How to become a writer and build a financially sustainable career

Nike’s "just do it" ethos is often referenced in posts about how to become a writer. In other words, everything you need to do, to Becoming a writer is too write . While meant to be encouraging, this statement can seem a bit superficial. Certainly Hunter S. Thompson and Margaret Atwood did not just Written to establish yourself as a literary success?

This post will demystify what it means – in a practical sense – to be a writer, with actionable advice on how to find the time to write while balancing another job and making writing your full-time career. Let’s dive in!

Become a writer and balance work and family at the same time

how to become a writer | illustration of a writing ninja putting on a headband

"How much do writers earn?" is one of the most frequently asked questions among those considering a career in writing-and understandably so. Authority doesn’t come with a fixed salary range, and it can be scary to invest everything in an artistic and professional pursuit with an uncertain financial outcome.

Most aspiring writers understand that the amount of money a writer makes varies widely. But did you know that the vast majority of writers can’t live on royalties and advances alone? Many writers who lack the privilege of a financial safety net (and honestly, that’s most of us) have to juggle writing with other part-time or full-time employment. If you’re trying to become a writer while balancing work and family, these three steps, which we’ll cover in detail, should be invaluable to you:

  1. Lay the foundation for a solid writing routine;
  2. Look for opportunities; and
  3. Consider self-publishing it.

Eventually, with patience and an actionable plan, it may become possible to make writing your main job – but more on that later!

Lay the foundation for a solid writing routine

Finding the time to write in a busy schedule is the first hurdle in almost any aspiring author’s journey. A large number of talented writers never make it over this obstacle, but those who do are really halay there – and all you need to do is make writing a regular habit. Here are a few tips for setting up a routine:

Set a non-negotiable writing time (as stated by Kevin T. Johns described in this webinar). Match this to your own skills and previous commitments. If you are reasonable with yourself, you are more likely to achieve your goals, and that will only encourage you to keep going!

Create specific writing goals. Whether it’s a certain number of words or getting a task done in a certain number of days, goals allow you to break a larger project into manageable chunks – so you’re less likely to get overwhelmed and more likely to sit down and get on with it.

Get an idea of your "best" writing time. Tend to get the most done in the morning after you wake up or in the quieter hours of the evening? Identify your own productivity windows and take advantage of them.

Create a writing space and invest in it Writing tools . If you want to become a full-time writer, you need to equip yourself with the right environment and tools to do your job well. This doesn’t have to mean looking at the latest gadgets – it can simply mean moving your desk to the nearest sunny window!

Free course: creating an unbreakable writing routine

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Search for opportunities

Over time, you’ll start producing work you’re proud of and can’t wait to share. Then you should actively look for opportunities to publish. Countless print and online publications gladly accept work from aspiring writers. Submitting to these venues will give you the opportunity to build your portfolio and gain valuable experience in tailoring your writing to specific outlets.


If you’re an aspiring novelist, follow Ursula K. Le Guin and Ernest Hemingway and get your foot in the door by entering literary magazines and contests. Here are some places where you can do just that:

  • Literary journals that accept submissions
  • Reviewed writing contests and their deadlines
  • Reedsy’s own weekly short story contest
  • publications where short stories are submitted

To make sure the t’s and i’s of your submissions are crossed and dotted, here’s a submission checklist to help you stay on track!


There are also ample opportunities for nonfiction authors to get their byline out into the world. If you’re interested in a particular niche, start by creating a list of relevant publications. Most websites have a submissions section with guidelines for submitting a piece.

Follow specific editors on Twitter to stay up to date on when magazines are accepting pitches. They usually tweet when their inbox is open (and what they’re looking for in a pitch) – and many of them are open to questions. If you don’t know where to find them, search for names through journal websites or just use the Twitter search function. Magazine editors usually tell you who they are in their Twitter bio!

