When it comes to making good money by doing what you love, some of the best advice I’ve ever read is that you’ve got to shift your mindset first.
There are many moving pieces to success that we can’t control, like good luck and timing. By focusing on those things we can control (like our mindset), we give ourselves the advantage we need to turn our writing into a better paying career.
Here are 10 rules that have guided me since I first decided to pursue writing and successfully aimed to earn at least $85K a year.
1. When You Write for Other People or Businesses, Don’t Write for Free
This rule runs contrary to a lot of advice I read from other writers. People have constantly told me not to worry about money and instead, just write for the love of it.
Do you know what? I believe in doing both. Hell, I’m a single mother and my time is precious. It is probably the most valuable and rare commodity of my life.
When I first began my blogging career, I decided to treat the time I spend writing like it is truly valuable. If time is money, it’s no less true for a single working mom. Which means I don’t write for free, unless I am writing for me.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen other single mom writers flounder financially, and it’s not as if they’re not writing enough. Many haven’t brought in the money they need because they keep writing content for free.
The writing industry is tough as it is. People are going to want to take your best work for nothing. Some will even accuse you of being selfish because you dare to believe your work deserves fair pay. Don’t buy into their guilt.
2. Be Selective About the Help You Give
Again, for many of us, time is the real luxury. Once you begin doing well as a writer, plenty of people will refuse to respect that. They will ask for one on one help. Some will fail to help themselves but take as much energy as they can from you.
You are allowed to say no. You are allowed to be honest and tell a person when you’d like to help them but unfortunately don’t have the time.
Personally, I think this is hardest for women. Most of us grow up with the mindset that saying no or refusing to help in the exact way someone wants is bitchy. Also, a lot of the advice I read that suggests a writer help others for free tends to come from men who carry at least some degree of privilege. Like a wife who manages their household.
We don’t all have the same capacity or energy to give away. It’s easy to get sucked into service that bleeds you dry and then wonder why you aren’t bringing in better money.
When time is at a premium, be selective in who or how you help. Often, you can find a way to answer questions through blog posts and other avenues through which you can get paid instead of giving your time away to anyone who expects it.
3. Opt for Syndication if You Want More Bylines or Wish to Give Your Work Away for Free
Sometimes, I encounter writers squabbling over whether or not they should allow a website or other publication to syndicate their work.
Syndication in the writing world is so common that it is often done for free. And while there’s nothing wrong with asking for a syndication fee, plenty of well-known websites will rarely agree. Personally, if I am going to offer anything for free, I am more likely to say yes to free syndication.
If I’ve already written the story and made money elsewhere, I’m typically willing to syndicate a story in exchange for exposure or a byline. That doesn’t mean I will always say yes. But as long as I don’t mind being associated with those who make the request, I generally will.
Think of it this way. While, yes, musicians might do better by making money on royalties for the use of their song(s), even that is not so simple. Those usage fees vary significantly depending upon who the artist is and how well their song has done.
Many musicians today make mere pennies per play on their music, and they find themselves in a similar boat as writers: wanting to get their work into as many hands as possible.
It makes more sense to control what you give away for free and limit it to work that’s already been done and has already earned something.
Besides, after a bit of syndication, you can always offer original content for real pay.
4. Don’t Take Lowball Jobs, Even When You’re Tempted for the Guise of “Stability”
I’m going to admit that this one has been tough for me. I am occasionally given writing job offers that sound good in theory for their consistency, but the pay is way too low.
Because I have no stability of a “real job,” and zero guarantees, I am occasionally tempted to take some shitty offers.
Before I began my personal writing career, I worked in social media and only made pennies per word. The company I wrote for paid $10 per 400+ word blog, and between $0.75 to $1.25 for each social media post. Each of those tasks took time to research—it wasn’t just about writing.
I lived with that kind of pay for about four years simply because I was so intent upon staying home with my daughter. And I’m proud that I got back on my feet by writing after falling pregnant and experiencing homelessness, but I never want to go to that place again where I’m writing for other businesses but making peanuts.
It’s been a scary journey, but I’ve learned that “stability” isn’t everything. It’s almost always a facade. Any job can end.
5. Ask for the Opportunities You Want
This is something I will likely always have to work on, but I suggest you get on it sooner rather than later. Successful people make a habit of asking for what they want instead of hoping that they’ll be offered the things they desire.
