I feel a little silly writing this blog, because I don’t feel I’m in the position to give anyone advice. However the comments keep coming at me and I think I need to clarify a few things to people who talk about writing full-time with stars twinkling in their eyes. This topic is for writers with dreams and for readers with questions.
Besides, I needed a blog topic for Café Risqué. (I’m terrible with topics!) This sounded like a good idea.
I recently pointed out to someone the authors who have “folded” in the last 12 months – the authors who have either hung up their keyboards, or those who have said they need to go back to “real work” to pay the bills. Those are the sad stories. But at the other end of the spectrum, we have some great authors who have recently posted that they're going for the “big dream” and are giving up their EDJ (Evil Day Job) in order to write full-time.
I would also like to declare that I don’t consider myself to be a full-time writer. It’s hard to judge, because I have no other income, but I evaluate it on the fact that if I wasn’t writing, I wouldn’t be working full-time (ie working in another job outside the home). My #1 responsibility and job is looking after the children and the house. I am the primary carer for my children and I’m responsible for about 80% of the chores that keep a household of four running. Some weeks I would put in full-time hours (and more) to writing, but other weeks I’m busy with the house and children and barely manage two hours a day.
Is it possible to be a full-time writer?
But it depends on you. There are a lot of variables that go into declaring yourself a full-time writer. Let’s break it down.
Ugh. I really hate talking about money. But this has to be the biggest stumbling block to being a full-time author, for the overwhelming majority of us have bills to pay that need an income to pay them. There are a few independently wealthy writers out there, but on the whole they don’t do a lot of writing because usually they’re at the beach (in Barbados) or shopping (at Saks) or organising the household (because 12 servants and 6 gardeners sometimes need organising).
Writers usually like to be paid for their work.
But what you consider is a salary, may not everyone’s equivalent.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells me that the average Australian full-time income is around $77,000pa (around 53k USD or 38k GBP).
The average for the US is 52k USD and for the UK 26k GBP. However, the average Thai income for the year is around 5,000 USD, in Brazil it’s 12,000 USD, and one report I looked at put South African yearly income at an average of 2,000 USD.
Of course none of these figures take into account taxation, cost of living and how many people this income supports. The figures simply illustrate that my level of income may be different to yours. And that’s what YOU need to think about when you consider a full-time writing position.
So maybe you live rent free in a cottage that your parents own, have a productive vegetable garden and solar power for electricity, and don’t go out because there’s nowhere to go. You could easily get by on $8,000 a year. Or perhaps you have six children, two of who have disabilities and large medical bills, and you also support your elderly parents in a high rent unit.
The point is that you need to make the call (and perhaps the adjustments) as to how much is enough for you.
Oh, time. You precious, precious time.
I love reading and would love to have the time to read all those books I’ve bought.
I love crafty stuff and would love to have the time to finish that quilt, sew those clothes, do that needle-point, update those scrapbooks… if only I had the time.
I love gardening, and if I had the time I would be growing so much more because it’s free food.
I wish I had more of it. But everyone has the same amount of time in their day. But not everyone has the same amount of free time.
So you live in your lonely cottage owned by your parents, take about 30 minutes a day to weed the carrots and plant some more beans, and then sit down and write for 10 hours a day, only stopping for pee breaks and tea breaks. Oh, I envy you!
Or perhaps you have the sole care of those six kids (two who have disabilities) and you race around most days, trying to get the washing done while supervising homework and making doctors appointments. Your mother is ill again, and you’re worried, while your sister has just phoned, crying that her boyfriend walked out on her after she told him she’s pregnant. She can’t pay the rent without him and wants to move in with you. You long for that hour between 11pm and midnight that you sit up and write those furious words instead of getting that much needed sleep.
Writing full-time once again relies on you. What can you manage? Yeah. I know it’s hard. Here you wanted a simple answer, but the answer isn’t simple.
And you will need to remember that very few writers manage to work from 8am-5pm, and then clock off.
This is a bit of a multi-pronged point. A full-time writer usually gets very little support – from family, friends and other authors.
Oh, I’m not saying people are mean (not usually). Just more that you don’t get the same level of support that you get in a normal job. There’s no boss saying, “Job well done, mate,” at the end of the day. There’s no one saying “Great, thanks Renae” each time you finish another page. There’s no Xmas party, end of week drinks or team building days – unless you organise it.
People in your family and friends circle will often treat it as a hobby, not a job. I know my mother doesn’t mean to – but she will sometimes drop into my house in the middle of my “work day” and stay 2 hours. That you need to work at writing doesn’t cross their mind. No one is offering to pick up my kids from school because I’m busy. My husband doesn’t think that he maybe needs to do a little more this week because I have a deadline. Your support level is dramatically reduced when you’re a full-time author. Because basically you only need to work for an hour a day – right? And the rest of the time is shopping and watching TV?