Put your pitches and deadlines on a calendar

Next, organize your "pitching calendar", By listing the outlets you want to write for, your premise for each pitch, and any deadlines you need to meet. You may also want to take note of any feedback you receive. For example, an outlet might let you know that your piece is not right for them "at this time," or they might explain in more detail what they are looking for.

Here are a few resources that connect writers with publications looking for submissions:

  • writers publish newsletters
  • NewPages classifications
  • Newsletters from funds for writers

Consider self-publishing

If you have a book idea you can’t stop talking about and your main goal is to make it happen, consider self-publishing. It’s easier than ever to get your book out into the world, and we’ve outlined the entire process in this post: how to self-publish a book. Plus, you can do it all on your own time.

Although some traditionally published household names snag hundreds of thousands up front, these are the outliers. Many more self-publishers make a living than traditionally published authors do. This has been proven by several years of author earnings reports – most notably, a study that found the number of indie authors earning 5-6 figures per year from book sales was much higher than the number of Big 5 authors earning the same. (You can read more about it here.)

Study or no study, you can assume the odds are in your favor in terms of profitability as a self-published author. While traditional publishing royalties max out at 25%, self-published authors can earn up to 70% royalties on each book. And you can publish (and profit from) multiple books in a year – which is why writing a series is a great money-maker. Not to mention an incredibly effective marketing strategy.

Is self-publishing or traditional publishing right for you??

Takes a minute!

If you’re still not sure which publishing route to take, why not take this one minute quiz to find out which option is best for you?

Earn a living as a full-time writer

how to become a writer | illustration of an author opening a glowing paycheck

While most people think of "author" when they envision a career as a writer, it’s not the only way to earn your living as a professional writer. Here are some alternative options for you to consider:

  • journalist – writes for newspapers and magazines. Requires dedicated research skills, the ability to be objective and meet strict deadlines.
  • Columnist – writes for newspapers and magazines. Unlike journalists, columnists offer their subjective opinions and insights into current events.
  • Copywriters – Writes marketing copy for brands, companies or organizations.
  • Technical Writer – Transforms complex jargon into concise information that users of a product or customers of a company can clearly understand.
  • Web content writer – Writes blog posts and articles for brands, businesses or organizations.
  • Ghostwriter – writes content on behalf of other people or organizations. Learn more about becoming a ghostwriter here!
  • Grant writer – Writes documents to help organizations find grants.

Whatever profession you choose, there are a few things you can try to make a living as a full-time writer:

  1. Get the appropriate credentials;
  2. Create an online portfolio; and
  3. Apply for writing grants.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.

Get the appropriate credentials (if applicable)

how to become a writer | a list of writing jobs and their credentials

Careers like teaching or dentistry tend to have reassuringly simple instructions: go to school and earn the necessary credentials. But for writers, the relevance or necessity of science is a contentious issue that depends largely on the type of writing you want to pursue.

A doctorate in creative writing may only be required for individuals who wish to teach literature or writing at the college or university level.

After Flannery O’Connor earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she became a key figure in the Southern Gothic genre. Best-selling author Rachel Kushner received her MFA at Columbia. You don’t have to look far to find examples of writers who have come out of MFA programs to build stellar literary careers.

On the other hand, you’ll find just as many authors who had nothing to do with writing and decided to write before their big career non-literary Jobs had – like Charles Bukowski (mailman), Haruki Murakami (jazz club manager), and Harper Lee (airline .). Ticket Salesman). Finally, life experience is an essential component of any good fiction.

No special qualifications are needed to become a fiction writer, other than the ability to write (and market) a great story. An MFA can certainly help you develop your craft and put you in touch with other established and aspiring writers, or lead you to some creative writing gigs – but it’s not a shortcut to a successful career. In addition, most MFA programs focus on literary fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. So if you want to become a writer of genre literature, an MFA is probably not a necessary stepping stone for you.


Again, check out examples of many great fiction writers who have degrees in English or literature, including Sally Rooney, John Green, Toni Morrison, Aravind Adiga, and Stephen King. But as mentioned above, a college education is not a requirement to become a novelist.

