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Creative Writing Jobs: How to Be Your Own Boss and Make a Good Living as a Writer

The usual creative writing jobs for writers don't have much to do with writing short stories. And if you write short stories, even if you're regularly published, until you're writing for The New Yorker, you'll have a hard time living on what you earn.

To earn top dollars, you could work as a professional ghost writer, writing fiction, memoirs or other nonfiction for those who have a story to tell. You'd be paid well to do it, but try finding those jobs! They don't come easily.

If you're anything like me, this is what you really want:

  1. Time to work on your novel, short story, or poetry collection
  2. Work that fits around your life
  3. Work you can accomplish from home
  4. Freedom to control your work
  5. A steady supply of well paid work offers

If you've already published a novel, you know that another book will provide decent income, but books take years to write, and the advance on one may not last long enough to write another.

That leaves two choices: Write faster or find a way to earn more, more easily.

Most "creative writing jobs" will require that you write non-fiction articles, blog posts or sales copy. That can be enjoyable and creative if you find a niche that excites you and you specialize in that area, but the pay is often neither regular nor high. You want to be paid what you know you're worth. You could teach and edit—perhaps you are already. But then you're left exhausted with no urge to write. Who feels like writing after grading twenty-five or fifty papers each week?

And you want to pull your weight. If your partner is also a writer, you'll have his or her understanding, but most writers live with non-writers who expect to see a paycheque once or twice a month. The kids need clothes; insurance, mortgage payments, or rent must be paid, and somehow more goes out than comes in. So you're looking for creative writng jobs that pay NOW. I get that.

But we're not all cut out to be employees. And being an employee is not always the best option. I've chosen to earn additional income in a way that feels tailor-made for writers. It's the reason this site exists, and it allows me to earn a decent living with maximum flexibility.

A website like this is a paying, growing asset, one I control, that increases my income every year, while taking less time to manage, not more.

I did the job route, and the freelance route. With all the usual creative writing jobs, I had no financial security. Now I'm building a business, one I started with almost nothing, and which now allows me to earn more than I did as a full time college instructor.

I earned a living while I wrote in much the way most writers do. My creative writing jobs included teaching college and university-level writing for many years, both in the classroom and online; I worked for a company writing their brochures and sales copy. I worked for small publishers. I gave writing seminars.

Mostly I felt overworked and continually stressed about money.

Then I woke one morning, miserable, just shy of fifty, certain that I'd rather poke my eyes out than read another shoddy, suspicious-looking English composition by a student more interested in writing computer code than an essay or white paper.

"I'm turning fifty," I said to my partner. "This is a good year for change."

And it was. The change in my life was almost immediate. The one bright spot in my career, aside from the small success of my own writing, was the work I did mentoring creative writers and helping them get published. So I focused on how I might let more of these writers know that I existed.

You Used to "Need Money to Make Money," but Not Now

In 2008, with almost no money, I launched, and within weeks, new creative writing jobs began appearing in my inbox. A few months later, I also earned my first few bucks of what is known as "passive income" from ads. Suddenly I felt inspired again.

I kept mentoring writers, I worked on my website, I took my grandchildren to the beach, I traveled and wrote travel articles, and then I did something new:

I didn't have time to complete the course, but I learned some general rules of copywriting. I did this because just as with creative writing, knowing a few simple techniques for writing in a clearer and more interesting style makes all the difference in how readers feel when they read what you write.

I began spending winters in Thailand, and I felt newly revived. I worked hard, but I enjoyed life, too, and although I worried that they wouldn't, the creative writing jobs kept arriving in my mailbox. In less than four years, I reached the point where I now live entirely off earnings generated by my website. Thousands of visitors now visit this site each day.

I wake in the morning and check to see how much money I made while I slept. Then I check my email to see if any work has come in overnight. My time is completely flexible, I work at home, and writing and reading is my life.

Creative writing jobs come to me now—editing, mentoring, rewriting, and web writing. All of these pay well, and web writing is more creative than you might think because good copy almost always contains a story—in the form of case studies, detailed tesitmonials, or anecdotes like those on this page.

If you write fiction, and you're not happy with your current earnings, consider doing what I did:

  1. Add copywriting to your mix of skills now! It's easy for us writers. We already know how to make words work for us, so we have none of the usual hurdles. Also, we're accustomed to learning new writing techniques, and copywriting is just another set of skills to strengthen our writing.

  2. And don't just build a website. Start your own web business. Publishers expect you to have a website, so why not create it, and start earning income from it? For most writers, a properly optimized website will earn more than book sales. Generating $1000 to $3,000 a month is common, and will leave you time to write. I know people who earn much more--up to $10,000 a month. If you have a website already and it's not making money, you can change that. You can't just put a web page up and expect people to find it. You have to write articles that draw search engine traffic. That's not the subject of this article, but the techniques are easily learned.

I love choosing who to work with, when I work, when to take vacations, and for how long. With consistent effort, a fast Internet connection, and some basic copywriting skills, any writer can earn more than he or she would working for someone else.

How to Get Started

I took an inexpensive copywriting course from American Writers and Artists, Inc (AWAI). You can read about the specific course I took here: Writers Version of Six-Figure Copywriting The course exceeded my expectations and I highly recommend it.

The lessons begin with a lengthy but interesting introduction to copywriting, then teach in detail the basic structure of successful copy — what to put where. I had access to samples and was asked to copy the samples out several times to really get the feel for the different parts. We don't buy what we need. More often we buy what we want, so another lesson explains why we don't like to be "sold" features, but respond well to being "shown" how a product benefits us. Each lesson cantains numerous specific, time-saving techniques. One focuses on how to writing attention-grabbing headlines, and teaches which words and details have proven to be persuasive, as well as why others only irritate. Some of the material I had encountered elsewhere, but I learned much more than I thought I would, and links to successful campaigns and article banks provide plenty of fodder for new ideas.

Finally, the course also discusses how to market yourself once you acquire the necessary copywriting skills.

As with creative writing, the "rules" are much easier to learn than to put into practice, but the upside is that creative writers have been "practicing" for years, so marketing is the biggest hurdle. However, marketing yourself as a copywriter turns out to be not much different from selling short stories. Just as creative writers make a target list of magazines to approach, copywriters make a target list of businesses, and keep approaching the businesses on the list until someone takes a chance on them. This approach never fails with fiction, so while I haven't yet tested the process with copy, I don't see why it wouldn't be equally successful. Or, as I have, you can wait for business to come to you.

Studying creative writing in university and reading so many books on craft helped me publish my first two novels. This copywriting course is helping me to improve my website—the core vehicle for providing the income and lifestyle I need and value. If you enjoy writing of any sort, I'm certain you could easily do the same.

Unless you're a professor with tenure, the usual creative writing jobs are at best a temporary answer to a writer's financial needs. If the company or institution that hires you lets you go, you're back where you started. If you have copywrtiing skills, on the other hand, and can tap into the ever-deepening need on the web, you'll always be in demand. If you use those same skills to create a successful website, the site will grow and earn increasing amounts each year, even when other businesses are cutting back and disappearing.

Think of it this way: To generate even $2000 a month income from an annuity, you would need to invest $500,000. For an investment of a couple hundred dollars and your time, you can build that same, long-term income in three or four years, possibly less.

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