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The Writing Life: You Can Make a Living With Your Words

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

Updated 12.18.2023

Is the writing life simply limited to the evenings-and-weekends wannabe novelist or the byline-hungry journalist? 

For many years, that’s what I thought. In my ignorance, I believed that real writers were sprinkled with pixie dust at birth and always knew they wanted to write the Great American Bestseller. I threw journalists into that mix, too, grouping them all together in a Woodward and Bernstein investigative reporting mishmash. 

I didn’t give a thought to who wrote the newsletters, direct mail, and brochures that filled my mailbox. Nor did I stop to consider who penned the words the websites and blogs that were beginning to spring up in cyberspace. And electronic books? Surely there was an android who knew what buttons to push to spit them out.

Guess what? Someone needs to write those print pieces. And someone needs to write the content that jams blogs and information websites that fill up the internet. And someone needs to write all those Kindle books that are filling my feed. And … I learned that “someone” could be me.

The Writing Life with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #FreelanceWriting #WritingTips

The Writing Life Offers Variety

For me, the writing life doesn’t mean writing the same kind of project over and over. I’ve laced together a lucrative income from a variety of writing income sources. Once I completed AWAI’s Six-Figure Copywriting Course, I had clips and persuasive writing skills that allowed me to find clients that needed content. That first summer, I sent out 80 letters a week to nonprofit organizations. After a few weeks, I had my first clients. They hired me to write websites, blog posts, identity content, articles, newsletters, white papers, grants, eBooks, appeal letters, and social media posts. After four months, I was writing content for clients full time.

A couple of years later, I took Nick Usborne’s How To Write Money-Making Websites course.  Soon, I launched a couple of informational hobby sites. Even today I continue to add content to those sites. In return, those websites send a steady stream of affiliate income checks to my bank account each month. 

Meanwhile, I wrote books. Each year I get some nice royalty checks from my publisher. And each month I get some royalty income from my self-published books on Amazon. 

The Writing Life Offers Freedom

But my writing life began in dribbles.

I laid the groundwork for several years: I took a course on writing articles … submitted queries to publications and began accumulating clips … learned copywriting skills and how to market myself to potential clients.  Then I moved to writing in earnest when my husband and I retired from the service and relocated to another state to be near his family.

If I’d been writing for an employer, I would have had to resign from my job. But as a freelancer, I can work from anywhere. All I need a laptop and an internet connection. That flexibility extends to my day-to-day word-smithing, too. I write in my car when the kids are on the soccer practice field. I work on some projects in the sunroom and then move to my office in home to conduct interviews.

For me, the writing life is spelled this way: F-R-E-E-D-O-M. 

The Writing Life Has a Cost

Freedom always has a cost. Fortunately, the costs to the writing life are offset by gains.

The writing life requires (some) money

Courses, books, and coaching allow me to hone my craft. Naturally, they have a price tag in dollars and cents.

The upside? Anyone can learn to write and make money at it. You don’t need a college degree to get paid to write like you do . You simply need a desire, a decent course, and a solid coach, teacher, or critique group – all which cost tens of thousands less than the price of tuition. And the proliferation of online learning means don’t need to attend classes at a certain time of day, but you can learn to write on your own time and at your own pace.

The writing life requires time

The good news is that writers are not “born,” as I erroneously once thought.

Writing is a skill that can be learned. On the other hands, writers must work to develop the craft. Expertise in any skill, claims journalist Malcom Gladwell in Outliers, requires 10,000 hours of study and practice. Yet with writing, there’s a plus: people want and need good writing. You can always continue to learn more along the way, but the ability to write well is a desperately-needed, marketable skill.

The writing life requires flexibility

Yet the variety that I adore in the writing life can create a roller coaster. I cannot say that I lack control as a writer because I can choose my projects. Nor can I say that writing is an unreliable source of income because I’ve steadily earned a good living for nearly two decades. I’m able to manage my life and my schedule more freely than when working for an employer who demands my presence in the office on certain days and at certain times. But week to week, projects change. Anchor clients can give me a steady income, but I need to juggle them. 

That flexibility can be to my advantage, too. When the economy tanks, businesses still need content. More are apt to hire a freelance writer than add a writer to their payroll. 

The writing life requires resolve

You needn’t be an extraordinarily gifted writer to enjoy a following or make a good living with your words.

But you need a bit of courage. I liken writing to “taking your clothes off on paper.” Nerve, moxie, pluck – or simply an overwhelming desire to share your words or make the writing life work – are required. You’ll deal with insecurity (is my writing good enough?) and self-consciousness (are my ideas frivolous or foolish?)  But what does not destroy you can strengthen you. The benefit of making yourself vulnerable is that you develop persistent resolve and resilience.

The Writing Life Isn’t Birthed By Pixie Dust

“You can make an excellent living as a writer … all you need is someone to show you how.”

So say the folks that launched the American Writers and Artists Institute. Their description of the writing life is a whole lot different than the starving artist stereotype.  But that’s the writing life I have been able to pursue. Invest a bit of money, time, flexibility, and resolve – and you can, too.

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