It’s not easy to make a full-time living as a writer, but it’s possible. Many writers are able to earn a decent living with their writing, and it’s not as uncommon as you might think for professional writers to earn upwards of six figures a year. The catch is unless you’re a hugely famous writer, there’s almost always a trade-off for earning a high income, whether it’s working 60 hours a week or writing content that doesn’t exactly feed your soul.
It’s important to be aware of these trade-offs so you know what to realistically expect when it comes to making a living as a writer — this will help you plan accordingly.
Over the years, our own revenue models have changed quite a bit as our writing careers have grown. Sometimes career growth translates into earning more money, but sometimes it translates to earning less, like if you take time off to work on a novel, for example. Especially if you’re new to the writing game, it can be helpful to see how writers make money. Below are a few approaches.
Copywriting generally involves writing content focused on marketing or advertising. The goal is to persuade — typically to raise brand awareness or sell a product to a consumer. Copywriting might include writing website content, newsletters, white papers, social media posts, or blog posts for companies.
Copywriting can be a decent way for professional writers to make a living — on average, copywriters earn $58,465 a year, according to Glassdoor. If you’re a freelance copywriter, you may be able to earn significantly more, especially if you’re a fast worker. Companies typically pay freelancers higher rates since hiring freelancers reduces their overhead payroll costs. You may be able to find staff copywriting jobs at an agency or directly at a company. Jooble is a good place to start your search.
Many writers use their freelance or full-time copywriting job to fund their more creative writing. It’s sort of like being your own patron. You make enough to pay the bills, which allows you to work on writing projects that might not pay as much. And with copywriting, you get to practice your writing skills.
Staff writing jobs
Because staff writing jobs — reporters, journalists, TV writers — are typically coveted, these writing jobs can be harder to land. There’s usually more competition, and especially in journalism, the salary isn’t stellar. Glassdoor reports that the average staff writer earns $45,833 a year.
Many of these jobs, especially at larger publications or media and production companies, usually hire from within. This means they’ll choose candidates from within the company rather than hire a new, outside writer unless that writer has serious credentials and experience from another large publication or company.
Some writers work their way up, starting as writer’s assistants or social media managers to later get promoted to a staff writing job. Mediabistro and Study Hall are both great platforms for searching for staff writing work.
Freelance writing is a broad term that can encompass all sorts of different types of writing: journalism, copywriting, newsletters, social media, scriptwriting — the list goes on. And the beauty of freelancing is that you can build a career that includes a variety of different types of writing.
Again, freelancers are typically paid a higher rate than full-time writers because companies don’t have to pay for expenses like healthcare for these freelance workers. The trade-off is, as a freelancer, you have to worry about getting your own healthcare, paying your own taxes, and doing all sorts of other administrative tasks (hello, invoicing). The advantage of being a freelancer is that your income is not limited by salary. You can earn more by taking on more clients. We recommend The Money Book For Freelancers to help navigate the financial and business ins-and-outs of freelancing. Some of our favorite job boards for finding freelance writing gigs include:
Of course, the Come Write With Us freelance writing course is great for writers looking for an all-in-one guide for getting started with building your freelance media writing career.
Many professional writers make money teaching writing. Some of these writers are college professors, some may be English teachers, and like us, some writers may teach online or remotely.
We earn a modest portion of our income through our Teachable courses, via online coaching, and by teaching writing workshops to business groups. The advantage of teaching is that you learn a lot about improving your own writing skills by teaching it to others.
The “Slash Approach”
When figuring out how writers make money, look at all the different types of work they do — much of it isn’t limited to writing. For example, some writers might make their income from freelance writing, video editing, and web design. They diversify their income streams.
“The slash approach involves having two or more narrow jobs or businesses that you shift between. Your various projects remain separate and are not overtly combined. This is the person who does graphic design part time and teaches yoga part time. It’s the lawyer/minister or the therapist/luthier. From a self-employment perspective, it’s the lateral freelancer or the person who has multiple, unrelated narrow businesses.”
With this approach, you earn an income through your writing, but it remains separate from other streams of income.
“Good Enough” Jobs
As a writer, there’s nothing wrong with having a day job. Many writers use a regular full-time job to pay the bills while they work on passion projects or long-term writing projects, like a book or investigative journalism piece.
Author and career counselor Barbara Sher calls this approach a “good enough job.” The work may not feed your soul, but it pays the bills so you can pursue your writing on your own time. After all, when you’re constantly worried about money and how you’re going to pay rent, it’s kind of hard to focus on that screenplay or manuscript you want to write.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to a “good enough” job. You can get too comfortable in that job and end up neglecting your writing. Or that job can absolutely drain you, and when you get home, you don’t have the energy to do anything but stare at the television for the rest of the night. The key is to find a job that allows you to earn a living without stealing all of your free time — easier said than done in this climate, we know. But if you know the purpose of your “good enough” job is to fund your writing, it’s at least a solid start.
Making money as a writer, in general, is easier said than done. It helps to learn how other writers manage to make it happen, though. And while there’s no blueprint for how writers make money, there are a few common approaches that can help you get started.