However, if you want to become a nonfiction writer, academic credentials may become more important.

Outside of creative nonfiction, success as a nonfiction writer depends on your authority of a particular subject and therefore requires some sort of resume that proves your qualifications. This can be a graduate degree or extensive experience in the relevant field. Imagine taking a nonfiction book and turning it around to read the author’s biography. What kind of credentials would assure you that this is someone who knows what they’re talking about?

In terms of journalism, most news outlets require applicants to have completed a bachelor’s degree before they will be included in payroll. While a journalism major is certainly a good option, it’s typical to have a double major or a major minor in a combination of journalism and the field you want to write about.


An associate degree typically takes two years to complete and may be more industry-focused than a bachelor’s degree. If you want to become a copywriter or web content writer, an associate degree in media, marketing or writing can be a great way to lay the foundation for your career.


Certificates are short-term programs that provide basic education and skills-based training. They typically last a few weeks to a few months and, like associate degrees, are a good option for aspiring freelance writers.

Although not all types of writing careers a certain degree require , it certainly will not be DAMAGE , Seeking a relevant, formal education. However, with the written word conveniently embedded in the digital landscape, it’s more important than ever for writers to seek out opportunities and begin building their resumes by. At the end of the day, applying to be a magazine columnist with a list of previous publications on legitimate websites will probably carry more weight than an English degree and no previous writing experience.

Create an online portfolio

No matter what writing career you’re pursuing, LinkedIn is a great place to list your experience and previous publications. Maintaining an active social media presence and sharing your latest articles on platforms like Twitter is also a great way to expand your network. That being said, a writer’s website is like your business card, and it will ensure that when editors, agents, or publishers see you ( and they become), they can immediately find your writing portfolio – and see that you are dedicated to your career.

Create a website

To create your own site, you can either buy a domain through a domain registrar (like GoDaddy) so that when you create your site, your URL is something like is – which tends to look more professional. Or you can sign up with a service like WordPress, Wix, or SquareSpace to create a free website. In this case, your URL is something like (Most of these services will also connect you to your own domain name for an additional fee.)

You should also consider hiring a professional to design a custom website, which will give you an extra boost of professionalism and allow you to really solidify your brand.

Perfect your ‘about me’ page

If you’re building on a career as a freelance writer or journalist, a website that divides your work into different niches is a great way to present it in an organized way. Jennifer Fernandez and Rebecca Hobson both do this well. A concise bio that offers better insight into your professional background, like Alice Driver, is also a smart move.

With writers’ websites, you want to give visitors a clear way to buy your books. Check out our special post for more tips on creating an effective and eye-catching author website.

Use a portfolio site

If you don’t want to spend too much time designing a website, you can always turn to a trusted portfolio site. All you need to do is create an account with them and then enter your personal information. Here are some popular options:

  • MuckRack: a popular platform for journalists and PR professionals.
  • Contently: a useful site for content writers.
  • offers a clean cut design for any type of author.

Apply for writing grants

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As with all creative jobs, your career as a writer will have its peaks and breaks. If you’ve managed to transition into a full-time position (congratulations!) and you have a big, time-consuming project ahead of you, it’s only natural that your income will dwindle a bit. Then grant money can save the day. Essentially, it acts as a buffer when actual income is spotty – invaluable for freelancers who may not know where their next paycheck is coming from.

Here’s a reliable list of grants you can peruse – some don’t have stipulations about what the money is spent on, and others have specific reasons, z. B. for a conference. There are also many scholarships specifically to help women, people of color, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ people get a foothold in the industry. Watch the video below for some helpful advice on how to make a successful application.

Hopefully, this post has shown you how to get focused and purposeful about writing – so that over time you can make writing a financially viable profession. In conclusion, there is nothing more inspiring for aspiring writers than wise words from those who have achieved writing recognition. So browse these brilliant books on writing, then pick up the pen and get started. We look forward to seeing your name in print!

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