Like many others, I’ve heard plenty of career quotes and advice.
- Work and passion should stay separate.
- Don’t mix business and pleasure.
- If you do what you love, you won’t work a day in your life.
- Study medicine, doctors make a lot of money.
- If you do what you love, you’ll be broke your whole life.
The advice is contradictory, and like Austin Kleon said: “All advice is autobiographical.”
A widely held belief is that you can’t turn your passion into a full-time, stable job that pays the bills and doesn’t drive you up the wall. Now more than ever, entrepreneurship is challenging this association between pursuing your passion and being perpetually broke.
Should you pursue your passion full time?
When you’re first trying to start investing, a lot of platforms offer a questionnaire to determine your risk tolerance. These questions try to identify your investing knowledge, how hard would it be for you financially if you lost your initial investment, when you plan to withdraw, what you’re comfortable with, etc.
In my modest understanding, people with a higher risk tolerance invest in high-risk, high-reward stocks, whereas risk-averse investors choose safer options with a more modest ROI (return of investment).
If you think you fall on the risk-averse spectrum, for fuck’s sake, do not quit your job on the spot to go live in the mountains and crochet full time, no matter how passionate about DIY crochet projects you are.
Turning a hobby into a career at age 40
In What It Takes to Turn a Hobby Into a Career at Age 40, Laura Entis interviews artist and illustrator Lisa Congdon on her transition into a full-time art career.
Laura Entis: “You kept your full-time job for years after you started selling your art. Is this a path you recommend for other people who are hoping to break into a creative industry?”
Lisa Congdon: “Definitely. The minute you put all of the pressure on your art career to feed you is the minute it becomes extremely stressful. I talk to people all the time who have part-time jobs either as illustrators or artists who work for bigger companies or as a barista or a social worker because they don’t want that pressure. It allows them to take jobs that they want because they want them, not because they have to have them. If you already have a bunch of work coming your way and you have [multiple] income streams, then quitting your job is fine—do it! But there is this period of time where you need to do three or four different things.
We have this image of the successful entrepreneur or the successful artist as someone who makes their full-time living doing it, who is thriving and gets all this work. There isn’t one way to be an artist; there isn’t one way to be an entrepreneur.“
Three books later
In her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, the author Elizabeth Gilbert shared a similar approach. Since childhood, she’d known she wanted to be a writer, but Liz had decided she would never put the burden of taking care of her financially on her passion.
Elizabeth Gilbert, the freaking writer of the award-winning bestseller “Eat Pray Love” didn’t quit her day job (she says “well, my day jobs“) until she’d written three books, “all published by major houses and reviewed nicely in the New York Times.” It wasn’t until her fourth book (coincidentally, “Eat Pray Love”) that she quit.
Elizabeth Gilbert had decided a long time ago she wouldn’t put the financial demands of her life in the delicate, stubborn art of writing.
The passion market
Should you pursue your passion full time? It’s up to you, of course. I would highly recommend you only do it when you’re sure you can live comfortably using your passion and when you have an emergency fund set up. Also, before you start offering your services, identify whether there’s a market demand for them. Chances are with seven billion people, at least hundreds are looking for exactly what you’re offering, no matter how niche or weird. Still, make sure. There’s nothing worse than selling something no one’s interested in buying.
How do writers make money? Here’s my way
A lot of my conversations go something like this:
So you’ve written books?
What is it that you do?”
I already wrote about My Uncomplicated Relationship With Education; Choosing a Major, the Pros and Cons, Usages, Realizations, and Regret; How to Find the Perfect Job for You; 3 Ways to Make a Difference, Wherever You Work; Building A Conscious Career and Going the Extra Mile.
But I’ve never talked about how I make money. If I don’t write books, what exactly do I get paid for as a writer? Can’t companies just put together some words and achieve the same results? Why pay a professional writer?
What exactly I get paid for as a writer
That’s a slide taken from my first presentation at work.
Why does good writing matter? How is it my fulltime job?
People and companies pay me for a variety of reasons. Here are the most important ones.
How Do Writers Make Money: Reason #1 – To tell the right story
Earlier this week, I met up with an old friend, and we got to talking about writing. You’d be surprised to know how rarely that happens for someone who writes for a living. I can’t remember what the question was, something like: “What makes a writer?”
My answer to it was, “You write when you have a story to tell.”
The stories we tell ourselves become our internal monologue, our inner voice, our personality. The stories we tell others become our legacy.
In order to cope and take space and thrive, people can tell their stories in different art forms. However, some things always end up written down.
What was it that I said earlier about Elizabeth Gilbert? Ah, yes, “the delicate, stubborn art of writing.”
While a lot of people, freelancers, business owners, organizations, or startups have stories worthy of sharing, storytelling remains an art, a stubborn one at that.
I get paid to get the angles right, to offer a unique perspective, essentially, to find the story and write it as truthfully and beautifully as possible.
How Do Writers Make Money: Reason #2 I increase reactions/attention/sales
If you hate anything sales-y, that makes two of us! Well, I hate aggressive sells, bad sells, inappropriate practices, shady products, sales pitches promising more than they can deliver, and sketchy advertising practices.
However, I realized the hard way sales isn’t a bad word. If you want to have a profitable business, you need to sell. Most people, though, dislike being associated with too “sales-y.” Yet we like money, bien sur. While many of us aren’t materialistic, almost all of us enjoying living abundantly, without having to worry about finances or money.
The point is, we need to sell in ways big or small if we like to live a good life and haven’t inherited a fortune from our long lost uncle.
But selling doesn’t have to be sketchy, annoying, or “sales-y.”
- Whenever we meet new people, we “sell” ourselves by showing our best sides, funniest jokes, most impressive stories.
