How Much Writing Does It Take to Earn a Living?

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Are you an aspiring or newbie freelance writer looking to leave work behind?

If you are, you might be wondering how much writing work it’ll take in order to make the switch. Or how on earth you’ll ever get there… while working full-time.

I wondered the exact same thing when I started my freelance writing side hustle three years ago. (And for the record, those three years have FLOWN by, so if you’re thinking about pursuing freelance writing, you might as well get started today!)

Here I was, a young mom to a baby and two-year-old, working full-time while my husband stayed at home and we pinched pennies to maintain “our lifestyle.” All the while feeling stuck and unfulfilled as the breadwinner of our young family of four.

Can you relate?

If you can or you just want to know how much it takes to earn a living writing, today’s post is for you. Because I’m going to do better than tell you. I’m going to show you!

My Journey

If you’ve been around these parts long or taken either of my courses on breaking into freelance writing or VA work, you may be familiar with my story.

For those of you that haven’t, I started looking into alternative career options about three years ago – tax day of 2014 to be exact. As I mentioned, I was unfulfilled in my work as a support person and financial advisor to a small, family run practice that was very profitable.

That’s the irony of it – I had a GOOD THING going there.

I no longer commuted, unless you call a 10 minute drive to and from work a commute. I got paid well and was treated like family. There was room to grow and move up the ranks. But it’s not what I wanted.

Even if it was a tremendous opportunity.

While I enjoyed meeting with clients and helping them to make, then work towards their financial goals, the admin side of the business drove me NUTS! Having to sit behind a desk for eight hours everyday, regardless if I was finished with my work or not, drove me NUTS!

More than anything, it’s probably because I’m an entrepreneur at heart.

I wanted to call the shots. To work really hard for a period of time and then maybe take it easy later on. I wanted unlimited income potential and for my effort to be directly linked with my ROI.

And there was some of that at my previous position, but I wasn’t necessarily passionate about the subject matter. I.e. I liked planning for financial goals, forecasting, etc. But I didn’t really care about investing (beyond the basics of index funds and having a properly diversified and risk-assessed portfolio) or selling insurance (even if it’s a necessary evil). I sure didn’t like the amount of red tape that comes with the industry – the crazy amount of disclosure required and paperwork that is a result of it.

So I FINALLY (after almost 10 years y’all) gave myself permission to consider an alternative. Not one to “admit defeat” that was a BIG moment for me!

I stumbled on freelance writing and online business. And pretty much instantly fell in love.

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I liked to write and knew I was good at communicating, so I thought why not? And I gave it a shot.

Don’t get me wrong, it was HARD WORK. I had to navigate building a website (the first attempt at which was rather atrocious), figure out my niche, build my portfolio, learn to pitch for clients and then work my butt off prospecting for business.

As the beneficiary of hindsight, it was 100% worth it!

So… how much does it take to earn a living writing?

Oh, you still want the answer to that question, huh? 😉

Well first, I’m going to reply with the cliched response, “it depends.” But don’t worry, I’ll unpack it for ya!

It depends on if you’re looking to leave work behind or just build up a side hustle. If it’s the former, it depends on how much you make right now.

I.e. There’s a BIG difference between someone that wants to replace a $600 per month part-time job and someone that is currently making $100,000 per year.

Side note: This article is really great and shows how much writers make across the US.

Assess YOUR Goals

In order to answer this overarching question for yourself, you need to know what your goals are. Not sure? Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are you looking to accomplish? Do you want to leave work behind? Or just bring extra income into your household?
  2. How much do you need to earn to meet that goal? Pretty self-explanatory, but I’m looking for a hard number and time frame (i.e. $750 per week or $3,000 per month).
  3. When would you like to accomplish this by? The bigger the goal, typically the longer you should give yourself to reach it. I.e. If you want to replace your entire six-figure salary, you might not be able to accomplish that in the next 30 days. Or even six months. You might be looking at a year plus. But if it’s what YOU really want, it’ll be worth it!
  4. How much do currently charge? Is it per word, per hour or per piece? I’d suggest not charging per hour and we’ll be using a per piece example below.

So now that you know what your goal is, we can back out the math to help get you there.

A Working Example

What worked for me as I got started, was to figure out how much I needed to earn on any given day in order to accomplish my goal of leaving work behind.

So let’s take the example of someone that earns $50,000 per year. Let’s inflate that by 25% in order to take into consideration a lack of benefits (health insurance, employer-paid taxes, etc.). Our new starting figure is $62,500.

