The Cynic’s Guide to Making Money as Writer

Mash it here for a totally unbiased but unabashedly cynical guide to finding peace and making money as a writer. Here’s to the lifestyle!

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(Letter to self.)

This should be easy. Making money as a writer will require no odd magic, because you were born to write (even if the mortals around you don’t know it yet). Hell, after the doctor slapped air into your lungs, she handed you a Montblanc and scroll, remember? Of course you do, Chosen One.

All Hail.

Now it’s time to make good on this glorious destiny—to shout it from the mountain tops (we’ll talk about the importance of cliché in a later post). The world doesn’t just want to hear about your freelance writing career—it needs to hear it. And if you must saturate a few dinner parties with talk of writerly things—if you feel a divine urge to push people out of their comfort zones so they understand and revere this righteous path—so be it.

After all, a caterpillar has to digest itself first before becoming a butterfly.

Nevertheless, some folks just won’t understand. It’s a special thing, writing; and writers are something akin to the fabled unicorn. If this is truly you—if your pen drips unicorn tears every time you put it to page—then listen up:

Behold, the Six Golden Rules

Most of the writers you’ll observe while doomskimming Twitter and LinkedIn started making money as a writer in roundabout fashion. They studied biology or accounting and barely made passing marks. Some never went to school at all. Above all else, one thing is clear: English degrees hold little currency and creative writing majors never make it.

Unless they follow this the six golden to making money as a writer with unflinching dedication, mind you.

1. Whenever’s Clever, Loosen Things Up By Telling Everyone You’re a Writer

If people don’t ask what you do, ask first and don’t pay attention to their answer (writers are terrible listeners, anyway). You’ll need that time to dream up something catchy that makes your particular path to writing glory sound distinguished. Or just go in guns blazing once your roommate stops prattling on about “the issue at hand here.”

2. Drink Alcohol to Excess

Image and failing health are everything in the writing game. Bonus points for owning three suits (one of them made of linen) and idolizing Don Draper, Hunter S. Thompson, and Charles Bukowski. How does the saying go? Most novelist don’t start selling copies until they turn up stiff in dark and moldy gutter.

3. Buy Expensive Notebooks (but Never Write In Them)

And good pens. Hold the latter while staring at the former each and every day. When you do decide to Do the Act, edit as you go—”drafts” are the mark of doomed scribes too wet behind the ears to ever dry out. Leuchtturm1917 and the Zebra F-301 Ballpoint Retractable Pen are two products I (get paid to) recommend. Just kidding. But seriously, if you thought amateur guitar players had a penchant for putting gear before skill development, wait until you meet an aspiring writer.

4. Neatly Stack Classic Writing References On Your Desk (but Never Read Them)

Think: Strunk & White and the Chicago Manual of Style. Bonus points for a synonym finder and a functional typewriter you never use. Digital resources are fair-weather crutches, by the way. Either you’re born with it, or you’re not. Might as well collect some classic novels you’ll never read, while you’re at it (here’s looking at you, Mr. James Joyce).

5. Break All the Rules

Do it early and often. Use sentence fragments and stack nouns with abandon. Go with the way you think semicolons and em dashes should be used. Flouting established and widely recognized writing standards is a great way to draw attention to your personal brand—ahem, sorry, I meant art. Oh, and it’s never too early to megaphone your opinions about the serial comma on social media.

6. Don’t Take No for an Answer

As a wise, value-driven person once said, Snowflakes don’t win clients and build audience. Generic email blasts and snarky replies are your new best friends. Submission guidelines don’t stand a chance. Neither does your paltry following on Twitter and Facebook, which you ought to bombard daily with thoughts, opinions, and oversharing.

Making Money As a Writer is Yours (If You Don’t Blow It)

Six things! All you have to do is these six measly things and you’ll become a profitable and happy writer. Strange alchemy, I agree, like a caterpillar cannibalizing itself to become a mariposa. But if you were born for this, dammit, the wings are already yours—all you have to do is move those mandibles.

Chomp chomp.

P.S. I’d like to dedicate these words to Mrs. Tampa, my eighth grade typing teacher. Without you, Madam, I’d still be staring down at the keyboard, slowly punching away with index fingers decrepit from overuse. Sorry we printed stuff all the time just to bug you. I know who it was, but you don’t become a writer by snitching.

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