Balancing writing with other work

Few writers are able to earn a living by writing alone. The Authors Licensing and Collection Society conducted a survey of 25,000 writers in 2005 and 60% of professional writers told them that they needed a second income to survive.

The writers who were interviewed in this survey were not solely  novelists; journalists, non-fiction writers and academic writers were also included in this survey. The median writing income for fiction writers was 13k per annum, and for non fiction writers 8k per annum, neither of which are enough to survive. This was before the current recession and the downturn in the publishing, and well before self-published ebooks became and increasingly popular way for authors to be published.

So how do writers manage to continue writing, and manage to eat and pay the mortgage? Obviously, some writers have external support (partner, parents, savings, inheritance), and some writers do earn enough to survive, but at least 60% of writers have another job that pays the bills.

Balancing two jobs is difficult in any circumstances, but in the case of writer there is financial uncertainty around selling work. For most work you are paid a salary or an hourly rate which allows you to know how much you will earn in any particular day/month/year. Writing is dependent on selling your work to the highest bidder. While there are rates set by the Society of Authors, the tricky part of making writing pay is selling your work amid all the competition. This is time consuming, involves a lot more than writing alone, and brings us back to the dilemma of balancing writing with other work.

Once a writer makes a commitment to selling their work, their writing ceases to be a hobby and becomes a job. Like any self-employed person, a writer must make enough money to live. For many people who write, the aim is to eventually give up their other work and write full time. But, as stated above, the catch 22 situation is time management. If time management goes wrong, then the writer may end up stressed, unable to work to deadlines and, in the worst case scenario, unemployed with no income.

A few simple time management tips can help with this.

1. Decide how much time you will spend in your writing job and in your other work. Other work is usually fixed in terms of time, so take a weekly calendar split into hours and colour in all the hours you will spend doing your hourly paid work or salaried work, and the time you sleep. That takes care of rest and the food and light you will need to write! Then, look at the remaining time.

2. Decide if you are a morning writer or a night owl. There’s no point trying to write when you are wishing that you are doing something else.

3. Remember that writing includes research. So if you decide to spend 3 hours per day writing 3000 words, think if this leaves enough time for online research, or location visits and interviews.

4. Colour your writing hours in the calendar.

5. Does the remaining time leave enough time for friends and partners? For exercise and hobbies?

6. Consider how, once you have written your piece or book, you will sell your work. Have you included enough time for meeting other writers and networking? For contacting agents and editors to offer you work?

7. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Skills are transferable and if your other work is in admin or sales, then utilise what you know in your writing. If you have no idea how to sell, go on a marketing course. Networking with other authors will allow you to understand the publishing industry better.

8. Now you have your work calendar, stick to it. Write in the time you have set aside to write. Research in the time you have set aside to research. This will reduce the stress of running out of time.

9. Review the above regularly. If you have success, and a deadline is set, do not feel constrained by your calendar – it’s flexible. It’s your time, use it wisely, but most of all, use it to your best advantage.

Once you are involved in a plot or a proposal, it is easy to let the time run over and continue until you finish. Keeping your calendar close will help you to make a decision as to whether you can afford, time wise, to surrender an hour of sleep and still fulfil other commitments. 

There are many on line calendars and mobile apps for both Android and IPhone that allow you to track you work time and leisure time, and also allow you to set alarms when the time is up. This may seem at odds with the artistic nature of writing, but if you are serious about making an income from writing, you need to get organised and put the hours in. It doesn’t guarantee success, but good time management will reduce stress.