Writers gotta eat!

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, you are probably not going to make a lot of money from creative writing. If you do, send me some. But you probably won’t. So, this brings us to a conundrum…how are you going to pay your rent and bills? Well, I suggest selling cocaine. It is a compact product and the profit margin is really high. You might get murdered or put in jail, but life is about risk. I don’t like risk, so I freelance. If you’re a pussy like me, you might want to consider it.

For ten years, I worked with kids. I was a reading specialist. I worked with kids with learning challenges and kids from low income families. It was really great. It was tiring, but I still got my writing done. I learned a lot. Quite frankly, I loved it.

At the end of last year, I got really, really sick. I got a bad inner ear infection. I lost 35 pounds in a month. I could not get out of bed. I had vertigo. I had a constant rushing sound in my right ear and I could hear my own voice SUPER loud. I whispered a lot. I could not hear what people were saying. No one knew what was going on. I got CT scans. They did blood work. Moral of the story, I didn’t die. I did end up with Patulous Eustachian Tubes (which I had to diagnose…). You have probably never heard of this. I hadn’t either. (Nor had my freaking ENT).

What it means, essentially, is that my Eustachian tubes don’t adjust to pressure like they should. This results in the rushing sound and loud voice. It isn’t getting better. In fact, it is destined to get worse. For someone who loves music, this was a major blow. And it made teaching pretty much impossible. I could not do my job well anymore, so I quit. But I still had to make money (and I was staring at 5K dollars in medical bills).

This was not a happy time. I was freaking out. I have a wife and a kid. And neither of them were willing to take one for the team and quit eating. How could I get a job without being able to hear well? Some days are OK, but some ARE NOT, and I don’t know what kind of day it is going to be until I wake up. I am qualified to do two things (on paper): teach and write. So, I started thinking about how I could make money writing.

First thing I did was move away from San Francisco to someplace cheaper. Then, I started a freelance writing business, Steady Hand Communications. Then, I freaked out some more. But it is actually going really well.

Those of us who can write well (this article has taken about 6 minutes so far) tend to forget that there are very intelligent people who agonize over writing…you know, the way we do when we have to interact with other humans. There are a LOT of people like that.

So, now, I work from home. There are positives and negatives to this. I get to see my wife and daughter a lot. I get to use my own bathroom. I get to set my own schedule. I also go days without leaving the apartment sometimes. It is hard to find a balance.

I am still working on this, but here’s my point. I always thought freelance writers wrote lengthy articles and then tried to sell them to magazines. Some do. I don’t. I write short articles for people. Some of them are SEO articles to drive traffic. Some are not. There are people out there looking for writers to help them write their autobiographies. There are people who are looking for editors, for people to write kids books; you name it, there are people looking. Go to guru.com and look at all the projects people post.

I am not making a living wage yet, but I am new at this. In six months, I will be. I am working for an awesome lady right now. She is nice and appreciates my work and pays me on time. Some clients will be a nightmare. I am not delusional.

Point being, this is something you might want to consider. I am a night owl. So is my wife. So is my daughter. We go to sleep late and sleep in. That’s fine. And working from home allows me to work on my fiction more easily. I can fit it in during slow periods. And my commute is 14 seconds long. Something to consider. There is something very nice about being a pen for hire. If you are working a 9-5 job you hate, look into it. It’s easier than you think.

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JD Mader is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and author of the novels JOE CAFÉ and THE BIKER. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and his blog:www.jdmader.com.


Author: JD Mader

JD Mader is an award winning short story writer and novelist. 'Joe Café' and 'The Biker' are out now, as well as 'Please, no eyes'. and the collaborative 'Bad Book'. Mader has been writing for half his life and has no plans on stopping any time soon. Learn more about JD Mader at his blog and his Amazon author page.

37 thoughts on “Writers gotta eat!”

  1. I miss the steady paycheck and the free coffee, but I love freelancing. Yeah, I wrote a lot of SEO articles at first, and the life comes with its own challenges (paying for your own health insurance, OUCH!) but better assignments and better pay come along. Never tried guru.com, but oDesk has netted me a couple of good clients.

  2. The toughest parts of going it alone are a) the distractions (read: the entire freaking internet) and b) the feast/famine nature of the work, or at least as far as editing is concerned. Oh, and c) the fact that nobody ever wants to pay you what you're worth. I did have a Russian cat lady who insisted I work at her home—with a pencil, no less—while she stood behind me and berated my grammar knowledge, after which she paid me in crisp new bills she dug out from inside a door or something. Not sure about the freelance writing itself, as I only ever do it sporadically, in between other stuff, and never really build any momentum.

    1. I can't do editing. Writing, no problem. I write pretty fast. And I've almost trained myself to do one space after a period.

