We’ve been exploring the idea of “how to make a living at writing,” and I’ve saved up a handful of questions from people who have written to ask about becoming a career writer. Someone wrote several months ago to ask, “What would you say is the ONE PIECE of advice you’d give a career writer to help them succeed?” I love the question, and I’ve been mulling it over for a while now. We could talk about writing goals, or butt-in-chair time, or all sorts of tips and techniques, but if there was just one piece of advice I would give, I think it would be, “Develop a writing calendar.”
That may not sound terribly deep or sexy, but if you’re going to make a living at writing, you need to seriously consider creating a writing calendar. This is, you need to have a document that details what you’re going to write each day. Think about buying a big paper calendar, and jotting down a writing goal for each day of the month. For example, perhaps on Monday you’re working on chapter five of your book; Tuesday you’re completing the chapter; Wednesday you are creating that article you’ve wanted to do for the writing magazine; Thursday and Friday you are doing a paid edit. In each day on your calendar you’ve got something that focuses you on the task at hand, to give clarity and direction to your writing. Maybe it’s as simple as, “I’m going to write 3000 words on my novel” or “I’m going to finish chapter ten.” But you have a calendar, and you treat writing as a job by having your goal for what you plan to accomplish each day.
To figure out what you put into each day, you look at your “to do” list and do some prioritizing. What needs to get written today? What will pay off? What will push your career forward?
If you’re one of those writers who has been stuck at “I’m hoping to write 1000 words each day,” but not ever feeling like you’re actually moving forward in your career, you should try creating a calendar. There’s nothing wrong with having a word count goal, of course, but sometimes it’s better to know which project you’re working on, and how long it’s going to take you. You’re going to have plenty of other things to do, of course — there will be phone calls related to your work, seemingly endless emails, a friend’s piece to critique, some social media to participate in… but at some point you just want your writing life to have a focus — getting these pieces written so I can make some money.
And that’s why you don’t just write down the goal for each day and stop. You then go back and add in a dollar figure, so each project is seen as contributing to your budget. For example, that article you’re writing for the writing magazine? How much is that paying you? Let’s say it’s $150 — you write down “writing magazine article – $150” into the square on your calendar for that day. The editing project you’re doing? It pays $300, so write that over the Thursday and Friday squares. Oh, and that chapter you’re creating? You’re expecting to sell that book for about $5000, so each chapter has a monetary value of roughly $250. I know that might seem a bit dreamy at first, but trust me, in time you’ll appreciate knowing what sort of value to put onto your writing efforts.
Figuring out your writing value isn’t hard — if your goal is to make $36,000 per year at writing, you’re trying to make $3000 per month, or $750 per week, or an average of $150 pr day. You won’t find writing jobs that are quite that precise, of course, so you’ll need to think more broadly as you create your calendar. But knowing the overall amount of money you’re trying to generate, and breaking it down into smaller goals, makes the entire process much more doable.
Nothing makes you look at reality more clearly than a number, so figure out the projects you’re going to work on this month, break them into workable units, get them onto a calendar, and attach a dollar figure to each one, so that you have some sense of what you should be making. That’s how you get started at the business of making a living writing.
Okay, so that’s the one bit of advice I would share. What about you? What’s the ONE THING you’d tell a writer who wants to start making a living at this business?