How to Live Your Dream without Turning it Into a Nightmare
Living the life of a full-time writer is always awesome. It’s a literally a dream come true for those of us who are able to do it. Once a person decides to become a full-time writer, they’ve entered ideal-life territory where everything is roses and happiness all the time, right?
Not only does writing full time NOT make all of your troubles disappear, it can introduce new fears, struggles and stress into your life.
One of the biggest problems that independent writers face is finding a way to deal with the insecurity surrounding their future. Consider this, you write a YA (young adult) novel and people love it. So much so, you make $10,000 your first month. The next month, you make $7,000. The third, you make $4,000. You can see where this is going. You feverishly work on the next book, but you struggle to write it because you realize that if it isn’t a hit and instead earns just $200 in a month, you might not be able to stay a full-time writer. In fact, you might just need to go blow the dust off your resume and polish your work shoes.
The same thing goes with freelancing. You have a great month with some big projects and pull in $11,000. But you were so busy working that you failed to do any marketing and have just $2,000 in work scheduled for the next month. Now what?
There are two things you can do each and every month that are going to help you relieve some of that stress and even out the whole feast versus famine nature of a full-time writer’s career:
- Have a survival-based budget for the first year
- Put yourself on a payroll
No matter how good your finances look when you finally decide to quit the 9-5 and start writing for a living, the current state of your bank account doesn’t dictate its future condition. It takes at least a year for you to really get in tune with the ebb and flow of income as a full-time writer, so for your first year (at least) your budget should have very little in the way of fun and unnecessary expenses. Now, you don’t have to live like a pauper and use unpaid bills as toilet paper during the slow weeks, but you can’t take the sudden influx of cash you get during a good month and start buying cool TVs, cars, and vacations. You’ve gotta calm down and accrue some major cash cushion so that, if the future’s less bright than you expected, you’re prepared.
If you worked for Joe Blow, you’d probably have a steady paycheck. And when Joe Blow’s business made a ton of cash one month, you’d still get that same paycheck. Maybe you’d get a bonus, but you can bet it would be a real small percentage of Joe Blow’s excess revenue because Joe knows he needs to keep paying you week after week and he can’t do that if he empties the business account 12 months a year.
You need to treat your own pay the same way Joe would. Using your survival budget, figure out what you need to pay yourself each week and then—no matter how awesome your writing earnings are that week—pay yourself only the payroll amount. Remember, too, that you need to set aside some money for taxes (which I am not going to get into detail on in this post or probably ever because you really need to get a tax advisor). If you have a month where your income is outrageous, as in, twice what you need to support your payroll and tax withholding for that month, consider paying yourself a small bonus of 5 or 10 percent.
Remember the Long Haul
I think it’s safe to assume that once you’ve been successfully self-employed as a writer, you’re going to always want to stay that way. In order to do so, you must be careful and deliberate when spending money and paying yourself. You have to focus on bringing in a profit so that your business income always exceeds your expenses. Seriously, it’s the only way to gain the status of a profitable freelancer.