Whether you’re writing your first novel or attempting to establish yourself as a freelance copywriter, becoming successful often begins with a struggle. You must be able to support yourself while writing if you want to survive, so you’ll have to utilize multiple resources and strategies. Eventually, you can dedicate yourself wholly to your craft.

Here’s how to survive as a writer:

  1. Don’t quit your day job yet.
  2. Create a portfolio.
  3. Utilize multiple income streams.
  4. Set a schedule
  5. Be kind to yourself.

This article explains how to survive as a writer. It includes tips for diversifying your writing portfolio, utilizing multiple income sources, and managing your time efficiently, so stick around.

1. Don’t Quit Your Day Job Yet

Making a living as just a writer means dedicating your time and energy to your career. Money doesn’t come right away and it takes a lot of work. If the plan is to quit your job, write a book, and live off the royalties, you’re living in a fantasy world.

Writing one book and becoming wealthy enough to support yourself isn’t the reality for most writers. According to The Steve Laube Agency, most authors barely earn the legal minimum wage from their titles.

You must support yourself if you want to survive as an author, journalist, or editor. You cannot sit at your writing desk all day, staring out the window while life marches on. You must make connections, earn income, and support yourself while working on creative projects.

Unless you’re earning significant royalties or income from writing gigs, quitting your job poses a threat to your livelihood and career as a writer. Money is necessary to feed, clothe, bathe, and shelter ourselves, and without a house to live in, how do you expect to write a book or work in peace?

With that said, don’t quit your job right away. Without income, people become immensely stressed. Stress leads to writer’s block, and writer’s block means that you’re unable to move forward in your writing career. 

So, in the end, you could end up with nothing.

Hold that job until you can guarantee that you can financially support yourself as you become a full-time writer. If you’re set on devoting more time to creative work, consider cutting back on your hours if it works within your budget.

2. Create a Portfolio

Whether you’re a fantasy fiction author or a freelance copywriter specializing in digital marketing, you need a portfolio. They showcase your work to potential clients and advertise your niche, writing style, and the quality of past projects. 

Some writers even include testimonials from past clients.

To create a portfolio, create a website or blog dedicated to your creative work. Alternatively, you might consider writing for a website with a large readership, such as Medium. 

Here’s the information you should include in your writing portfolio:

Just because you’re a fantasy novelist doesn’t mean that you can’t write web content, magazine articles, or informative pieces. However, if you’re a multi-faceted writer, you may want to create a portfolio that showcases all of your talents in one place, or you could make separate portfolios for each niche or type of writing.

3. Utilize Multiple Income Streams

Thousands of fiction authors supplement their income through freelance gigs, writing white papers, editing documents, transcribing audio, and more. This is a good way to broaden your client base and utilize a variety of skills.

 It also allows you to earn an income while you spend time working on your book or other writing projects.

Even JK Rowling and Stephen King don’t rely on royalties to earn a steady flow of income. They receive money from multiple sources, including:

  • Film deals
  • Interviews
  • Book tours
  • Podcasts
  • Speaking gigs

Some authors sell writing courses and e-books, coach, edit, or teach classes and seminars.

The moral here is to never put your entire net worth into a single stock and don’t limit yourself to a single gig. Invest your creative energy in multiple projects that allow you to earn income. If you restrict yourself to a single source of income, you lose everything if it falls through.

With multiple ways to earn a living, you experience less stress and have more time to spend writing.

Once you’ve achieved financial stability through freelance work or other gigs, you can focus more on your creative projects instead of stressing about how you’re going to keep a roof over your head.

Let’s look at a few ways that you can earn money to survive as a writer.

Book Advances

While it’s uncommon for traditional publishers to offer lucrative advances to first-time authors, they might offer enough to cover at least some of your expenses as you write. According to Good E-Reader, first-time authors may receive advances up to $10,000.

However, advances of this size are not the norm, and, even if they were, $10,000 wouldn’t last very long to cover expenses, especially if you spend a year producing the story.

Not to mention, advances are paid back with the book’s royalties, so authors receive zero royalties until the advance is paid in full. So, keep that in mind before assuming you can live off of an advance and the royalties on the book’s launch.

Submit Articles to Publications

Some writers and authors spend a little time each week submitting pieces of work to different magazines and other publications for review

Upon review and approval, many of these publications pay writers.