Me? I have had to stretch myself a lot in this area. I would always prefer for the opportunities to present themselves to me. But over the past year, I have been trying to do better about speaking up.
Recently, I approached a company that once hired me for a story and suggested a few ideas. I had to get out of my comfort zone to do it because part of me thought if they wanted another piece from me, they would have already reached out.
Well, I swallowed my pride and reached out instead. In response, they offered me a longer assignment for $0.80 a word.
Opportunities are out there, but you’ve got to be willing to ask for them.
6. Don’t Let Fear Prevent You From Writing Your Truth
Many writers are unprepared for the ways even a modicum of success might affect them. One thing I’ve seen a lot in myself and others is fear.
Becoming well-known on even a single platform can be strange. People will likely criticize you much more. Others will flock to you and it won’t always be comfortable.
Often, fear coaxes us into a certain sort of hiding. We might be afraid to write our truths even though that’s the stuff that really sets us apart from others.
Don’t let your fears about achieving or maintaining your success stunt your writing. Resolve to be fearless in the face of your doubts.
7. Dream Big and Never Quit Dreaming
You have to adopt a growth mindset if you want to make good money as a writer. There will be plenty of naysayers. Plenty of folks who for whatever reason want you to quit.
Dream big anyway.
What I really love about big dreams is how they inspire you to actually do the work. You know a dream is big when the person dreaming is committed to the cause despite what others say.
If you want to make a living as a full-time writer but you’re not making time to write each day, you are not dreaming big. Big dreams are those endeavors you commit to make happen.
You expand your horizons every time you begin dreaming big and working to achieve those goals. In one way or another, you tell the universe how to treat you and your ambition.
8. Quit Underestimating Your Expertise
So, you’ve been doing a thing for a while and you’ve been experiencing better results than most everyone else. You don’t have to be at the absolute tippy top to have some expertise. You don’t have to be the best to help others.
One of the smartest things I ever did for my writing career was to start leading blogging workshops. I started out doing them with Shaunta Grimes, and now I’m leading two a week alone.
Am I the best teacher out there? Of course not. I’m awkward and Aspie. I don’t like the sound of my own voice echoing in my ears as I speak. I worry that folks will be disappointed with my advice or demeanor. I’m shy and I’m not Shaunta. I also say “um” a lot.
But I do it anyway because I know it’s good for me and I see how it tangibly helps other writers.
Likewise, I recommend that you quit underestimating yourself. What are you really good at? Where is your expertise? There might be some really obvious ways for you to earn money if you would quit selling yourself so short.
9. Start Keeping a List of Contacts to Interview for Future Stories
As you write for more clients or make more pitches, it’s inevitable that you’ll be asked to do some research that requires you to speak with an expert.
One of the best things you can do for your writing career right now is to begin building up your address book.
The last thing you want to do is fret or flounder when you receive an assignment with a request for expert quotes. You also don’t want to simply regurgitate whatever has already been written online.
Learning how to find and approach experts isn’t “fun” for many writers, but it will greatly improve your work.
10. If You’re Gonna Get Desperate About Anything, Get Desperate About Building the Life You Want
We all know how “necessity is the mother of invention.” But what about desperation? Personally, I think that desperation gets a bad rep simply because not all desperation is the same.
Consider a person who’s really “desperate” for sex, drugs, or any other type of high. They don’t care who they hurt or how they get it. They will say anything to get their fix.
That’s unhealthy desperation. It’s the kind of stuff that brings people to some very low places.
But there’s healthy desperation too. Often, we call it drive or determination. Imagine the single parent who is so desperate to make ends meet that they are fully committed to following their dream to write from home.
Used the right way, their desperation can help guide them into making better choices. When you’re desperate to make things work, that doesn’t mean you’re desperate to accept any old outcome.
At least, you don’t have to be.
Channel your desperation into doing what you love. Channel it into following your dreams. Don’t settle for scraps or peanuts. Ask for more.
Believe in your worth as a writer and live accordingly to that belief.
Shifting your mindset doesn’t mean that you will never struggle. You might experience wildly successful months and not so hot ones but ultimately, you are preparing yourself to create the life you want.
A life where you follow your love of writing and actually earn a decent living.
So quit worrying over pennies. Start fighting for your future of abundance.