  3. David, OMG. Yeah. It's rare and wonderful to find a client who will pay what you're worth. Some of the ads I see are laughable. You want me to ghostwrite your life story from the bullet list you scrawled on a Post-it and you'll pay me fifty bucks because you gave the job to someone else first because they were the lowest bid and they screwed it up, so that's all you have left? Yeah. I'll get right on that.

    1. And I'm not talking about exchanged favours here, as they are very legit between and among our indie writer brothers and sisters, but it has to be said that when one of our own edits someone for *free*, it de-legitimizes the editing service further. We're trying to make a living like anyone else. Just this morning, the cable guy came and installed a landline at my place. Imagine if I'd turned to him as he left and said "you know, I kind of know what the agreed charge was originally, but I'm sort of out of pocket a bit this week, would you take half of that?" All I know is he'd either think I was kidding and laugh uproariously or he'd look at me like I'd grown an extra nipple on my forehead or something and slip quietly out.

  4. The freelance life is lovely if you're as snotty an employee as I am but it does take ages to build up. I've shied away from ghost autobiographies so far, although I do have a couple of people who bug me about it. Websites are great for regular income though, once they're on page 1 of Google they take bit of maintaining to stay there…hello monthly fee!

    Illness started me down that road too, writers making lemonade.

  5. Well JD, kind of wondered where this was going in the first paragraph but as per usual, you delivered the goods! 🙂 One question though, how is it that you can be a 'snotty' employee but then be an entrepreneur running your own freelance company? Are the needed people skills so different? Just wonderin'.

    1. Maybe "Doesn't Work Well With Others" translates surprisingly into sociopathic business shark. Wait, when you look at it like that, it's *not* so surprising. Dan? DAN! Come back to us, brother…

  6. JD –

    In 2003 my kidneys failed and I ended up in a German hospital in Homberg, where I learned I had a Vasculitis disease and that I would spend the rest of my days on a mixture of chemo & prednisone. The first two years was hell because I had a reaction to the pred and started getting schizophrenic. We learned it was the pred because when they started to wean me down, I came back.

    But, I was getting a Master's degree in Adult Education when I became ill so I wasn't able to finish. I was also offered a chance to teach creative writing. Again because I was so ill, I couldn't do it.

    A few years ago I was told by my docs that I had to stay away from large groups of people and especially stay away during the flu season. My immune system is so low that if you sneeze on me I can get sick.

    So I understand – really. I don't seem to like freelancing. I have tried it and I keep going back to CW. I started the Indie route March 2011. I haven't made much money, but I published a new ebook a few days ago.

    What keeps me fed? A lovely husband with a regular job.


    1. Where do I get one of these husbands you speak of? 😉

      Glad you got things sorted out. I'm a bit of a manic, add freak, so mixing the freelance and fiction works well for me.

      1. You think one of those husbands are something you can pick off of the ground like a quarter? You have to join the Navy for six years and snatch him on the way. 😉

        They are rare and beautiful things.

  7. With you, JD, the layers of the onion peel away each week.

    I've always thought about the freelance world. I've worked as an independent contractor/consultant for the past 13 years in my "profession" but I would give it up tomorrow to make a living writing … anything. The book thing is growing and I can't complain. I've exceeded what something like 90% do in that arena, but it will never grow without more books. They're on their way.

    Would love to know more about breaking in to the freelance world. I've heard of Guru.com, but the consensus was that it goes to the lowest bidder and most can't earn anything from that.

    Feel free to go into more detail about the "how to break in" at anytime. Thanks for the info.

    1. I find that the shitty gigs go to the lowest bidder. If you set your price, can deliver and DO deliver…well, people will pay. It takes a little time, but it's like anything else. Writer is a niche. And we're cheaper than plumbers. 😉

  8. I have found that freelancing has (almost) replaced what I used to earn teaching languages three days a week. But I'm nowhere as fast as you, Dan, so it takes me all week to earn it. I like that I can work my own hours (every available minute) and that I can do my online promotions in between. What falls to the wayside is drafting new stuff for my new novel.

    Being in Australia, the hard knock I got when our dollar got stronger and the US dollar got weaker means that the jobs that pay in US dollars now earn me a LOT less. Still, because I'm not the main breadwinner around here, we're not living in the car yet.

    The most expensive years of any family are high school. Boy! I wish I was a plumber. The stuff these kids need is trememdous, and the water and power bills are awe-inspiring. They also put away a mountain of food. Since we are a low-carb family, paying $17 a kilo for steak and $25 for fish is no joke.

    But yeah – I can iron school shirts, make mayo, take deliveries, bat the cobwebs, and take all the adverbs out of someone else's writing, while spinning out an SEO article on coffee machines with no trouble at all, in my pyjamas, with my hair standing on end.

    1. It's nice to be able to talk with this stuff with people who understand it. Usually my conversations with people go like this:

      What do you do?

      I'm a writer.

      What do you write?

      Fiction and freelance stuff?

      What is freelance stuff?

      I'll get a real job, let's cut to the chase.

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