Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Writers: You Don’t Have to Starve (If You Do This)

Give up the myth of the starving writer. Click here to download your free copy of 12 Steps to Make a Living Writing.

A friend of mine recently did a survey of a few thousand writers, asking them how much money they make off their writing per month. Do you know what they said? Can you guess? A few thousand bucks a month? A few hundred? Not even close.

You Don't Have to Starve (If You Do This)

According to this study, the average writer makes less than a dollar a month off their writing. A dollar. A DOLLAR?!! That’s insane, and in my opinion, unacceptable. Sadly, though, it’s true.

Based on my conversations with the hundreds of thousands of writers who read my blog every month, most of them aren’t making money off their writing. Like, none.

Another study I found was done by Writers Digest, and the findings weren’t much better. Out of the 7000 working writers surveyed, over 77% didn’t make more than $1000 a year off their writing.

Look. I know it’s no surprise that writers don’t make a fortune off their work, but a dollar a month? A thousand dollars a year? We can do better.

And yet, for every group of Starving Artists out there, we occasionally stumble across an individual who defies the odds and breaks through the glass ceiling of what’s possible. These are those elite few we tend to call “lucky” and “privileged.”

But are they really?

The truth is some writers make very little money and some make a lot of money. In fact, writing may be one of the few jobs where the minimum and maximum earning potential are practically limitless.

With other jobs, like law or medicine or even food service, there is some minimum salary to which you are entitled. Not so with writing. That makes this a little risky. But you knew that already. 😉

Fortunately, the converse is also true. Most doctors and lawyers don’t make much more than the average income for their field, which can be multiple six figures. It’s a nice living, but such professions have their limitations. Those in the creative arts, however, have none.

Take J.K. Rowling, for example, billionaire author of the Harry Potter series. Or even Dr. Dre, another billionaire who made his living off his work and the products he was able to create around it. This may be the most volatile, most exciting profession there is.

Now, let me tell you something you didn’t know…

You don’t have to starve

That’s right. You don’t need to starve and suffer for your work. You can share your ideas and stories with the world and make a living doing so. You can get paid to write for a living. And you don’t have to be a bestselling author or a super-popular blogger to do so.

What you do have to do is pay attention to the way other people have succeeded. You have to follow the path that your predecessors have set before you. You need to give up on the limiting beliefs that you can’t do this and stop thinking you’re special.

You’re not.

You are no different than the millions of aspiring writers who have come before you. Except that you have opportunities and resources than many never did. Hemingway didn’t have a blog. Twain didn’t have Amazon. Austen didn’t have an email list.

This is the best time to be a writer.

And yet, many of us are squandering the opportunities before us. We’re believing a myth — that we must starve for our art — that just isn’t true.

It’s time to break out of that way of thinking and create the future you’ve always dreamed for yourself.

Every year, I see hundreds of writers that I know personally bridge the gap between starving and thriving. I’ve watched them do it, documented the process, and I’m going to share it all here.

This is what I teach in my program Tribe Writers, and before I begin each class, I always tell the students the same thing:

If you do the work, you’ll see the results.

In other words, this process works if you do. I can’t motivate you. I can’t make you sit down and write. But I can show you the way to success and hope that you take the next step.

So, here’s how this is going to go…

Make a Living WritingIn this brief new guide, I am going to outline a process for you. I call it the “12 Steps to Make a Living Writing.” This is what 99% of the writers I know who are succeeding have done, in one form or another.

It’s a proven path based on literally thousands of case studies. And if you do the work, you will see the results. A few quick rules on these steps:

  • You can’t skip a step. Do them in order as best you can. They are designed to work in a progression that creates a sense of momentum so that each step becomes successively easier.
  • In particular, this guide is designed to help you get moving in the right direction, but I recommend joining a community to hold you accountable to the process. At the end of the book, I’ll share some resources about how you can keep going.
  • If you get stuck, see the trouble-shooting tips for each step. The level of success you experience may vary, but I have never seen someone do all twelve steps and not get out of the rut they were in, filled with hope for what was made possible. I pray the same is true for you.
Click here to download your free copy of 12 Steps to Make a Living Writing and stop starving.

Are you ready to make a living from your work? What would it mean to you to be able to write for a living? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

It’s Not Too Late to Become a Writer

Download my free eBook on why now is the best time to become a writer.

