How to Write When … You’re Not Making Any Money Yet

8 Mar 2024 | Writing

Title image: How to Write When … You’re Not Making Any Money Yet

This post is part of my ongoing “How to Write When…” series.

All writers will go through a stage where they’re writing (or wanting to write) but they’re not yet making any money from it.

That’s perfectly normal, and it’s part of learning your craft and building your career – whether that’s as a freelance writer, a novelist, a journalist, a copywriter, or even a combination of these.

But this can be a really tough stage … and you may feel like it’s hardly worth writing at all.

Let’s start by taking a look at why this is so tough, before tackling ways to keep on writing even while you’re not making money.

Four Reasons Why Writing When You’re Not Making Money From It is Tough

#1: Other People Often Don’t Take Your Writing Seriously

I’d love to live in a world where everyone was truly supportive of everyone else’s goals and dreams. But the reality is that sometimes, people don’t take your writing seriously. They might not see it as important, because they don’t have any writing ambitions.

There are all sorts of meaningful, worthwhile, important things we do in life that we don’t get paid for. Parenting and caring are obvious examples … but you might also think of things like cultivating a beautiful garden, cooking a wonderful meal, being there for a friend who’s going through a hard time, and so on.

We live in a society shaped by centuries of capitalism, however, and it can be hard for people to see the “point” or worth of something if it’s not making money. They may simply not see how your writing is, regardless of whether it ever makes a penny, important.

#2: You May Feel Guilty About Taking Time to Write

The time you spend writing is, quite logically, time you can’t spend on something else. If you’re not yet making money from your writing, you may find that it’s hard to feel comfortable taking that time away from the rest of your life – especially if things are busy.

My fiction writing is running at a net loss, once I’ve paid for editing and cover design. And taking time away from family life to write fiction can feel uncomfortable: perhaps I “should” be catching up with the laundry, or spending more time with my kids, or doing a better job of staying in touch with our elderly relatives.

You might well feel the same way. Taking time to write, especially if you’re a long way from finishing a piece – let alone making money from it – can feel like too much of an indulgence.

#3: Having to Earn a Living Cuts Into Your Writing Time

I started my freelancing career while working a full-time day job and, understandably, this limited my writing time significantly! I normally worked on blog posts for 45 minutes or so before work, and read other blogs in my lunch hour; my fiction-writing generally happened at weekends.

If you’re not making money writing, you need to have money coming in from some other source. For many writers, that’s a day job or at least a part-time gig. And inevitably, this eats into the time you might otherwise have available for writing.

It’s not just about time, either. Working all day, especially if you’re not all that keen on your day job, can be really draining. The reason I wrote before work was because I didn’t have much energy left in the evenings. At that point, though, I didn’t have kids, I worked a standard 40-hour week and I had a relatively short (30 minutes each way) commute. If you work long hours or have young children at home, you may have almost no time and energy left for writing.

#4: You Might Not Be Able to Afford (or Justify) Writing Courses, Books, Etc

Another major issue when you’re not making money from writing is that it can be a struggle to afford writing courses or classes that could help you further your craft. Even if you can afford these due to your day job, you might feel you can’t justify spending the money.

Personally, I think it’s fine to think about writing as a hobby. People spend money on hobbies (sometimes lots of money: think hobbies like golf, restoring vintage cars, or eating at high-end restaurants).

But I know it can be difficult to spend money on your writing, when you’re not yet making money. You might hope that your investment in yourself and your writing will eventually pay off – but if there are lots of other things you’d like to do with that money, it can feel like a really tough decision.

How to Write Even Though You’re Not Yet Making Money

Here’s the good news: you can absolutely write even if you’re not making money yet. In fact, let’s go a bit further. You can write even if you never make any money. Chances are, you didn’t get interested in writing because you thought it’d make you rich. Instead, you wanted to write for the love of it.

Step #1: Figure Out a Good Amount of Time to Devote to Your Writing

What would be a good amount of time to spend writing?

You can define “good” however you want, but I’d encourage you to think of how much time would feel satisfying. What would make you feel like a writer, or like writing is a habit for you? How much time could you take for writing without detrimentally affecting other things in your life that are important to you?

