Writing for Money: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
A couple of months ago, I got interested in the FIRE movement. After reading up on some of the basic underliers of the possibilities of early retirement, I realized that’s been something I have been doing all along. The only difference is that I’m a part-time writer and my income is not passive – i.e. I have to actively work to earn my money. However, I’m from Eastern Europe and I work for American clients, which means that I earn about 15x more than what I need to live comfortably (semi-frugally).
- in Lviv, a city in Western Ukraine, you can get a 1-bedroom apartment for under 18,000 dollars. According to Numbeo, an average New Yorker will earn this amount in less than 3.5 months.
- if you’re more of a beach, sunny-vibes type of person, 35,000 dollars will get you a little 1-bedroom 5 minutes away from this beach in Kalamata, Greece:
It will take the average Kalamata Greek almost 4 years to earn this kind of money, while an average American will scrape that up in less than 9 months.
You probably get the drill now: writing for money for Americans as an Eastern European is awesome – and it will most likely place you in the top 10% wage earners in your country. While working remotely, on your laptop, whenever you like, you will be able to save thousands of dollars each month, buy real estate within 2-4 years, be loan-free, and so much more…
Where’s the catch?
Now, what I found surprising in this whole story is that American websites recommend writing for money to fellow Americans. In other words, you’ll find dozens of different articles and websites that claim freelance writing is the ultimate path to FIRE, happiness and all things super-duper.
Well, when you take those insane living standard differences out of the equation, the question of whether writing for money is worth it becomes legit.
That’s why I decided to write up my experience with long-term, part- and full-time writing for money. The goal is for you to get a better picture of whether freelance writing is for you. I’ll try to be as objective as possible and include some truly negative sides of this craft, even though I generally love what I do and I’d gladly be doing it for free (please don’t tell that to my clients)!
Disclaimer: In this post, I’m talking about writing for money for someone else, i.e. writing based on an assigned task or instructions (SEO, content writing, website copywriting, etc.) and not independent blogging which you can use to earn through advertising, upselling, etc.
Writing for Money: The Good
As I have already mentioned, writing gives you a great deal of freedom, and it’s not just an empty saying. You truly will have little to no supervision and a lot of independence, simply because of the fact that it would be insane from clients to watch and monitor your process. „It’s not important when and where you work, the important thing is that it gets done“ gets a whole another dimension in writing for money – in industries and niches that boast this slogan, such as software development or design, rarely will you get that low degree of involvement and oversight.
As someone who feels constrained by office life, this is the benefit of writing for money I appreciate the most. For others, this same freedom may mean that they have the option to choose to write from an office from 9 to 5. You can do you.
The term learning has become somewhat of a cliché in personal development literature and writing. In some contexts, it can be a bit trite because it’s implied that you learn many new things and information on a daily basis, especially if you’re honing a new craft.
What’s different about this when you’re writing for money is that you’ll be forced to learn. Learn about something that you didn’t even know existed, learn about things that you don’t care about, learning about stuff you already know in more depth… It really is like going outside of your comfort zone of learning.
Any successful blogger will give you the golden advice to write what you know. Well, in writing for money it’s completely the opposite: sometimes you’ll be given a topic that’s like Greek to you. During my 5+ years of writing, I had to write about everything from microscope apps for chromebooks, marriage, SEO tips, planting flowers to dystopian novels and chronic illnesses.
For some, this can be very annoying, but I found it an enriching and entertaining experience.
Money is a pretty complicated matter in freelance writing. As I have illustrated above, writers from some countries can earn relatively good money based on standard differences alone.
This is why hundreds of thousands of Indian and Bangladeshi writers are more than willing to write articles for 1 dollar per 100 words. If they submit 1,000-word articles for clients in Western countries at a rate of 1 article per hour, it would take them a little over 30 hours to earn their country’s average monthly wage.
To put that into the American perspective: a San Franciscan writing at that rate needs to work for almost 800 hours – which means they wouldn’t hit that 8,000 San Francisco average monthly salary even if they worked 24/7.
Since there’s not that much you can do work-wise to change the standards in your country over night, it is what it is: you will charge however much you’re comfortable with. Standards around the world vary so wildly that it’s almost impossible to talk about across-the-board writing rates that would work for everyone across the globe.
I would actually like to reflect on the individual’s capacity to earn more. Just like with money management, you have the following options to increase your writing income:
a) charge more
b) work more
c) be more productive (do the same amount of work in less time)
What I found to be my perfect formula for increased income is close-to-maximum productivity. Basically, this is what my Speed Writing course is all about: writing much more in the same period of time. Let’s circle back to the last example and say you want to earn the average San Francisco wage by writing for money:
a) Instead of $10 per 1,000 words, you charge 10 times more – $100. Since it takes you an hour to finish one, it will take you 80 hours to earn the average San Francisco wage. That’s not bad, it’s two weeks of full-time work or a regular month of 4-hour workweeks without weekends.
*Issue #1: at a rate of $100 per 1,000 words, you will not be competitive and you’ll have a problem finding clients (if you’re not a well-known expert or a blogger)
*Issue #2: when you do find clients that are willing to pay that much, it will not be $100/hour. In other words, they will not be satisfied with the quality you are likely to churn out within an hour. Realistically (and on average), you would take about 6 hours to write a high-quality $100 article (deeper research and careful editing included).
Now, if we re-do the math with a likely $16.7/hour while writing these high-quality articles, you will need almost 480 hours to reach the SF average wage. That’s exactly 16 hours of work every day, weekends included.
b) Let’s say you decide to tackle these two issues by charging half as much: $50 per 1,000 words. This will help you stay competitive, but will not imply a necessity for top-notch quality, meaning it will take you less time. Let’s say an article of decent quality like that takes you 2 hours to write:
You’re reaching the San Francisco average wage in 320 hours (over 10 hours of work each day, weekends included).
c) You decide to practice Speed Writing. In order to get a constant influx of clients, tasks and orders, you slash your rate per 1,000 words to $20. At this rate, you are highly competitive and the quality expectations are far lower than in the first two scenarios.
In this option, you can leverage lower quality thresholds to write faster. If you learn speed writing, you can finish 1,000 word articles in 15 minutes. This brings us to an hourly rate of $80/hour, which translates to 100 hours per month to reach the SF average monthly wage.
Key Takeaway: If you’re writing for money, learn speed writing as soon as possible instead of tinkering with the market or giving over too much power to your clients.
Writing for Money: The Bad & The Ugly
It might seem paradoxical that the “good” of writing for money was freedom, but now I’ve listed dependence as the “bad”. Well, as much freedom in terms of location, working hours and flexibility you will have, you will still be dependent on your clients. In blogging, for example, your website makes money while you sleep and if you lose one reader, that’s no big deal. If you have a blog with hundreds of thousands of monthly visitors, even losing thousands of readers won’t affect your income that much.
On the other hand, when you’re writing for money, losing a client is a big deal. Even if you diversify a lot – working with dozens of different clients at a time – losing just one of them will shake up the financial structure that you have in the moment and force you to look for a new one.
In this sense, writing for money can be considered riskier than blogging, especially in the long run. The best way to go around this is to set up passive streams of income as you’re working. Even a couple of hundreds of dollars per month can ease transition periods when you drop a client or two.
One of the biggest complaints I have heard from my colleagues who write content for money is that it gets boring pretty fast. This is especially evident when you’re working in the same or similar format. For example, I had a client for whom I created basically the same article dozens of times. It goes without saying that the monotony became unbearable really quickly – and monotony is the ultimate mother of burnout.