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.