In this book, I share everything I’ve learned bout what it takes to start writing for a living — and how you can get started today.

Click here to download the free book now.

  • Daryle Thomas

    I used to sell wood stoves for a living. A couple of guys came into the shop one day, looking for a brand I didn’t sell. They ended up buying from me. One of the guys chatted about writing, and the difference between a writer and an author. I never forgot it. “Authors pen books, writers get paid!”
    Who was that guy? Mickey Spillane.

  • James Michael Starr

    Jeff: So, to be the devil’s advocate (and fully acknowledging that I both make my living as a freelance writer AND am following you BECAUSE I’m working on a 3-part novel series myself) I’d like to ask a tough question–partly because you don’t seem one to shy away from tough questions: Q: Setting aside for the moment those hundreds of thousands you cited who aren’t making money off they’re writing, how would you respond to my observation, that many of the prominent voices in self publishing–people who themselves were pioneers in launching what appear to have been profitable careers writing fiction–are now better known for online courses or even just partnering with product developers in webinars? It may be that these other ventures don’t interfere with the fiction they may still be writing, but I also remember so many of them saying that the best thing you can do to boost your results is to write the next book. Honest, I’m not trying to be snarky, I really would like to understand this.

    • Interesting question, Michael. I make a living from my writing myself, though a lot of it is from business copywriting that doesn’t particularly send me into shivers of ecstasy. My fiction writing falls close to the dollar-a-month category, so I doubt I could round up many webinar attendees for that, though for travel writing, perhaps.

      Jeff, I’m curious too if your books—and I’ve read a couple, and they are good—are designed to reinforce/expand the audience for your courses. I know your work comes from the heart, but is the audience widening from the books centered on that coursework focus? And of course, you have to do the work—that’s a given, but as you suggest, that stops a lot of us before we even see what we’re capable of.

  • Angela Sackett

    It’s easy to let myself get paralyzed by the overwhelming amount of information “out there,” or by the pressure to “be inspired…” and neglect the discipline of sitting down and writing. But it is my goal to do the work, to get the work out there, and to take the opportunity to both invest in others through the words and thoughts, and in my family by getting paid for the work.

  • Frank McKinley

    This is so encouraging. I make a part-time income from my writing, but I’d love to make it full-time. With this blueprint, and a dash of grit, I believe my dream can come true. Thank you, Jeff!

  • Down loaded the 12 steps, plan to get started as soon as I finish up my latest guest post in the next hour! Thanks you for the lessons on the 12 step process. Will try following it to the letter!

    • Awesome! I can’t wait to hear what you think!

  • Leto McELveen

    Making a living as a writer would mean making enough money to support my family and have my wife stay home if she wants to.

  • kfaatz925

    Making a living as a writer: being free of guilt, and making a huge difference in my life and my husband’s.

  • This is awesome!

  • Idayat Ndaman

    thank you for the 12 steps of making a living as a writer. it is making me to be focus.

  • Suz

    This is classic survivorship bias. It’s not helpful to look at what those who succeeded did if you don’t also look at those who failed and establish that they weren’t also doing the things that 99% of successful writers do (this is a classic trap that a lot of writers about entrepreneurship fall into). And even then, the relationship might not be causal–it could be something else driving success that we can’t observe.

    • That’s right, Suz. I agree. But after looking at thousands of successes and failures, I am pretty sure we’ve identified some patterns that lead to success or lead away from it. These are the things that pros do and that those who don’t go to the next level seem to struggle with. Download the book and give it a read. I’d love to hear what you think.

  • Veronica

    Making a living as a writer would mean: grateful, joyful, passion, released, shared, and loved, and in return I can finally support myself. Happy, happy, joy, joy! Thanks Jeff!

  • What would it mean to make a living from my writing? A dream come true. But there are lots of working writers out there who’s main source of income is teaching, coaching or waiting tables. There are lots of different ways to make money, as far as I can see you’re right most people don’t make money from their art. They make money from other things to allow them to write the things in their heart. I don’t see that having changed so much, it’s just that now blogs and online marketing allow people who have figured out this online marketing stuff to take greater control. In my opinion art, real art, world changing transformative art isn’t what is making money online for most people.

