Finding Career Success as a Full-Time Writer

As writers, we’ve come a long way from the newsrooms like the NYT one pictured above. Full-time writer opportunities these days offer a lot more diversity than the slew of white men sitting at their desks, privy to the insider information, nose to the ground investigative journalism, enough money in their pockets to afford a decent living. Today, many writers make their mark in the industry from the comforts of their own home, although the income awarded such is variable from meager to the 6-figured few.

I have tossed my hat in amongst them; a middle-aged, single, white woman. College-educated but no real training to take on a writing career. You may wonder if writing full time is something you can do. If there really is space in this competitive field for your voice.

Let me tell you if I can do it, mediocre blogger, as I, then you can too but it won’t be easy. You’ll need a healthy dose of what we call here in the south, grit. Of that, I have more than the average pen-pushing dreamer.

Just a few short months ago I was a stay at home mom, playing with my writing as if it were merely a pass time, paving the way to one day being an author. I wrote my first book during that time and also released a poetry collection. I started on Medium roughly 2 years ago as a way to develop this “writer’s platform” I hear so much about.

I am grateful for all of that sowing because when my life took a dramatic turn, I was suddenly faced with the enormous burden of providing a full-time income for myself having not worked a “real job” in over 6 years. I did what any fool would do — I launched a full time writing business and jumped in with both of my feet and one very broken heart. Those sleepless nights nursing my tender, traumatized soul gave me a kind of crazed energy to pour into my new writing business. If you build it, they will come, right?

They did. I wrote and wrote and the clients showed up. Clients sowed in the fields of that platform-building I’d been doing. Connections from this very platform (Medium) created business opportunities and just like that, I am writing for a living. A meager living, but still, it is growing.

Many of you would-be full-time writers are out there with a “real job” and a career, spending all your free time nurturing the dream of writing full time. Well, since my life was thrust into that position, I thought I’d share a few thoughts with you on the matter.

What it’s Really Like for Full Time Writers

Scheduling Is Important for Full Time Writers

Yes, you can sleep in. No time clock, per se, but you will have to be a master of your own scheduling. Thankfully, Google calendar and Alexa are there to help with reminders, but be prepared to schedule your work, schedule time to interact with clients or set up Zoom meetings, and time for your financial management tasks.

Dropping the ball is not an option. Set your hours and your calendar to really work for you and give your workday a bit of structure. Otherwise, you’re working around the clock. It is really easy to get stuck in a 24-hour work cycle if your schedule is not structured. Writing is one of those things that doesn’t always have a conclusive end, so break it up into manageable, schedulable blocks of time.

Full Time Writers Have Variable Income

Some weeks you are rolling in the dough; others are panic-inducing droughts. If this sends you into a mental health tailspin, perhaps a full-time writing job isn’t for you.

Full-time writing is often a matter of lots of “irons in the fire” and managing all of them as best you can. Sometimes the money is pending for a while or you are waiting for clients to pay up their invoices. Be prepared and spend carefully.

Also, be prepared for some issues regarding “proof of income” which is required for many of the following:

  • Getting approved for an apartment or rental house. Their leasing requirements often require 2 years of proof of income for self-employed persons.
  • Getting a loan. (Same deal as above.)
  • Applying for assistance. (Same.)

Full Time Writers Must Look for or Create Their Own Opportunities

Writing for a living is a four-part strategy:

  • Workload & client management
  • Research, writing, editing
  • Financial management & business record keeping
  • Searching for work

If you forget that last part, your business may fizzle out. Every single day you are job hunting. Sending out connects and emails. Applying for jobs or emailing prospective clients. Have your updated portfolio and references on the ready.

You can also create your own work opportunities.

  • Write materials or training courses to sell.
  • Offer Zoom mentoring services.
  • Monetize your blog or newsletter.
  • Write pieces to pitch to paying outlets.

Being Your Own Boss Is Not for the Faint of Heart Writer

Self-employment, which is what many writers do when they work full time, or at least until they find that cushy position with a company, is not for everyone. You must have self-discipline, grit, determination, and good follow-through.

Any mental health or habit issues you have will be amplified. Make no mistake, writing for a living will test your resolve.

Forget the Writer Stereotypes

The image of a writer sitting at the desk, coffee cup steaming, a lovely window overlooking the scenic natural space — all lovely and largely not the norm. It’s more like working long hours in yesterday’s socks and feeling overwhelmed the mere moment you wake up in the morning. Clients messaging you all hours of the day or night, each thinking their particular need is more important than any other client’s need (or your personal time).

It’s not as “pretty” as you might imagine so keep that in mind when you are setting up your workspace and planning your day. It is ok for it to be a bit messy.

Writing Full Time Is Rewarding but Very Hard Work

The biggest lesson I have learned as a full-time writer is that when others are pressing you to “get a real job” you are screaming on the inside. It IS a real job. A hard job. One the naysayers probably would not be able to master.

Stick to your guns and work hard. The critics will catch up once your income becomes more stable and you can verify some relative success.

How you measure your own successes is up to you and no one else. For me, coming from an income of next to zero to the income I have now, I see it as a great success. I used to work in the hairstyling industry many years ago and remember clearly the years it took me to build that business into making the money I am making now — after only 3 months as a full-time writer. Of this, I am very proud. I also know the sky’s the limit for me in this industry. There are also many more opportunities in the writing industry to create passive income.

I’ve learned a lot about SEO, writing practices, client management, and operating a self-owned business. I have the software in place to dictate my work and to invoice clients. Every step forward is an investment in my future as a full time writing professionally.

If you are thinking of taking the plunge, quitting your day job, and launching yourself into writing full time, consider a few things:

  • Can you afford to have a dip in your monthly income while you build your full time writing career? If now, sow the seeds for a while and wait for the harvest. When the clients begin to pile up, then take that leap.
  • Is your skill level up to par with the career choices available to you? (Freelancing, SEO content writing, novel writing, copywriting, etc.) If not, go ahead and take a few courses to sharpen your skills before you quit your current career.
  • How self-disciplined are you? Practice holding yourself accountable for your own work ethic with one-off writing jobs or smaller clients. Once you get the hang of all the self-management practices and can manage it all well, then consider taking on more clients and pulling away from the day job or working part-time while you build your business.

If you really want to be a full-time writer, set a few realistic goals for yourself and get ready to work hard to make it happen. Writing for a living is a bit uncertain but you can take it as far as your determination can lead you. There are many working opportunities out there for writers and plenty of work to go around, as long as you set yourself apart from the competition with your skill and professionalism.

Christina M. Ward is a freelance writing professional and author. She works as a full-time writer in the great state of North Carolina.

Thank you for reading.