To write full-time is a thankless job… until the book releases. You have to have the guts and the oomph to do the lonely months in order to get the accolades. (Hopefully!)
Down time and vacation days
I’ve done this writing gig for a couple of years now. I’m “self-employed.” The more I work, the more I get paid. I know the routine. My father was self-employed for the entirety of my childhood. My brothers are self-employed now. I see the struggle between earning money and having a life.
With a regular job, you usually have set hours, public holidays (bank holidays as they’re known in some countries), sick days and vacation days. Sometimes these go out the window with a writer. We’re never sick enough to have a day off. We use the holidays as extra days to work. And even our vacations are spent writing.
And weekend? What’s one of them?
Is there another way to spell “burn out”?
If you plan to write full-time, make sure you factor in some down time. You may say, “I can write a novel every 2 months, so that means 6 per year to publish.” Nope. What about the days you’re sick? What about a week off around Christmas, and that week on the cruise you’ve booked?
In Australia as a full-time employee, we get 4 weeks annual leave, up to two weeks of sick leave, and 10 days that are public holidays. That’s 8 weeks per year that we don’t work, out of 52. If you’re working on a novel every 2 months, perhaps you need to look at 5 novels a year to take into account the down time you need.
It’s a fact of life – sometimes our books just don’t sell. Sometimes you’re delayed getting that next novel out. Sometimes Amazon is late paying you.
Writing is not a guaranteed income. This is basic maths. But sometimes it’s easy to forget. And sometimes the lean period is not just a month or two. To be a full-time writer, you need to either have support (ie another income in the house) or know that your books will sell. I’m a bit of an extremist-alarmist. I’m a worst-case-scenario thinker. So I immediately point out the pitfalls in any new venture. With full-time writing, you’d better have a backup plan.
It could be that you put away 20% of each pay cheque “just in case” the next pay isn’t as plump. As long as you have a plan…
Organisation and promotions
Know thyself. I think every person should have a good look at themselves and know their strengths and weaknesses.
If you’re going to be a writer full-time, there are going to have to be two things you need to do and be good at… or at least passable.
Firstly you need to be organised. Not only in your writing, but the paperwork behind being a writer. Contracts, taxation, keeping track of payments, making sure you’re getting paid correctly, etc. Most successful writers I know analyse the market and their track their sales figures to some degree.
Then there is the promotion side of it. I don’t know any successful author who doesn’t do promo. You need (at minimum) to maintain a website, have one other social media, and get reviews for your stories.
If this doesn’t sound like you, I would suggest you own your weakness and find a way around it. Perhaps your Significant Other can be your organisation? Perhaps you can PAY someone to do it for you?
I’m not talking about expenses you need to pay such as copyright and editing services. There are costs associated with employing yourself. They’re usually pretty minimal, but they can add up if you’re on a budget.
When I stopped full-time work to have a baby, I was amazed at how my utilities costs skyrocketed. True, we now had an extra person in the house, but he was tiny. But then I realised something.
I was home all day.
Every toilet flush was now costing ME instead of my employer. Every time I boiled the kettle for a coffee was now using MY electricity. The air-con or the heater going all day was electricity we’d never used before. The lights on during a cloudy day were my cost.
You will also be responsible for purchasing your own electronic gear, maybe a desk and chair (if you don’t want to end up with back problems) and your own ink and paper in the printer.
In Australia, employers are required by law to pay an extra 9.5% of our earnings into a superannuation fund (pension fund). So if someone says they’re on a salary of $50,000 per year, then they get paid $50,000 (less tax of course) PLUS their employer deposits $4,750 into a super fund for them. If you earn $50k by writing, you’re not getting this super. I advise all my Australian writers to take 10% of their royalties and put in super. So, really your income is $45k. That money is a cost of your self-employment.
You should also realise your money is going to need to be taxed. You can’t just accept the income from your publisher and think that you’re going to pocket it all. When you work out how much you need to live on, and how much you are earning, make sure you factor in taxation at the correct rate.
So, in summary, being a full-time writer isn’t just about being able to write. It’s a lifestyle choice. Can you do it? I don’t know. The choice has to come from you. The wonderful thing about writing is that it waits for you.
If you’re not ready to take the plunge just yet, then that’s okay. If you want to try it out for six months until that new job offer starts – then go for it. You want to try it as your main income and have those ten hours on the weekend as your backup plan, sounds like a great idea. Go for it. Good luck! I’m cheering you the whole way.But thinking you can do it because your favourite author on Goodreads just announced she’s quit her EDJ? What someone else can do shouldn’t be a part of your thinking.
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