- We “sell” ourselves in job interviews, carefully choosing the right set of words to showcase our skills, motivation, and experiences.
Freelancers, new businesses, and well-established companies used to doing things the old fashioned way have a hard time selling. In the meantime, it’s all about clearly stating what makes them them.
Your job shouldn’t be pleasing everyone or attracting every possible customer. Being the right person for every romantic prospect isn’t what should be on your mind. Professionally, romantically, humanely, you should be you, as distinctly as possible. That’s how you attract your “tribe.” The right friends, partner, customers will then gravitate towards you.
Now that we’ve cleared why profit and sales are a good thing, here’s an excerpt.
In the early days of my business, I spent a LOT of time fiddling about with “contests” and “scholarships” and “discounts” and “free consultations” and “special offers” and all kinds of riff-raff, in a desperate effort to get booked.
God only knows how many anxious hours I spent, fretting about how to woo clients into my world. (“Why won’t they just hiiiire me already?”)
Looking back, all I can say is this:
Instead of fretting and doing weird marketing-ish gimmicks, I sure wish I had spent all of those hours serving people… creating art… and actually making an effort to become better at my work.
If I had done that, I suspect that my first couple of years of self-employed-ness would have been a lot smoother, a lot more rewarding, and a lot more profitable.The simple, sexy truth about how to “get booked” and “sell stuff.” by Alexandra Franzen
People and companies don’t hire me for “weird marketing-ish gimmicks.” They hire me because I’ve poured my heart and soul into becoming better at my work.
“Copy” refers to written text that tries to evoke a reaction. Have you heard of the 10,000 hour rule?
The 10,000-hour rule states that you can become world-class in a field, once you’ve practiced it for 10000+ hours.
I’ve written about the 10,000-hour rule and about how similar writing is to love, in the sense that it’s not an act, but a habit, not a feeling, but a verb, and how it’s all about consistency. We honor our craft by mastering it, by giving it our all.
More and more people are trying to dedicate their time to what they do best, to their craft, and getting their 10000 hours (or more) in. For some people, their life’s work, their main skill is product design, for some management, for some programming, for some fashion, for some art, and for all, losing 50% of clients is bad for business.
What it’s like
- Bad copy is someone who shows up to a first date late, messy hair, and a lousy outfit. The conversation is painfully boring and there’s no spark in their eyes.
- Good writing shows up early, looking good, smelling good, leaves you feeling good. There’s a rhythm to your conversation, and you don’t have to doubt their interest or intentions for a second. It’s clear the two of you will have a good time. Too soon to tell whether it’ll be a short time or a long time, but you’re secretly wishing it’s the latter.
A lot of freelancers and companies offer exceptional services, yet they might have a hard time getting people to pay attention or see their service’s value.
Once I’m clear about the value, whether we’re talking online invoicing companies, a small independent florist in South West England, artists, mental health fundraising events, Albanian travel, digital agencies, e-learning platforms, job descriptions, templates, emails, guides, websites, articles, recently public procurements even, and almost everything in between, I help bring on that spark, more of that flash and fire.
How Do Writers Make Money: Reason #3 To inspire, motivate, teach
People working in the online world identify with different titles: influencer, teacher, blogger, educator, content creator. I’ve seen community managers, happiness engineers, joy coaches.
While I’ve been highly enjoying re-purposing my long-form articles into Instagram carousels and the conversations they’ve sparked, and while people like Jenny Mustard, Mattie James, and Ijeoma Kola Ph.D. have taught me that influencers can be cool and smart AF, I still don’t identify as any of those titles.
I’m a writer.
It makes my day when people tell me they loved something I wrote, that it taught them something new, that it made them tear up.
When clients tell me they love my work, that makes me feel amazing. When people subscribe to my newsletter, or when I receive that “Your stats are booming! The Inner Dolphin is getting lots of traffic.” notification, I feel happy and grateful. Let’s not even get to the part where people I love or other writers tell me they love my writing.
As a writer, besides telling a story, sparking interest, and generating sales, I get paid to inspire, motivate, teach, to make people feel excited.
Online publications like Outline (rip), Narratively, Aeon, (plus, 231 other publications), and journals like The New Yorker pay for quality writing (also for great reporting and great interviews) because people love to read.
2020 statistics from the 7th Annual Blogging Survey by Orbit Media show that the typical word count of a post is up 57% since 2014, and longer articles are the most successful. People love to read!
One of the first few things I wrote for that e-learning platform I mentioned? An informative mini-guide on public speaking and conquering glossophobia. Yeah, there’s a word for it.
The main goal was to make people who were scared to present feel less alone while giving them examples of people who’d successfully gotten over their fear and went on to become amazing orators. Then I’d provide clear, actionable steps to prepare memorable presentations.
Inspire, motivate, teach, right?
A well-known online publication published the article a few days later, stolen word for word, and presented it as theirs. They took “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” a little too far, but that’s beside the point.
A beautiful combination of words can inspire, teach, motivate, make people laugh and cry and feel, steal even. Respectfully, I think that’s worth paying for.
The right story can affect lives, change lives, save lives.
It might sound like a huge responsibility (it is,) but being able to affect others with my words and get paid for it is an honor I do not take lightly.
Intrigued and want to know more about my freelance writing services? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a celebration for my 100 articles milestone, I’m sharing a series on writing, client opportunities, what I do, and making money as a writer. I shared two pieces from the past, one written at the beginning of 2018 when I was freelance writing “full-time” and one a bit later when a major breakthrough was about to happen. I had to include my “Ghosts of Writers Past” to give a clearer view of my journey, doubts, and reflections. Read it here.