That might mean writing for one weekend afternoon every week, or writing on three evenings each week. If you have a lot of flexibility with your time (maybe you’re retired, or between jobs) then it could mean spending a couple of hours each day writing.

Another approach here is to set a daily or weekly minimum target. For me with my fiction right now, that’s 250+ words per day, which usually takes me about 15 minutes. (If you’re not sure how long a certain number of words will take, here’s roughly how long it takes to write 1,000 words.)

Step #2: Take Your Writing Time Seriously

If other people aren’t taking your writing (and your writing time) seriously, that can sometimes be because you are struggling to take it seriously.

You don’t need to be making money to treat something as really important in your life. Think of people who are avid fans of a sports team, for instance: they might plan whole weekends around attending a match. There’s no reason you can’t treat your writing as something this important, too.

Taking your writing time seriously might look like:

  • Committing in advance to specific writing times and sticking to them, just as you’d stick to other important appointments on your calendar.
  • Going into a separate room from the rest of your family when you’re writing, so you’re less likely to be interrupted.
  • Staying on track during your writing sessions, at least most of the time. If you’re supposedly “writing” but you actually spend an hour scrolling social media, it’s hard for you (and anyone observing you!) to feel that you’re really serious about being a writer.

It’s absolutely normal to struggle with this! It can be really difficult to carve out time for writing, to stick to it even if you’re not feeling in the writing mood, and to stay focused. You might want to check out my short guide Supercharge Your Writing Session for help with this.

Step #3: Focus on Non-Monetary Writing Milestones

It can be hard to feel a sense of progress with your writing if you want to make money but you’re not quite there yet. You’ll still be achieving a lot along the way, however – and you might find it helpful to keep looking ahead to your next milestone.

I’ve got a list of nine writing milestones here – and only one of them involves money! You might well have already achieved some of the others, or you may be well on your way towards them. Don’t discount all the things you’ve accomplished in the past few months or years. Even if it feels like you’re making only a tiny amount of progress each week, that progress will quickly add up.

Step #4: Hang Out With Fellow Writers

One of the things that has helped me to stick with my writing even when I’ve been nowhere near making money is having the companionship and support of other writers. Nothing can really replace being around people who completely get it, and who share the same sorts of goals as you.

If you don’t know any writers in your day-to-day life, you might want to join an online group or even start your own writers’ group.

Or if you’ve ever bought anything from the Aliventures Shop, or if you’re thinking of buying something in the future, you’re welcome to come and join my Aliventures Club group on Facebook – it’s a private, supportive community where you can share your successes and struggles with fellow writers.

It can be hard to make the time to write when you’re not yet making money from your work. But all writers go through a stage of writing without pay.

Some types of writing are a lot easier to make writing from (like copywriting) and others are a lot tougher (like poetry) … but the value of your writing isn’t just in its potential to make money!

Writing is valuable in and of itself: as a creative outlet, as a form of self-expression, and as a way to communicate with others, even if that just means writing a letter to one person.

If you only take away one thing from today’s post, here it is: your writing matters. Your writing is important and valuable, regardless of whether you’re making money from it or not.

About

I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.

Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.

My Novels

My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.

You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.

2 Comments

  1. Susan Chadduck

    Ali, this was exactly the post I needed!

    Last night my writer’s group met by Zoom, and I was surprised to hear how many other people felt guilty about setting aside regular time for writing – although they are clearly talented and writing brings them joy.

    I also followed your link to How Long It Takes to Write a 1000 words, which I found very helpful. I’ve always been intimidated by words count goals. For some reason my brain has always latched on to the idea of pages. But, I plan my writing sessions around time, so I’m going to re-visit this and see if it boosts my productivity!

    I can tell that you are in tune with the writers in the Aliventures group and use our feedback to guide your post topics. This is what sets you apart from other bloggers. Thank you for being a light in the darkness when frustration and self-doubt get the best of me.

    Reply
    • Ali

      Aw Susan, thanks so much for the lovely and encouraging comment … I’m really glad this post came when you needed it! 🙂

      Writing guilt is a struggle for so many writers, and I’m glad your writing group’s members felt able to talk about it together, at least. It’s funny, isn’t it, we can feel guilty about taking time for our own writing and yet 100% support *other* writers taking that time.

      Reply

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