Can You Make a Living Writing? Advice From Established Writers

If you have a passion for writing, this question has likely crossed your mind on more than one occasion.

Writing is fantastic and fulfilling, but can you make a career out of it without being a published author? And if you can, how?

I reached out to some of the awesome writers I know and found some great insight. Plus, I've got a bit of my own experience and insight as a writer to share. Here's what I think and what I've found:

First of all: Are you sure you want what you think you want?

I've heard other writers say that if you take your love of writing and make it your main source of income by deciding to write for a living, you could take some of the enjoyment out of it, because of the pressure to make money. And, I truly think that a lot of times, the grass is always greener. We think that if we could just stop doing whatever we do full time and just write for a living, everything would be great.

But if you think about it, that is a lot of pressure. If you have to make a certain amount of money, trying to be a freelance writer is likely going to be a bit stressful. So... ask yourself, are you 100% sure that this is what you want? If it is, fantastic! I think that's awesome. I just think it doesn't hurt to look at it from another perspective before you dive in.

And if you keep your day job and keep the writing for fun, I think that's also fantastic! It's a great way to enjoy something you love, without putting any expectations on it whatsoever. 

Prepare to hustle

A common response I noted from all the writers I spoke to was that there is a LOT of hustling involved. One writer said, "It’s all about the hustle when you’re freelance — being a great writer is only part of the picture. Pitching, pitching, pitching and more pitching is the only thing that’ll keep the money coming."

I can attest to this. Back in my freelance writing days, I found I had to constantly be on my game, coming up with ideas, pitching editors I knew, and finding new places to pitch. 

Another writer said, "I think it’s good to be realistic about the need to constantly find new places to write for. So many times a great client would have their budget slashed, or a newspaper would shut down, or a media company would stop hiring freelance, and the money I had learned to rely on would POOF into thin air." 

Which leads to my next point...

Finding many, many contacts is key

If you're writing articles or content, you're likely only going to get so many articles assigned or pitches accepted each month. Staff writing is one option but can be hard to come by and find. So, it's always a good idea to establish lots of relationships and find many contacts.

But, when you're new how do you do that?

One writer told me, "My business has been basically 100% referrals. My clients are all either people I knew from blogging, people referred to me by people from blogging, and people I met online in a Facebook group. Also, I have one client who taught me how to paddleboard and now I help her with things."

Another way? Just keep pitching. It goes back to my point about hustling. The more you pitch, the more contacts you'll eventually make. When I was freelancing, I networked, established relationships, told people about myself, and showed them what I can do. I sent pitch after pitch to people I knew and didn't know. I made phone calls (even though I HATE that kind of stuff), I met people in person when possible. I did whatever I could.

It came down to networking like crazy and reaching out to anyone and everyone I knew.

Don’t necessarily expect a full-time income

Unless you're doing something like copywriting, where you can charge by the hour and make more income, it's definitely very hard to make "full-time" money solely from freelance article writing. 

Some common comments I heard were things like, "This year I am on track to make the most I’ve made ever, but it's still not near a full-time income amount." 

And "I couldn’t make a full-time living writing freelance, but it was a great supplement when I was a two-income family unit."

And "While I made great money last year, this year I have not made a living wage, despite multiple big bylines. It’s really, really tough. Doable, but tough."

These comments are all from established, published writers with big portfolios and some big-time publications under their belts as well.

I don't say this to be a negative nelly, but to hopefully help you set realistic expectations. If you do want to write for a living, it's great to have your budget and your needs very clear. Can you get by with less than full-time money?

If not, a great way to help make it happen is this next point...

Find supplemental work

Writing is likely just one part of the picture. One writer said she supplements by teaching online writing workshops and mentoring other writers. 

If you're newer to writing, another way to do it is to supplement with other 'remote' types of work you can do. A writer I know who writes blogs is also a copywriter, a VA (virtual assistant) and a social media manager. And another writer I know does social media consulting and management as well as sponsored posts in addition to her freelance writing.

I personally went from copywriting full time (I had done a postgraduate program in copywriting) to freelance writing, to some content writing and blogging to where I am today: Editor-in-Chief at a parenting publication.

It took me a long, long time to get where I am, but I've spent my adult life writing, both for work and just for fun. So, it is possible! But if you're looking to jump into full-time freelance writing, there are certain things that you need to know.

I hope you found this helpful! And for any writers reading this with extra advice, tips or info, please let us know in the comments! Knowledge is power, and I love helping my fellow writers out.