots of Google hits and advertising views. If you go the freelancing route, you have to be highly organized, self-disciplined and self-motivated, you have to go looking every day for job postings, you have to know that you're not going to get every one. (My friend who's spent his life contracting in software development repeatedly tells me it usually goes (roughly) 100 postings, 10 nibbles, one offer.) It's not all necessarily dismal...if your goal is to become a respected freelancer writing for big name publications, you can certainly get there this way. If your goal is to be a published fiction author, by the time you get through the days work of earning a living, you're not likely to have any energy left for your own work.

The stats for fiction writers are pretty dismal - most published writers, even bestselling writers, will struggle to make a livable income from their work. If you value and want to preserve your vocation of writing as an art, it is best to let go of this expectation. If you manage it sometime in the future you may consider yourself very well off. If you make it a precondition of writing--the biggest mistake I made--it's not going to work.

These are the things I'm either doing or working toward doing now:

Keep writing, no mater what. Write every day, or as close to it as you can, even if it's only a few hundred words. Write for yourself. Write what makes you happy. Even if it never sees the light of day, no writing done with this goal in mind is wasted. "The first million words are for practice" is a saying I see a lot. (Whereas, to paraphrase Neil Gaiman, if you write something only for the money and the money falls through, as it sometimes does, you're out both the money and the enjoyment.)

Get a good "safety net" job. If it's something in a writing-related field that gives you experience and doesn't drain you creatively, great. If it's not writing related, it should be something you like enough that you can do it long term and won't burn you out from the stress and dissatisfaction, something that feeds into your other strengths and interests. Make sure it leaves you enough time/energy for writing to happen.

Do keep an eye on the freelance gigs, but with a safety net you can afford to be more selective. Apply to those that interest you. If you get any, follow through; you want to establish yourself as a reliable person to work with. For fiction, a lot of work these days comes from game developers so it may be worth reading up/practicing with some of the particular quirks of writing for interactive media. (Gamasutra.com is a wealth of both information and job postings here.) You may also need to put effort into building a portfolio of sample work.

If you have other interests that can be turned into "side gig" work, these are possibly worth perusing too. It will take more time, but if you can establish something that brings you income independent of "working for a living", you won't be as dependent on your safety net job.

When you feel you are ready, feel free to start working on stories you want to submit for publication to various outlets. (Stephen King's book On Writing has some nice overviews of how that tends to go.) Expect rejections. Learn to deal with them, learn from them, strive to constantly improve the quality of your work. There is no set expectation for how long it might take to "break in".

Live life. There is a world outside your word processor and all of it is potential creative fodder, even (especially) the bad parts. I regret that I pretty much stopped writing for several years thinking it was more important to do something I could pay the bills with, but I could not, at your age, have written the kind of work I've written now that I've had a decade+ of life experience to draw on.
 
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mewellsmfu

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I am a professional freelance writer and have earned a good living freelancing nonfiction over the years. I have never applied for, bid on or obtained a job from any job sites.

You can make a living doing this, but as themindstream said, there's a lot of hard work and dedication involved. Many successful freelancers come from professional journalism careers—newspapers, broadcast, net-based, other print media—and transition over.

I came out of broadcast and print journalism, but had no contacts that helped. I joined some online groups devoted to writing, made some friends, joined other groups, found helpful sites (like Media Bistro) and read everything I could. I also read the publications I wanted to write for (including many back issues, cover to cover). I took copious notes on the content and style. One of the first things editors want when considering an assignment is to know that you understand and read their publication. If you don't, it'll show in your pitch.

I have done corporate work (very lucrative), trade and consumer magazines, web copy, scripts and newspapers. I've had numerous editors come to me to assign stories without me soliciting. Some are editors I've worked with and a couple are people who saw my work and liked it.

My recommendation is to start by focusing on the publications that offer ground floor opportunities. One of the most receptive sections in print are what is known as the "front of the book" or FOBs, which are usually short department pieces that run in front of the feature pieces. As you build clips and work with editors at a pub, they can act as a springboard to other editors. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to learn the publication's style and quirks.

I never write on spec, except for essays, which are almost always on spec. And don't consider your pitch less important than your actual work because the pitch shows how you write and organize. I started out earning $25-75 per piece. My rates are generally by the word now and usually in the 50 cents to $1.50 range, though I have had higher paying work.

