If you have writing talent you can turn it into cash while traveling. And I am not just talking about blogging about your adventures (although blogging can be lucrative if done right). There are dozens if not hundreds of ways to make money using your laptop’s keyboard combined with a unique writing style. You don’t need a college degree or any degree for that matter. Your portfolio of completed writing assignments and samples is your resume. If you are good with words, there is always someone willing to pay.
I have been a professional writer for over 30 years. I have literally made millions of dollars at various writing gigs. I started writing video scripts for electronic firms in Silicon Valley, then moved on to writing copy for ad agencies and marketing firms. I then started my own marketing firm and quickly developed a client list of 33 Fortune 500 companies. After ten years of corporate America I was burned out, so I did what any writer would do… I moved to Hollywood and tried my hand at writing and making movies. I completed 23 screenplays, 7 of which were produced into motion pictures released worldwide and seen by over one hundred million people. After 10 years of putting up with Hollywood studios executives and a lot of heartbreak (the movie business is really tough on a writer’s soul), I moved into business writing and blogging, which is where I am at now. If you look at my writing career it’s clear that you don’t need to be pigeonholed into one type of writing gig. You can move around and change it up if you get bored or burned out.
Another great thing about a writing career is that many times it is non-geocentric. Clients, studios and publishers don’t really care where you are as long as you deliver quality on time and you can take an occasional meeting in person if necessary (and it is rarely necessary). I write all over the world. My office is the closest coffee shop, restaurant or hotel lobby. Yes, it takes discipline and a good set of earphones. I am a machine when I write. I hyper focus, shutting out the crying baby, loud teenagers and arguing couples. I understand that it is work. I struggle everyday to pound out writing that is true and worthwhile. But it’s a great job and I love it. Plus it pays the bills as I travel around the world.
Can I make a living as a writer?
For starters, you need the 2 things I mentioned above; talent and discipline. Discipline you can develop… just ask any soldier that’s been through basic training or any professional athlete. Talent on the other hand is a skill based on a point of view combined with taste. I believe you can develop writing talent, but you have to start with something in the first place. Personally, my writing was very rough in the beginning. I grew up in upper-middle class suburbia and therefore was somewhat sheltered from the world outside my neighborhood. When I started writing I really didn’t have much of a point of view because my beliefs had never really been challenged. However, I was able to develop my writing over time as I became more open to the world, different points of view and different cultures. It wasn’t easy and it took time, but now I make a living writing and I am proud of some of finished pieces.
So, to answer the above question… yeah. I mean, I obviously don’t know you, but if you have half a brain, a little talent and your disciplined, then yes, you can make a living as a writer. I am talking $40,000-70,000 US per year (as of this date). Some of you will make a lot more. Many of my writer friends, some screenwriters, some novelists are multi-millionaires. I have done pretty good myself, especially when you take into account where I started.
How do I get started?
I suggest you don’t start out trying to make a living as a screenwriter or novelist. Those are really tough gigs with tons of competition (The odds of getting a screenplay produced into a feature-length movie are less than 1%). You need to develop your writing skills and discipline before entering the fray of Hollywood or publishing. If you really want it, you can get there eventually, but give yourself time to plump up before throwing yourself to the lions. I wrote professionally for ten years before writing my first screenplay on spec. It was truly crap. After I finished my fifth screenplay, I was hired to write a screenplay. The screenplay I was hired to write and my fifth screenplay were both eventually made into movies.
You need to develop a writing portfolio. That’s your calling card and your marketing brochure. I suggest creating five sample pieces; copy for a magazine advertisement, copy for a website advertisement, copy for a product or service marketing brochure, copy for a corporate website and finally copy for a landing page. Those five piece, if written well, will get you your first writing gigs and you will build your portfolio from there. Write each based on and using the actual name of a real company or product, but make sure you mark it clearly as a “sample”. (Note: for those that don’t know “copy” means the words of a brochure, advertisement or website, not the photos or graphics. You can set your copy with photos and graphics if you think it will help your audience better understand your sample piece.)
You can get your first gigs by posting on Fiverr, Upwork and other freelance websites. There are a ton of them. If you are a new writer start with Fiverr. Clients don’t expect much for $5 and not lot of writers want to work for $5, so there is a good chance you will quickly pick up a few writing gigs. Now, here is the really important part about writing professionally… It does not matter how much you are being paid. You write your heart out on every single assignment that you take on and you meet your client’s deadlines. It is not about meeting your clients’ expectations. It’s about meeting your expectations and developing yourself as a professional writer. Keep the first draft you submit to your client before they ask for changes. This can go in your portfolio. Do not argue with your client when they want changes. Just do them to the very best of your ability, even if you think it is ruining the piece. This is not selling out. It is being a professional. If you can’t do that, then don’t take the assignment. Write tight. Write fast. And don’t over edit yourself. I usually only do only one edit pass on my work before publishing. I want to keep my work fresh.
You are probably not going to make very much money on Fiverr, but you will build a portfolio. Next, move on to Upwork and some of the other upscale freelance websites. Also, don’t be afraid to use your network of friends and family for recommendations of potential writing clients. I got my first professional writing gig from a recommendation from a friend of my family. He was a manager at IBM and he knew another manager that needed some training material developed for a manufacturing line. I did a good job on the first gig. IBM hired me to do 50 more. It was a huge amount of work, but I made over $80,000 US my first year as a professional writer (and that was 30 years ago!).
Every writer should have a blog where they can release some their inner demons. Writing is cathartic and good for the soul. Whether you make money on your blog is probably going to depend more on your marketing skill with social media than the quality of your writing. That is why I am not a big fan of blogging as a career. It requires two well developed skill sets to succeed; writing and marketing. Every writer has to do some marketing, but blog writers need to spend just as much or even more time marketing their work than they take to write it. The best way to earn money blogging is to sell a product or service directly connected to the blog. Selling an e-book or guide on training your dog bizarre tricks might be a good match for a blog on rescue dogs and their owners.
You really don’t need to anything more than what I have written above to get started as a professional writer. Once you get the ball rolling you will easily figure out your next move. You will naturally grow as a writer. As long as you are putting your heart into it, the more you write the better you get. Just be patient with yourself. When the time is write, you try a crack at screenwriting, commercials, video games or publishing. That’s where you can make big money. Just be ready to compete against some great writers. No matter what, you’ll be able to fall back on your career as a professional writer.