This individual plans to work five days per week.

Here’s one way to do the math:

  • $62,500/12 (months in the year) = $5,208.
  • $5,208/4 (weeks per month) = $1,302.
  • $1,302/5 (days per week) = $260.

So in order to replace a $50k/yr corporate job, this person needs to earn $260 per working day. Let’s play around with a few different rates.

  • At $50/article, he’d need to write ~5 articles per day, 26 per week or 104 per month.
  • At $100/article, he’d need to write ~2.5 articles per day, 13 per week or 52 per month.
  • At $200/article, he’d need to write ~1 article per day, 7 per week or 26 per month.

Isn’t it crazy how much rates affect volume? That’s why it’s okay to take on some $50 projects in the beginning, but not later on in the game!

A Real Life Example

I’m going to let you in on a little secret… I’ve never written full-time.

I never wanted to. Writing (for me) takes a lot of mental energy, so it made sense to me to diversify with VA work early on.

And that strategy worked out really well. I enjoyed writing (and still do), but didn’t want to do it for 40 hours a week. Instead, I brought on a virtual assistant client doing email management. The predictable income from this one client is actually what gave me the confidence to put in my notice and leave work behind.

But many others DO write full-time. And it works for them. (To each their own, right?)

For example, my girl Zina does. She even became a six-figure writer in her first year writing full-time. And has made as much as $13,000 IN ONE MONTH. From writing alone. Crazy, right?

My friend Nicole Dieker does too. And she shared how she writes 20-30 pieces EVERY WEEK (that’s a LOT of writing ya’ll) in this Contently article. Girl is a machine, but she attributes a lot of her success to overcoming perfectionism. Which when you think of it, makes a lot of sense.

And lastly, here’s a Reddit thread on the topic that’s kind of interesting. It’s not on income so much as how many words people write per day. What’s most interesting to me is how vastly different the responses are (1,000-18,000 words per day).

Your Turn

So now that you understand what goes into the equation and how personal an answer to this question really is, it’s your turn to figure it out for yourself.

Assess your goals, figure out how much to charge and then run the numbers. Knowing my daily goal worked really well for me, so you might want to try assessing your own productivity against a daily rate too.

Ready to Kickstart YOUR
Freelance Writing Biz?
Grab two of our most popular workSheets and get started TODAY!

And if you’re just getting started, know that stuff takes time. And again, if having a career as a freelance writer is really worth it to you, you need to give it time (and a whole lotta effort!). But it doesn’t mean that you can’t be making incremental progress over time.

Because you can. And frankly, you need to be.

For those of you that are brave, share your goals in the comments! 

8 thoughts on “How Much Writing Does It Take to Earn a Living?”

  1. I totally relate to your situation as the breadwinner with babies at home (mine were 1 & 5 when I made the leap to freelance!). Now that I’ve been freelancing (or dabbling in it!) for the past year, I’m finally working out the kinks and making some business goals for myself.
    As much as I love to write, I also ‘diversify’ with consultant work on small projects- it does help with avoiding ruts & keeping the work satisfying.

    So thank you for the reality check, it’s both a positive thing and a scary one!

    Reply
  2. Seeing how you broke it down is easy enough when it’s on a per project basis and there’s a flat rate for a specific amount of articles/projects/whatever. I’m just wondering how I would apply this to the business I want to start: internet research specialist. I don’t think I could break it down by project. I think this would be more of an hourly situation, right? So, how would that work? Thanks.

    Reply
  3. I really enjoyed this blog post. I am a freelance writer and my first goal is to make $5,000 a month. I have made tons of progress in the six months since I started but haven’t quite gotten there yet.

    I love to write but I agree, writing takes a LOT of mental energy. Ideally, I want to work 20-30 hours per week. One time I had someone tell me it would be hard to make more than $3,000 as a writer so it is encouraging to see what other people have accomplished!

    Reply
  4. OK, I’m a little freaked out by the 18000 words a day person. 😀 I love combining writing non-fiction with fiction, coaching, and ESL-teaching. The teaching gives me a lot of material to write about as I deal with different people in different industries. (I teach adults.) It’s not that I’d mind writing alone, but then you end up having to write about stuff you don’t care for to make more money. I get blocked about topics that are outside my niches, and I have a few. As always, I’ve loved the post.

    Reply

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