Living as a writer


I’ve often wondered–and heard others wonder–what it takes to become a full-time writer. I’m not talking about a journalist, but rather a novelist. That’s my aspiration. There a lot of answers to this question and plenty of good answers. First and foremost is this: you have to write the books.

But aside from the craft (and toil) of writing, the fundamental question is not so difficult to answer. It boils down to this: how much does it cost to live? This is a question that everyone must answer, no matter the profession. And the answer is the same for each of them.

Cost of living is unique to every person in every part of the world. But there is a solution to becoming a full-time whatever sooner rather than later. The solution is that you have to reduce your living expenses to the minimal, essential amount that you are happy with. Once you’ve done that, you’ll know how much money you have to earn doing whatever to maintain your lifestyle.

Let’s look at an example:

Jack wants to be a writer. Nothing else. He wants to tap away at his computer and produce works of fiction. So, how much does he need to earn to survive? He’s done all the right things to reduce his expenses. He canceled Netflix and sold his TV on Craig’s List. In fact, he sold a whole bunch of stuff on Craig’s List and reduced his possessions to a capsule wardrobe, stuff to write with, and those things that truly bring him pleasure. He ditched his internet service and uses a local coffee shop to surf and maintain his online presence. He splurged a little on a tablet and keyboard for writing. He went with a cheap mobile phone provider. And he found the cheapest place he could to live in a city where he can ride a bike or walk everywhere he needs to go. His monthly expenses look like this:

  • Rent: $500
  • Phone: $50
  • Business: $50
  • Food: $250
  • Medical: $400
  • Savings: $150
  • Other: $100

Total monthly expenses: $1,500 (or $18,000 per year net).

So, to live an absolutely frugal writer’s life, you need to earn less than $20,000 per year. You can scale this up if you’re married and/or have children. But by keeping things simple, you can examine your lifestyle and live the most basic life you are comfortable with. I would suggest (and others would agree) that a family of four can live well on $25,000 per year.

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