I don’t remember how old I was or which teacher it was, but bear with me. One day, when I was a teenager, a teacher asked me what I wanted to do (when I grew up) and I told them I wanted to be a writer.
It was all I’d ever really wanted to be.
The teacher sucked in air, like a tradesperson about to tell me just how much something I wanted doing was going to cost.
“Writers don’t make money,” they told me. “You should find a different career and keep writing as a hobby.”
And because I was young and naïve and thought adults knew things, I believed them.
I actually thought I would show them, I would prove them wrong, by having two careers. I’d be a writer, because what else could I possibly be? But I’d also be something else.
I spent a good ten years trying to work out what that something else was.
A degree in archaeology, a career in admin surrounded by occupational therapists, engineers and public sector workers, then a career in marketing until I had a breakdown.
What did I learn?
I want to be a writer.
Looking back, I wonder if that teacher was just thinking about novelists. Because, yes, it’s hard for novelists to make money. Especially back then, before self-publishing became not only easy but acceptable.
But I can’t help but also wonder why they didn’t suggest other types of writing. Why didn’t they suggest I keep the novel writing on the side but choose a career in journalism? Or copywriting?
It wasn’t until I was bored at work, in my last marketing job and a couple of years away from that breakdown, that I discovered just how many ways writers can make money.
I don’t blame the teacher. We didn’t have Google back then, or smartphones, or a sophisticated internet and social media. The answers weren’t at the ends of our fingertips. And if they weren’t a writer, why should they know how to make money as one?
But I wish I could go back, take young me by the shoulders and tell her all the ways she could become a writer and pay those bills.
Here’s what I’d tell her.
Become a Journalist
This was a big one for me when I was younger and I’m not sure where the desire went. Maybe when I got the idea that journalists only did timely hard-hitting news which is something that makes me so bored I almost fell asleep typing that sentence.
When I was young, I was horse mad, so I wanted to be an equine journalist. I used to create my own magazine, having fun as editor, writing each and every article and column.
How do you get into this world?
There are different types of journalism, both as staff and freelance, and both pay. You can complete a course or you can build your own portfolio by practising, writing and sending pitches from the get go. It’s recommended to get some work experience at a news outlet or publication, but this can be hard to come by.
Google will tell you journalism is a dying industry but there are a number of resources, active journalists and official helpful associations that say differently.
You know those taglines, the scripts for radio, online and TV adverts, the text on sales pages, websites and brand social media? That’s copy.
Copywriting is essentially writing something that sells and boy can it pay well but you need to learn the specific art of copywriting and then practise, practise, practise.
Getting a job in a marketing team or with an agency can do wonders before you choose whether to go freelance.
If I could go back and tell eighteen-year-old me what to try with my life, I’d tell her to mix that archaeology degree with a business or marketing one and I’d try my hand at becoming a heritage copywriter. Even if it means moving to the roundabout world of Swindon.
Anyone got a time machine…?
(Sadly this isn’t an option for me anymore because 20s me was the one who worked in an office, 30s me works from home and as her own boss.)
This is something I could never do but I include it on the list for the engineers among us, the computer nerds and the people who like to break things apart and then put them back together (I am in awe of you).
Want to make money from your writing while working on your novels?
It pays. Good money.
Why? Because it’s hard.
That is, it’s hard for people like me whose interests and understanding are firmly rooted in stories, history and ghosts. But for someone like you? This is a piece of cake.
It could involve writing instructions, hefty reports or even programmes. Whatever direction you choose, this is one hell of a specialism to be grasped with both hands.
Article and Features Writer
Now THIS is more me. This is what I want to do. This is what small me wanted to do when I was putting together magazines about horses and writing every part of it.
And there are so many choices when it comes to being a features writer or a columnist or an agony aunt or article writer.
Find the topics you love to research and write about, find the publications that shout about those topics, find their submissions guidelines (or ask if they accept freelance submissions) and get to pitching.
Yes, it’s that easy and also that hard.
Some publications will pay well, some will pay okay and some won’t pay at all.
But each one should give you a byline that you can use to back you up in your next pitch.
It might not rake in the thousands (but then again, it might) but to me, this sounds like the most fun.
Again, getting a staff job at a publication first can be a great way to learn the ropes and get some experience, or you can do what I’m doing and just leap into the freelancing world to see what happens.
Ever wonder how so many celebrities can have well-written books out?
I mean…surely not every celebrity can write well?
Nope. No. They can’t.
It’s possible that someone else is writing their book for them.
Ghostwriters help the people who have a story to tell and a desire to be published (and make the money) without having the writing skill.
That’s where you come in with your writing skill, get paid for writing the book, slap their name on it and let them run free.
You don’t get the credit and it’s hard to promote yourself if they don’t want you telling everyone you wrote their book, but ghostwriters can make thousands per book.
This work could pay your bills while you write your own books with your own name on them.
You have to be good at picking up other peoples voices and using that voice, and you have to be good at listening. Like all types of writing, this one requires a certain skill.
How do you become a ghostwriter? Honestly, I wish I knew.
There are other types of writers out there, of course. The content writers, the bloggers, and the jobs where writing is a good skill to have, such as social media writer or manager and editor. Not forgetting the good old fiction writer, whether that’s flash fiction, short stories, novellas or novels, indie or traditional, competition winner or published in magazines.
Each type of writing job warrants some research and then a go. You never know what you might discover you enjoy.
And never let anyone tell you that writing doesn’t pay.
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