  • Jeff- Thanks for your on-going encouragement, sharing of useful information, and positive example. I write for an art and marketing site and in return they host my website. So that translates to around $40-50 a month, currently. But I would have paid them for the exposure I get on their art and marketing site. There are many ways to make money from writing (books, courses, copywriting, etc). You’re a good example of someone who has done all of the above. And congrats on your soon to be released new book!

  • Class of English

    I’m writing a book to help people speak fluently in English. If I could make $500-$1000 per month I could quit my job and buy a house in rural Australia and start a family with my husband.
    Step 1. Every non-English speaker can speak fluently…
    Step 2. The Star / The Coach
    Step 3. Domain purchased, check. Building a blog on WordPress, no dramas.
    It would be priceless to start a family and live in the “Aussie Bush.” I’m willing to take the steps, what do I have to lose?

  • 藤堂平助

    I am far from being a published writer yet, but I’m serious about my writing. However, I don’t think I’d want it to be my only source of income. That way it would be a job. I am afraid to lose my passion and instead be like “If I don’t meet my deadlines, I won’t be able to pay my rent” or something. I might have wrong ideas because I’m yet to learn (hopefully) what it’s really like – to be paid for writing. But now that I’m sharing my first little efforts with selected readership of family and friends, it means a lot to me to hear that I have style, I have ideas in my stories that make folks think, I am not writing some mainstream stuff, I have individuality in my works. I don’t think I want to put income before recognition.

  • Icy Sedgwick

    What would probably help is if we get rid of this ridiculous idea among writers of “Oh you shouldn’t be paid to produce ART. I just want to tell stories. I don’t need to be paid”. That kind of sanctimonious crap just leads to writers thinking they’re not allowed to make money from writing.

  • DrAngel

    I’ve been following you since before you became a full time writer. I remember when you announced you were quitting your “day” job to devote yourself to being a full time writer. I knew I wanted to to follow someone who was “real” about this writing life and educate us on the path to strive for same. Thank you Jeff! Hope to meet someday.

  • Joy

    I am making “a living” as a writer. Well, I can’t quite live on it, but I’m getting there and think it’s possible this year if I meet my goals for the three books nearing completion and marketing. Which is to say, I’m above average if average is a dollar a month.

    Even being this successful has been life-changing for me. It took thinking outside the box to come up with a book that had nothing to do with where I had focused my writing previously, but instead focused on meeting a need. It started by analyzing my own strengths and weaknesses and asking what need I could meet. Bingo! I already had the book in a rough form and hadn’t thought of it as a book until I went through that period of self-examination.

    I know I’ll also publish the fiction novels one of these days soon, and when I do, they will be more successful because I’ve learned from my experience with my nonfiction books.

    Thank you for being a part of my life as I listen to your podcast every week while picking up my weekly donations for our food pantry and garden. It’s the kind of thinking outside the box you promote that helped me come up with my book in the first place.

    I had a need – how to support my family without taking away the hours needed to do ministry and our nonprofit work and raise funds for our food pantry garden. A book made once and garnering royalties was a better option than a job. Plus I need a flexible schedule.

    The answer was the garden journal I made for myself years ago. I had the skills and knowledge to put together something better than anything I could find on Amazon. I’d be afraid of bragging but I’ve been ranked on the first page of best sellers in several categories and #1 in one category almost every day for the past half year.

    So, thank you Jeff, for being a positive voice in my head during this journey.

  • Joy

    I ended up hitting the wrong button and logging in as a guest and now can’t fix that, (or log in as myself,) so if you want some encouragement you can see my journal by doing a search on Amazon for the term “garden log.” You should see The Garden Journal, Planner & Log Book. It’s also first right after Amazon for the same search term on a Google search.

    You can do this, people! Be willing to let go of your idea of your dream and find out what your real dream is. The path may look different. The goals may even change. For me, it’s how I can do something for people with what I have and who I am. It’s not the narrow “write mysteries for teen girls” that I was focusing on.

    With God’s help, you can be bigger than your dream.

  • Thank you! I’m encouraged to keep writing and do more to make it a living!!

  • Katie L. Lovette

    I’m an educator by day and writing would be an extension of that. Writing is my passion. I need to write daily.

  • Len J Parker

    I’ve read several articles here. So far each on promises information and instead of delivering on the headline you ask for an optin to get other information. I’m done.

  • Thanks! Very useful info!
    Also, let me share you this article about tips on writing.