Can You Earn A Living As A Freelance Writer?

When Lisa and I teach at writer’s conferences, we often hear the question “Can I earn a living as a writer?” (If we’re being honest, isn’t every writer’s dream to quit their “day job”?)

If you’ve read our bios, you know that Lisa and I both work full-time as freelance writers and editors. But we also know people who don’t make a living from their writing.

So I thought I’d create a little quiz to help you figure out whether a career in writing is right for you.

Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5 for each of these questions, and add up your score.

Why do you want a career in writing?
1 – Everyone’s doing it.
2 – Writing is an easy way to make money.
3 – I need to find a second career because I retired/was fired from the first one.
4 – I really enjoy writing, and I’d like to see if I can turn something I enjoy into a career.
5 – I feel driven/called to write, and I would write even if I didn’t get paid for it.

How many hours a week can you devote to launching your freelance career?
1 – Wait, you mean this is going to take a lot of time?
2 – I can eke out an hour or two.
3 – If I sacrifice some things like TV or Farmville, I can find a good 10 hours.
4 – I can write part-time for a minimum of 20 hours a week.
5 – I can go full-time right now because I’m independently wealthy or have a spouse who’s the bread-earner.

Are you prepared to market yourself by networking in person at conferences, setting up a website/blog, speaking, and joining social networking sites?
1 – Not a chance. Not gonna do it. I’m a writer. Promotion, marketing, and branding are someone else’s job.
2 – The hunchback of Notre Dame has more social skills than I do, and people scare me.
3 – I have no idea how to do any of that, but I’m willing to learn.
4 – I’m already on social networking sites, and am actively learning about how to market myself and build a platform.
5 – I have a website, blog, social networking accounts, and I’ve already attended some conferences.

How well do you take criticism, and how willing are you to learn from others?
1 – Screw you, I’m perfect.
2 – God gave me this idea, and the message is what’s important, so my writing skills don’t really matter.
3 – I can learn how to write on my own. I don’t need help.
4 – It takes me a while to accept the mistakes I’m making or to understand concepts, but I want to improve.
5 – Bring it on! At least if I know what stinks, I can fix it.

How flexible are you about what you write?
1 – I want to write a novel. Period.
2 – I didn’t know I’d have to write something other than what I love to make ends meet.
3 – I’m open to the idea of writing other things, but I’d rather not.
4 – I might be willing to take some less glamorous work (e.g. editing, copywriting) if it pays well.
5 – Call me Gumby. I’m willing to take any writing or editing jobs that will pay the bills to get my start.

How is your grasp on the rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling?
1 – I dont no nothing about them.
2 – Isn’t that what editors are for?
3 – I’m a quick learner. I’ll start brushing up right now. (Or I’m a slow learner, but I’m a hard worker.)
4 – I received excellent grades in English classes during high school and university.
5 – I am a grammar Nazi.

Have you received positive feedback on your writing?
1 – Not yet.
2 – Yes, but only from my husband/wife or best friend.
3 – I’ve had quite a few people tell me how much they enjoy my writing.
4 – I’ve had professionals tell me that my writing is ready, but I haven’t had anything published yet.
5 – I already have published clips and have been paid for my writing.

How do you think you’ll handle family/friends who disapprove of your career choice?
1 – I would quit if I didn’t have the full support of my loved ones.
2 – I’m too embarrassed to tell my friends and family that I’m considering full-time freelancing.
3 – It would take me a while to recover from their disapproval, but I think I’d eventually press forward.
4 – I’ll show them. They won’t stop me.
5 – I don’t expect everyone to agree with the choices I’ve made or the opinions I express. I would have to respectfully tell everyone else that we’ll have to agree to disagree. This is my life and my choice.

SCORE

8 to 16 – I’m really sorry to have to tell you this, but you probably want to look elsewhere for a career. Write as a hobby.

17 to 31 – You’re getting there, but you have a few obstacles to overcome and more learning to do before I’d recommend a career change. Many people fail at turning writing into a career because they jump into it before they’re ready.

32 to 40 – This career comes with no guarantees, but you’ve got as good a chance as anyone to earn a full-time living as a freelance writer.

How did you score? What else do you think it takes to earn a living as a freelance writer?

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

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10 comments on “Can You Earn A Living As A Freelance Writer?

  1. Marcy,

    I find your blog not only informative, but so encouraging.

    Yes, I was one of those naive idealists who thought the writing path would be lined with roses and laughter when I started down it a year ago. Since then, I’ve come face to face with each point you made in your survey.

    Writing is hard work, and often lonely. If I could add one “assessment” to your list, it would be; How well do you deal with being alone? and the flip side of that might be
    How good are you at connecting with like-minded people?

    Attending my first writer’s conference this summer opened my eyes to the vital necessity of MAKING WRITING FRIENDS! Friendships with other writers have not only kept me going through many rejections, but also helped me set the bar higher for my writing and publishing goals.

    Even though we’ve never met, I feel that Girls with Pens are now in my group of writing friends, and I so appreciate the comraderie.

    Thanks!

    • Shannon,

      You’re so right. This can be a very solitary profession, and building a community of fellow writers who will encourage you and push you to be better is essential. Thank you for making such a good point 🙂

      One of the reasons Lisa and I set up Girls With Pens was to build a community and help others. I’m glad you feel like we’re a group of writing friends. We feel like our commenters (and Facebook friends) are our friends too!

      Marcy

  2. I was just hired for my first freelance blogging and social media job last week. I’ve submitted my contracting paperwork and I’m waiting on my first assignment. I took your quiz and scored a 31. Whew! 🙂

    I want to write – I want to write my novel, I love blogging, and I just want to keep going.

  3. Great post (as usual). I talked for years about starting a career as a freelancer, but I knew that it would be tough. Now that I’m a mom, I’m trying to do what I can in my spare time to build that career and hoping that, as my girls get older and I can spend more time with my career, it will grow as well. These are great points to think about.

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