The Working Writer Lifestyle

I’ve been writing for a living for most of the past three decades. You’d think I’d be rich by now.

Apparently I’m not that kind of writer. But I am a working writer, something I give thanks for nearly every day, in the awareness that of the multitudes who write, relatively few ever earn a living doing it. So I have that going for me.

What is it like to be a working writer? I can answer only for myself, but I can share with you six values and habits I’ve developed over the years that I think have served me well:

I keep office hours.

I don’t have a time clock to punch or a boss checking on me every day, but I still keep regular office hours. I’m at my desk every morning at 9 and keep at it until 5 or later, with a half-hour break for lunch. I will admit that, when my wife started working from home during the recent COVID-related shutdown, she marveled at my frequent trips to the refrigerator. But those are strictly to get me moving and prevent back problems from sitting all day. Honest.

I don’t get writer’s block.

I can’t afford to get writer’s block, so I don’t. There are times when the creativity seems to flow like molasses, and that slows me down some; but I don’t let low energy or lack of inspiration stop me cold.

I plan pro bono work carefully.

Many writers are asked to write pro bono, which is an abbreviated Latin phrase meaning “for the [public] good.” Like many others, there was a time when I just wanted to see my name in print, so I seized nearly every opportunity to do so. I soon decided, however, that since I don’t expect my mechanic or doctor to work for free, I wouldn’t put that expectation on my own work. So I set my rates and then planned to take the initiative and offer my services where I thought they could do the most good. As time went on, I also tried to be as generous as possible in granting reprint permissions, when doing so wouldn’t compromise a work’s value. I think I’ve managed to be a good steward for God, my household, and the church, by planning pro bono work carefully.

I don’t turn down work.

As a rule, that is. I have, on occasion, had to decline an opportunity that either didn’t pay or didn’t pay well enough to justify the time and effort. I once even had to turn down a coauthoring project with a top-tier Christian personality because I was committed to another project, and the schedules conflicted. But by and large, I will find the time when work is available because it isn’t always available.  

I work ahead.

Deadlines are my friends. I keep that friendship by working as far ahead as possible. (For example, I’m writing this post almost two months before it’s due.) Working ahead prevents a lot of stress and panic and allows me to say yes more often. It gives me the flexibility to move things around in my schedule when I need to and turn on a dime (or nickel or penny) when necessary.

I prioritize passive income when possible.

Like many working writers, I’ve patched together a combo of book advances and royalties, work-for-hire, speaking fees, affiliate links, and more to meet my family’s budget year after year. It’s never been easy or automatic, by any means. But when I’ve had to choose, I’ve chosen to prioritize the promise of passive income (royalties, blog and website ad income, etc.). Those amounts don’t always pay off; but when they do, they make it possible to keep earning for work that was done months or years ago. It’s “found money,” and who doesn’t like finding money?

These six values or habits may not seem like much, but I think they’ve served me well. They’ve made being a “self-employed” writer (with an impossible boss) doable for many years, which has enabled me the joy and honor of reaching—and continuing to reach—many readers with the help and hope that is found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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One Writer’s Beginnings

I am asked often, “How’d you get your start as a writer?” The question has many possible answers. I usually say something like, “Well, I was raised as a reader and writer, more or less, in a family of readers and writers.” The first time I saw my name in …

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And I wish I could fix it.

To hear the anguish is difficult, but to be the one who delivers the bad news is heart-wrenching. Why is it that they seem to come in bunches? So what do you do when you run into the inevitable disappointments the writing experience throws at you?

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by Steve Laube

Last Friday in the comments Dr. Richard Mabry wrote, “Tired after doing a few household chores that never used to leave me dragging. Now I’m ready to be up and dancing. Age is just a number, isn’t it?”

Then on Saturday I spoke at the Christian Writes of the West mini-conference where one of the writers asked “Do older writers have a chance? Especially if agents and publishers are looking for a long career investment?”

It is a great question. Does it matter how old you are? No it doesn’t. When your proposal lands on our desk or on an editor’s desk it is the words on the page that speak to us. I rarely even think about the writer’s age, ethnicity, economic status, or any other non-writing ability classification while I’m reading the sample chapters. Of course there are exceptions. A few times I could tell the author was very young by the way they were writing a romance scene…they simply had not yet “fallen in love” and couldn’t quite express it in a full way.

We have a number of clients who are in their 20s we also have a number who are in their 70s. What matters is whether they’ve written a great book and have a platform (for non-fiction) to sell it from.

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Writing Advice I Took to Heart

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by Kim Vogel Sawyer

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In addition to writing, Kim Vogel Sawyer is a popular speaker, freely sharing her testimony of God’s grace and healing-both physical and emotional-in her life. She and her husband Don reside in Hutchinson, Kansas, and have three daughters and four grandchildren. She is active in her church and loves singing, acting, playing handbells, quilting, and chocolate!


In 2002, as my health was crumbling to the point that full-time teaching was no longer a possibility and I didn’t know what I was going to do, my dad–feeling as though I needed a major lift–took it upon himself to make my publishing dream come true. He sent a story I’d written, titled A Seeking Heart, to Steve Laube, who, at the time, owned a self-publishing company called ACW Press. And Steve agreed to help me get it into print.

Thus began a journey beyond the scope of my wildest imaginings.

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