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What’s the secret to becoming a full-time paid writer?

Of all my writer friends–and there are many–I don’t know a single one who lives solely off the writing he or she really wants to be doing.

A good many of them live off their writing, yes.  But this kind of writing–the best kind of writing, in my book–doesn’t pay the bills for them.

Instead, their daily bread (or tortilla, as it were) comes from other gigs: technical writing, text book writing, test-writing.  In short, the kind of writing that is vaguely interesting, but not the kind they’d be doing if they had their druthers.


This morning, I woke up thinking about the news that National Geographic’s Adventure magazine had folded. I wasn’t sad, exactly. I don’t think I’ve ever even read the magazine. But when one of National Geographic’s magazines goes belly up on the heels of one of America’s best food magazines going under, you have to wonder what’s next and if the whole glossy market as we know it is headed for the graveyard.

“It’s all about a diverse income stream,” I thought as I started on the first coffee of the day.


David wrote about all this over on the Notebook, and I was struck by a quote he included from former USA Today travel section editor, Chris Gray Faust:

“I’ve been learning all the tricks that a modern multi-platform journalist is supposed to know. In the past 22 months, I’ve blogged, tweeted, shot photos and videos, and handled speaking engagements. I edited my section, managed my high-personality staff and then in my spare time, I wrote cover stories – something that very few other editors at USA TODAY do. I hustled and I cajoled and I ended up out on my ass anyway.”

The problem, though, was that Chris was using all these “tricks” for a single publication. She placed all her professional goals and income needs on USA Today, and, as she reflected, “ended up out on [her] ass….”

The secret to becoming a full-time paid writer is simple. Really. Don’t ever, ever, ever put all your words in one place.  Until the world values writers more–and sad to say, I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon–if you want to be a full-time paid writer, you’ll always need to make sure you have a diverse income stream.


6 responses »

  1. Cool response, Julie. I never thought about freelancing as a way to keep yourself secure with income. At least if you lose one job, you’ll always have something else to fall back on.

  2. This is great advice. It’ll be interesting to see how the portfolios of full-time writers evolve.

  3. Sage advice, Julie. Sage advice.

  4. This is genius, and it also gives me a soundbyte for explaining what I “do for a living” which is a multivariable list of whatnot. Now instead of a veritable laundry list that gives people the shivers, I can tell them I have a diversified work portfolio. It’s all in the spin. Think I’ll write a follow-up of this over in my little corner of the world.

  5. Pingback: Why you need to learn photo skills NOW « Cuaderno Inedito

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