That’s the dream, right?
Writing is hard. And it’s made even harder by full-time jobs, family and friends, social commitments, and everything else. All of us aspiring authors long for that moment when we can quit our day jobs and focus entirely on our writing. The writing that’s making the big bucks. Well, would it surprise you to hear that in 2018, a study of more than 5,000 authors, found that their median writing income was a mere $20,300? (link). Can you live off that? Not if you want a roof over your head and food on your table.
Most can’t pay their basic bills with money like that. And that’s not even taking into account the costs associated with self-publishing, marketing, swag, cover art, writing conferences, software, editing, and more. Writing is free. Publishing books is expensive. So, if you want to get ahead in the book world you’re going to have to be willing to pay and if you want money to pay, well then… you’re going to need to have another job.
As an aspiring author myself (and a full-time nanny working 55 hours a week with a husband at home who, for some reason, wants to spend time with me) I am constantly trying to find time in the day to workout, make dinner, spend quality time with my husband, see my friends, hang out with my family, babysit for extra cash, and volunteer. I tell myself if I just had more time, less work, blah blah blah, I’d be able to write. Right? You simply cannot write with that many distractions!
So many of the authors you know and love—honestly, I’d argue most of them—are working full-time jobs, taking care of kids (or pets), trying to stay in shape, maintaining social lives, and what have you. And somehow, they’re writing. Somehow, they’re publishing books. Somehow, they’re doing it.
I reached out to some authors about what they do to pay the bills (for now) and how they keep their lives balanced while making sure their writing remains a top priority. Their responses will have you crying and laughing as you relate to the timeless struggle of too much work, too little time. But most of all, their advice will take away all excuses you have for not writing right now. Read on and get motivated.
[Note: Authors were encouraged to answer my very vague question in whatever way they wanted, so answers are not uniform by any means.]
Ellis Leigh— ellisleigh.com
By Day: Project Manager
By Night: Author of Paranormal Romance
My job is to break down big things into workable tasks. I do the same thing with writing—I break down my book into parts (plan, plot, draft, edit, etc.) and assign myself weekly tasks. I’m on year five of this, so my process is pretty well set. I know how many words I can write in a week, when the best time for me to write is, and what my workload is at all stages of the game. For me, I write best in the early AM, so I wake up an hour early and get my words. Usually that’s 2,000 words a day. If I don’t get to my goal I work over my lunch hour. I can’t write at night. I’m too tired and too distracted with husband and kids (10 and 6). I do admin stuff at night because I self-publish. Teasers, cover work, uploading, accounting—anything I can do while watching TV. I work weekends when I need to.
If anyone says working full-time and being an author can’t be done I say it’s because they don’t want it bad enough. I sacrifice a lot but I love being an author. Even one book a year is amazing. You just have to keep going, keep refining, and find the steps and sppeds that work for you. And yes, do not assume you will get rich quick. I make more money on my books than at my job, but things like health insurance and short-term disability making working worthwhile.
By Day: Yoga Teacher and Graphic Designer for a Cancer Non-Profit
By Night: Writing her debut historical romance
I guess I could just send you my schedule:
6:30-7:30 Work out and get ready
7:30 Baby up
7:30-12:30 Human octopus wrangling, graphic design job, and baby
12:30 Baby naps and I get actual work done
2:30 Baby wakes
2:30-5:30 Return of the graphic design human octopus
5:30 Husband takes over and I leave to teach yoga
6:00-7:30 Teach yoga
8:00 Home and dinner
8:30-11 Finish design work and then, finally, write
[Eliza sent over this picture of her multi-tasking talents.]
By Day: Dance Instructor
By Night: Author of Young Adult Romances
I have strange work hours. Rather than a 9-5 job, I work from 12:30-9. So, depending on the day, I write before work or after. Sometimes both. I, also, work Sunday-Thursday rather than Monday-Friday. So, I always dedicate Fridays to writing. A ton of authors set a word count goal by day. I’ve found it works best for me to have a weekly word count goal. If work was stressful that day and I need to take a night off writing, I know I’ll have Friday to meet my weekly goal. Sometimes it takes all day Friday. Sometimes only a few hours, depending on the week. That helps me, so I don’t go to bed feeling guilty or berating myself because I didn’t write.
By Night: Author of Paranormal Romance
When I first started writing my War of the Myth series I had just been let go from my work. Luckily it was in the middle of winter, and since no one was hiring, I had lots of free time. In about six months I pushed out two books and so, like a fool, I thought I could do that forever. Fast forward another six months, I have a full-time job and my first deadline for book three goes by. It’s now been a year and I’m only half way through it.
Writing is actually really hard. The lack of sales start to get you down. Bad reviews get you down. No reviews get you down. But then something magical happens. You create a new character. You see a new world. You get to witness a new love blossom. And then it doesn’t matter that you’re working full-time, you just have to get it out. Whether that means scribbling away on your lunch break, reading your story out loud to your pet rats, or lying when you tell your partner you’re definitely coming to bed in five minutes…
By Day: Graduate Student & Preschool Teacher
By Night: Author of Historical Romance
I never wanted to publish for the sake of making money. All my life, I knew I wanted to publish so I could say I did. Of course, if I made a few bucks or got a little bit of fame, more the better. I have gotten one paycheck since my initial publication back in January of 2018. It bought a few dinners, maybe paid for a tank of gas. I was proud. But I’m still in graduate school to get my middle school teaching license and, at the moment, I’m paying my bills by doing some part-time preschool teaching. It doesn’t earn much, but I’m making enough to pay for a highly budgeted trip to Disney World this summer.
This past January I was diagnosed with colitis, a chronic disease that causes an inflammation of my large intestine. The worry, doctor appointments, research, and pain have taken up more of my time than I’d like to admit. I make it work because I have to. I give it my all and sometimes force myself to sit down and write five or six pages, when I’d really like to do fifteen or twenty, on those night that I’m exhausted and don’t want to do anything at all. Writing has because so interwoven with who I am that it’s not a choice. I’ve been doing it since before I can remember, a little bit like breathing.
All I have to say to new writers is to take those precious moments, few as they may be, and do your best. Even if you just come up with an idea but no words make it onto the paper, that’s worth something. But don’t push yourself too hard. I do most of my writing in the evening, after I get home from preschool at 6:30, and on the weekends; but, every so often, I”ll need those three or four hours after work to simply recover. So, summarily, you simply work, write, rest. Repeat.
By Day: Teacher
By Night: Author of New Adult Romances
Balance is the hardest thing for a writer with a full-time job. I wake up at 4:30 am during the week to commute over an hour to my job. As a teacher, I exert every ounce of energy in my classroom with my little ones. I take work home and lesson plan on the weekends. I, also, am a wife and step-mom. There never seems to be enough time to devote to writing. What worked for me was discussing my needs with my wife and setting aside specific writing time when I’d be able to write uninterrupted. My dream is to quit teaching and rely on writing for my income…but that’s not happening any time soon and it costs so much money to market my books on top of actually writing.
[Author Note: Kristen was wonderful enough to send me pictures of what it looks like when she’s falling asleep late at night while working. Look familiar?]
So, if you're like me and you're always searching for the next excuse... there aren't any. Not when so many authors out there are making it work. So, get to work.