As soon as you can afford a professional website, put one up, with clips and/or links to your work. It helps editors and others find you. Be very careful about social media. I make it a policy of never posting or tweeting anything that is political or religious in nature, or anything that could be misinterpreted. Yes, it limits my online sandbox, but it also doesn't give editors a reason to hit the delete button on my pitch. And yes, editors search writers before they assign. If they see something they don't like, they'll go elsewhere. Whatever it is you are offering, they can find another 100 writers who can also write that piece. They get a lot of pitches.

For right now, I'd advise you to write for your campus publications, find internships in the writing field (most NYC-based magazines offer them) and offer to write copy for brochures, etc. Any experience is valuable, just don't lowball your services or you'll stay stuck in those 500 words for $10 assignments. Aim low and that's where you will end up.

Good luck.
 

butterfly_effect

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I think the others made some good and useful points about freelance. However, I wanted to add something about the financial side that in my opinion will be to your advantage. You have to be very careful and precise with your taxes! You can find yourself in trouble if you don't have structured description of your income, spendings, etc. Also, there is a great chance to save some money by recording correctly your transactions! This article goes more into depth on how to do so and also covers the different taxes you should pay attention to. There is the income tax- profit, estimated taxes- additional income, the self-employment tax- social security & medical taxes, the federal unemployment tax, the excise tax- if you sell items.
It is a great opportunity to be able to be your own boss, but be careful because the government has a lot of tax requirements that must be covered! Good luck! :)
 

The Otter

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I'll second what others have said about having a good day job. I'm self-employed and (for the past few years, at least) have made a substantial portion of my income from writing, but it's not my only source of income, and for a long time wasn't my primary one. I started small, getting some of my work (mostly romance and erotica) accepted by small digital publishers. I did make some decent royalty checks off of this, but it wasn't nearly enough to live on. My big break didn't come until I was in my thirties and had been writing for many years.

Regarding the tax stuff, I don't know how it works for self-published writers, but publishers will send you a 1099-MISC form at the end of the year with your total earnings; you have to keep track of and deduct any expenses (agent's fees, etc.) from this amount.

Getting to a point where you can earn income from your writing often takes patience, but it is doable. Keep writing, keep honing your craft, keep sending your work out and investigating your options. And network with other writers to get a sense for how they're doing things. This forum is a great place for that, so you're already on the right track. :)
 

WeaselFire

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I've loved writing since I was a kid, and if I had my way would just do it all day every day. But of course, I can't pay bills like that.

Why? Janet Evanovich does. James Patterson does. Nora Roberts does. Stephen King does. Lee Child does. Lee Goldberg does. Heather Graham does. Dean Koontz does. Clive Cussler does. John Grisham does. Rick Steeves does (and he's just travel guides). Brad Meltzer does. Robert B. Parker used to.

And that's just a few from the shelf in the living room. Heck, thousands of journalists pay bills through writing, thousands more publicists do too. Tech writers do. Copy writers do. Hollywood staff writers do.

There are a ton of ways to earn your living and pay your bills through writing professionally. Find what works for you and start living cheaper. :)

90% of freelancing is marketing and promotion. The other 10% is collecting the payments. Somewhere in among all that is writing.

Jeff
 

keith075

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This is my 12th year as a full-time freelance writer and if you have the passion, a career is definitely out there for you. I have been above six figures for the past five years and my worst year ever was around $34k. Compare that to getting a 9-5 job straight out of college and it's a similar career track either way, except that the job gives you health insurance and two weeks vacation. As a freelance writer though, you're free to travel 52 weeks a year since you can work from anywhere- I've had some amazing, amazing vacations with my kids that I never would have been able to take with a job.

The other thing to consider is that as a freelance writer, nobody is babysitting you. Your day is wide open so you could get up at 8AM or noon. You could work early, late or not at all. You could take one day off per week or six.......they're all your decisions. And for the average person, it's EXTREMELY tough to get an awesome paycheck one afternoon and then get out of bed to write the next day. You'll naturally have ups and downs as well so time and money management is crucial.

For instance, December 2016 I earned over $14k for the month, so we had an awesome Christmas and I drastically overspent. Then comes January (always my slowest month), I brought in $2200 and struggled to pay my bills. So it's not all roses and cherries; you have to take the good with the bad.
 

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