9 Habits: Write Lots

Years ago, I wrote a bestselling book called 9 Habits of Highly Profitable Writing. I’m assaying a second edition now, and that process includes posting each of the habits here for you, for free. 

Habit Five: Write Lots

In Habit One, we talked about the importance of writing nonfiction if you want a career as a writer. This is absolutely true, but the truth (like all truths) is more complex than that. If you really want to make it as a writer, you must cast a wide net of projects so you can write as much as you need to live the life you want. This takes a variety of forms.

Write For More Publications

Even as print appears to be burning out, there are thousands of magazines willing to pay you for your words. New websites appear faster than you can offer to write something for them, meaning there is an effectively infinite supply of potential clients on the web. Do the research and find out who carries articles about your areas of interest and expertise.

When you have an article idea, pitch multiple venues with slightly different angles on the same topic. Also look for tangential publications. For example…

  • Imagine you’re a travel writer researching a piece on museums in a local tourist town. Don’t just write the assignment. Pitch the hobby magazines related to each museum. Look for the kids’ activities at each location for an article to pitch at a local parenting magazine. Contact the local tourist bureau about doing a guest post.
  • Similarly, imagine you’re doing a lifestyle piece on kitchen organization. Pitch some personal finance blogs about how kitchen organization saves money. Reach out to parenting magazines about childproofing kitchens. Look into paid reviews for the items you recommend in the article.

See how in both examples, you take the same piece of research and turn it into multiple paydays without self-plagiarizing or doing dirt to your original publisher? That’s one of the most important facets making your time turn into enough money to live as a writer.

Be Willing To  Write About Everything You’re Offered

Don’t just write about what you want. I love writing about martial arts, and I’m a regular contributor to Black Belt, the biggest martial arts magazine on the market. But my total monthly income from writing about martial arts caps out at $300 to $500. I make a living because my beat is absolutely anything somebody is willing to pay me to write.

A partial list of topics I’ve covered recently includes travel safety, SMS marketing, social media, marriage equality, wildlife viewing, stress relief, martial arts, getting enough sleep, music for working out, feline leukemia, disability insurance, expulsion policies in private schools, student loans, virtual phone systems, drunk driving, role-playing games, search engine optimization, zombies, quantum mechanics and my toddler’s bathroom habits.

I’m not an expert on everything I write about. I don’t have to be, and neither do you. As a writer, your chief talents should be writing and research. As a friend I interviewed for a piece I did for American Express OPEN Forum says, “If somebody asks you if you can do something, and you can – or you can learn how before your deadline – the answer is YES!”

Write About More Things

Make a list of 20 things you know well, or would like to learn about. For each of those things, make a list of 100 topics you could write about or research. You now have 2,000 potential articles to sell. As you do your initial work on each, you’ll find at least five concepts per original idea that you can pitch to different venues. That’s 10,000 total articles. At $100 each, which is low, that’s $1,000,000 – a decade worth of six-figure years. And you’ll come up with other ideas during that decade.

This may seem similar to just being willing to write about everything you’re offered, and it is. The difference is in the impetus. Being willing to write about everything means says YES when somebody asks if you can take on an assignment. Writing about more things means coming up with as many ideas as possible to offer to potential clients. Put together, they’re a powerful combination.

Write More Quickly

This is one of the biggest dividing lines I’ve noticed between professionals and amateurs. It’s also a demonstration of why writing for a living beats writing part-time while working another job. Amateurs on web forums I frequent, and most of my clients when they come to me, talk about putting down 1,000 words on a good day. Today – not a particularly busy day for me – I’m at 7,000 with another 3,000 to go. About half of those are iterative drafts of projects, but the other 5,000 words are new content.

Let’s do the math here. Even the low-paying content mill market pays about 3 cents a word. Writing 1,000 words a day means you make about $30 a day, less than $1,000 a month. Doing the same thing half as fast as I do adds up to $150 a day -$31,000 a year for working five days a week from home. And that’s at the lowest end of the pay scale. At 10 cents a word, probably an average payday for commercial writing, that’s $2,500 a week. Writers generally get paid per word or assignment, not by the hour. The faster you work, the more you make.

Be Open to New Ideas

When I started writing, I mostly did articles for magazines and websites, but that grew to include business documentation, ad copy, even a travel guide. Then I got asked to write some scripts for video ads, then a ghostwriting assignment, then speech writing and an opportunity to publish some e-books. Every one of those gigs created a new stream of income for my writing business. It not only made me more money, it gave me a variety of types of assignment that kept me from getting bored.

I talk with a lot of writers these days, and most of them have assigned themselves some kind of niche. They might say “I’m a travel writer” or “I design brochures.” That’s great. Writing about our passions is one of the best parts of the job. When those people ask me why they can’t make it full-time as writers, they’ve already answered their own question. They’re violating the Fifth Habit by not writing as much as they can.

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