Chip MacGregor

June 27, 2016

Ask the Agent: What do I need to know if I want to be a professional writer?


The other day we were talking about making a living at writing, and I had a couple of people suggest good ideas (check the comments section) and ask a couple great questions. I’ve talked about the importance of having a place and a time (among other things), but let me suggest there’s one other thing you’re going to have to learn to do if you are to take the next step in your writing career: learn to think quarterly. 

This may be new to you, so hear me out… Let’s say your goal is to make a part-time income with your writing — say, a thousand dollars per month, so $12,000 for the year. That would be enough to suggest this is a real part-time job, and not just a hobby. It’s a realistic goal for many writers. But it can be daunting to think you need to earn $1000 this month. So here’s what you need to know: Many writers find it far less daunting to think in terms of quarters. In other words, you don’t need to make $1000 this month — you need to make $3000 over the next quarter. Sure, the math is the same, but the fact that you have the extra time allows you to shift your priorities around, and give yourself enough breathing room that you can earn the money. So don’t think the pressure is on you to make all the money NOW — assume you’ve got a three-month goal.

By the way, the federal government already thinks that way — it’s why they ask self-employed writers and editors to pay quarterly taxes instead of monthly. Writing income never arrives on a monthly basis (with the exception of earned royalties from Amazon), but it’s fair for a writer to plan for a decent paycheck four times per year. So move your projected income into quarterly groupings, lowering the pressure, and give yourself a better big-picture view of your budget.

In essence, I’m suggesting the conversation with yourself becomes something like this: “I’m going to make $3000 this quarter. It’s going to come from three sources — my completion money, my royalty checks, the part-time editing jobs I get, and those articles I’m completing.” You add those up for the quarter, rather than trying to squeeze it all into this month. I know some of you reading this are thinking this is just a trick — but the fact is freelance writers have been doing this very thing for years, though you may never hear them talk about it.

When I was given this idea from an experienced freelance writer years ago, I found it took a bunch of pressure of my shoulders. LOTS of writers and other self-employed people have based their budgets on this model over the years. Thinking quarterly will help you survive as a writer.

What are the other tips for making a living at writing you’ve learned along the way?

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