For example, The Sun Magazine publishes essays, fiction, and poetry. Below are their pay rates for accepted submissions that appear in the magazine:

The Sun Magazine Submission Pay Rates
Type of WritingPay
Personal Essays$300-$2,000
Fiction$300-$2,000
Poetry$100-$250

The American Scholar is another magazine that accepts nonfiction submissions on public affairs, culture, literature, science, and history. They pay up to $500 for pieces accepted and published in their magazine and up to $250 for pieces used on their website.

Of course, selling magazine articles and essays doesn’t always translate to disposable income. 

The chances of being rejected are high, so it’s important to have a regular flow of submissions going out for the best results.

Sell Items

Websites like CafePress, Zazzle, and Etsy make it easy for freelancers to earn a little money on the side while they establish themselves as writers or authors. You can sell items relating to literature, such as journals or coffee mugs with book quotes. 

However, unless the quote is public domain, you’ll have to request permission from the copyright holder.

Crowdfunding

Some writers have success with crowdfunding campaigns, although it’s usually those who already have somewhat of a following. If you’ve already written a book or two and have thousands of followers, they might be willing to contribute to your campaign to cover some of your living expenses, especially if they highly anticipate your next project. 

Offer Your Services

This is perhaps the most lucrative and successful way to earn money for daily expenses as a writer. 

Since you already have writing skills, you can offer those services to people on platforms such as Fiverr. There, you can create a gig, set your price, offer “gig extras” at an additional cost, and start earning money and establishing a reputation.

Fiverr isn’t limited to just writing, either. You can offer editing, beta readings, feedback, and other services.

4. Set a Schedule

After securing numerous guaranteed income streams, it’s time to cut the full-time job, which can be incredibly intimidating. Unless you’re fully certain that you can sustain yourself with your “side income,” consider hanging onto your day job for just a little longer.

Once you’ve quit your day job, life can easily become a little chaotic. 

Working under a company is pretty well-structured, as there are rules, expectations, and a boss to keep you on track. However, once you dedicate yourself to becoming a full-time, self-employed writer, you no longer have rules to abide by, nor do you have to answer to anyone but yourself. 

It can be liberating but also detrimental to your career as a writer. Sometimes, we just don’t hold ourselves accountable.

So, treat writing like your job, because that’s what it is. Here’s how to do that:

  • Set a schedule and stick to it. 
  • Wake up at the same time every day and begin your writing routine. 
  • Keep a chart of daily goals and write often.
  • Don’t forget to check in on your income sources, because you don’t want to wake up one day to find out that you don’t have enough earnings to pay rent.

While some writers find themselves feeling a little “lazy” without anyone to hold them accountable, some writers find that being self-employed makes them work harder, and sometimes too hard. Since they work at home, it’s difficult to draw a line between work and home, so they work day in and day out without a break.

You must find the right balance to ensure a successful career.

5. Be Kind to Yourself

Becoming a successful writer or author is tough, and sometimes, we’re too hard on ourselves when we don’t achieve what we expect to accomplish in a given amount of time. 

However, it’s important to be kind to yourself.

Motivate, encourage, push, and speak life into yourself so that you improve every single day. Instead of picking apart your writing, pretend you’re reading the work of a close friend and offer constructive feedback to yourself, as a friend would do for you.

If you feel like you need a break, take one. Don’t overwork yourself and end up burning out. That inner flame is necessary to keep you on your creative streak.

When you find that you’re not earning enough to sustain yourself as a full-time writer, get back into the job world until you can. There’s no shame in struggling, as it’s what leads to greatness. The shame comes when you hold your head down and refuse to take on obstacles because you’ve resigned to giving up.

So, go easy on yourself. You deserve it.

Key Takeaways

To become a successful full-time writer who survives, thrives, and earns an income from home, you have to be willing to put in a lot of work. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Don’t quit your job and wait for a miracle. Keep working until you can develop a full-time income from self-employment.
  • Diversify your portfolio. Don’t limit yourself to one writing style — expand to open yourself up to additional opportunities.
  • Earn income in multiple ways. Never put all of your eggs in one basket.
  • Set a writing and work schedule — and stick to it!
  • Go easy on yourself.

Ol Adams

Letter Review is currently edited by Ol Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Ol Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. Ol has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.