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You CAN make a living writing
It’s time we stop asking this question.
I was on a panel recently with another freelance writer, and one of the aspiring writers in the audience asked,
Can you reasonably make a living as a freelance writer anymore?
That is, given everything you hear about stagnant rates and layoffs and media companies’ shifting priorities… is this still a viable career option?
She said no.
She said you should keep your day job, make sure you have another form of income, because this industry is pretty freakin’ hard.
It wasn’t my turn to speak, and it wouldn’t have been my place to argue in that moment. So I held it in… and I came straight here to tell you:
Yes. OMG YES. You can make a living as a freelance writer.
I’m doing it right now. I’ve been doing it for more than a year. (And for five years before my stint as an employee.)
And, to be clear, I’m not just eking by — not that there’s anything wrong with being at that point in your journey. But I’m not. I’m making a good living. I made more money last year as a full-time freelancer than I made in any of my five years as an employed writer, and I’m on track to make way more this year. AND, to be even more clear about this living I’m making: My income supports my partner, too. And we are, as we like to say in the Midwest, comfortable.
This writer wasn’t wrong, though. It’s smart to keep your day job. And it can be hard to make a living as a freelancer.
The problem in this scenario isn’t necessarily her answer. It’s the question.
Can you make a living as [insert literally anything]? is always the wrong question to ask.
You can always “make a living.”
I made a living as a freelancer when I earned $12,000 a year. I will be making a living when I earn $100,000 a year.
You can make all kinds of quips about what kind of life, tho, but that’s not your call to make. I was gobsmacked in my early days that anyone wanted to pay anything for something I wrote. I celebrated rare four-figure months, because they came from doing work I chose.
I recently celebrated my first five-figure month with the same awe and gratitude.
In personal finance, we like to warn against lifestyle inflation, the habit we have of raising our expectations — and expenditures — when we get a raise in income.
I’m personally fine with lifestyle inflation. You earn the money; share it, enjoy it. But remember: That flexibility can go both ways.
If your expenses can balloon to meet a corporate salary, they can shrink to give you room to start a freelancing career. You can buy different groceries, find different entertainment and live in a different space — if that aligns with doing work you choose.
If you’re ever wondering whether to put effort toward freelancing, don’t ask yourself, Can I make a living doing this?
Ask yourself, What kind of life do I want to live, and how will freelancing fit into it?
Maybe you want to live a life that costs a lot of money, and you prefer to fund it with a full-time job and enjoy freelancing as a side gig. Maybe you want to live a life where you enjoy every single task you do for work, and that means cutting expenses so you can afford to be ultra-picky about assignments. Maybe you have solid experience and mad skills, and you know you’ll earn a freelancing income that’ll support whatever life you want.
No one can define for you what it means to “make a living” — so how can anyone tell you what kind of work will help you do it?