Should You Earn More by Working Longer Hours?

There came a time, early in my career, when I was faced with a difficult situation: I needed to earn more money. But since I generated my income from publishers and others who chose for their own reasons and on their own schedules to hire me on their own terms – or not, there was no simple way I could get them to pay me more for the same volume of work I was already doing.

My choices seemed to boil down to the following:

  1. Work longer hours.
  2. Leverage the work of others.
  3. Lower my professional standards to spend less time on each piece.
  4. Automate my work to produce more material in less time.
  5. Speed up the internal processes involved in writing.

I spent many weeks contemplating the details and ramifications of each strategy, and came up with the following thoughts and conclusions:

Work Longer Hours

At first blush, this seemed the simplest answer to my problem. If I could earn (in the old days) $100 working an eight-hour day, simple math told me I could earn $125 by working a ten-hour day. What could possibly go wrong?

But as I dug into the details and implications, I began to see some of the problems this strategy would entail.

For example, I was already working as many hours a day as I comfortably could. Working longer hours would reduce the time I could spend with my wife and child. I wasn’t sure it was worth the extra money to cut back on the most important parts of the life I was working to build.

Working longer hours on paid writing projects would also leave me less time and energy for the unpaid writing projects that were dear to my heart and possibly stepping stones to a better career.

Even worse, working longer hours would require more effort, and that would tend to leave me even more tired at the end of the day. If not immediately, then eventually this additional fatigue would cause me to think and write less well. I would inadvertently begin to allow more errors – not just typos, but errors in thinking and in factual accuracy and depth – to creep into my writing. Perhaps my stylistic flair and creativity would degrade, as well.

I wanted none of this to intrude into my professional life.

Leverage the Work of Others

This approach is the basis of success in the world of business. After all, Henry Ford did not build Model-T’s with his own hands. Nor does Elon Musk actually construct the cars, rockets, satellites, and other products that are the foundation of his businesses – and his incomes.

In the old days, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and other Great Masters relied on students and apprentices to do much of the work required to move their masterpieces a long way toward completion, and today writers like James Patterson do much the same with the written work they crank out.

So it made sense for me to try and hire other writers to do at least the initial parts of some writing projects that publishers and others wanted to buy from me.

However, this strategy never worked for me, partly because I could rarely find suitably talented and/or skilled trainees and apprentices to work for me. But even when I did, I invariably felt that supervising their work took more of my time and effort than simply doing that same work myself.

Because leveraging others didn’t pencil out for me, I stopped thinking of this as a viable way forward (although I have continued to hope I’d find someone suitable).

Lower My Standards to Spend Less Time on Each Piece

This is one of the classic approaches to success in American business: lower production costs as a means to increasing profits.

However, lowering my standards was something that proved hard for me to abide. This is probably because – at least to me – writing professionally is only partly a business. It’s equally – perhaps more so – an artform, a product of my creative energies, and even a reflection of my personality.

Delivering work that is only “B” quality when I could have pumped it up to “A” quality not only conflicts with my personal values, it actually causes me emotional and psychic pain. For whatever reasons, I feel deeply there’s a minimum standard of writing that satisfies me, and when my work fails to meet or exceed it, I just feel bad.

Automate My Work to Produce More in Less Time

Back in the 1970s, I hung around with people who were experimenting with hobbyist computers. I was hoping that these early computers could provide a degree of automation to my writing that would reduce the total time required for me to complete at least some of the work I had on my professional plate.

But that was a pipe dream – at least until 1979, when I discovered that dedicated “word processors” were on the market, and for the most part they worked pretty well. Later, I found that home computers could run “word processing” software powerful and reliable enough to help me write better and faster than ever before.

I jumped on that bandwagon and have never looked back.

Find Ways to Speed Up the Internal Processes of Writing

Logically, this is a sensible way to try and earn more. Because of the way my mind works (I’m always looking for ways to do things faster, better, easier), this approach has long been in either the back or the front of my mind. Why not apply this same brand of thinking to the internal processes of writing?

The problem was – and remains – I don’t really know how to do this. I’m pretty certain that I have done it, but I don’t know how.

I have some thoughts and feelings on how I manage to write much faster today than I did in years gone by, but I can’t swear they are true, or that – if true – they will work for anyone else. But for whatever there are worth, I offer them here:

  1. I research what I am writing. The less I know about a subject, the more hesitant my writing becomes. Pounding away at research eventually gives me the confidence – and the knowledge – to write freely and quickly.
  2. Having fed the process through research, I allow what I’ve learned to “ripen” in my mind. I don’t try to force my writing. The best way for me to write faster is to hold off until I feel ready to write. I’ve become confident that when I’m ready the words will gush out of me quickly and well. So far, I’ve been right about this.
  3. I get a first draft done. Some writers claim they agonize over every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, and page. They can’t move on to the next word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, and page until every word they have already written is perfect. This has never worked for me. My method has been to write all the way through the end – using whatever words seem OK at the time in order to get the thoughts out of my head and onto paper (or screen). I’m going to polish the material anyway, so I find little value in holding up the flow of thoughts just because my first attempt is not perfect. My writing mantra is essentially: “We’ll fix it in post.”
  4. I have several projects in mind and in progress at once. When I bog down on one, I simply switch over and try pushing forward on a second one. Or a third. I trust my subconscious to be working on my projects 24/7, without my awareness. It’s another angle on number 2 above.

So while my title to this piece about earning more from writing asked whether to work longer hours, my answer is firmly “no.”  Once I’m working as many hours as I comfortably can, I have found it’s better for me not to try to increase my income by throwing more hours at my projects. It’s better to find some other way.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.


Daily scheduling

One of the keys to professional writing is to crank out a lot of good work. And to do that, you’ll need to put in a good deal of time.

The best way to guarantee that you’ll have the time available to accomplish a lot of good work is to develop and follow a daily schedule.

There are several elements involved in creating and adhering to a daily schedule. Let’s look at each of them in turn:

Identify Your Best and Worst Times of Day

In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, there was an ancient idea revived and developed by Wilhelm Fliess that proposed a person’s physical and emotional states fluctuated around 23 and 28 day cycles, respectively, starting on the day you were born. Later, a psychologist named Hermann Swoboda and an engineer named Alfred Teltscher expanded on this idea to include a 33 day cycle of intellectual or mental capabilities.

These “biorhythms” were thought by many to be so important and powerful that anyone should be able to predict days when a person would be particularly strong, happy, or smart, and other days when a person would feel weak, down hearted, or befuddled – simply by counting the number of days since birth and calculating where that person would be on the cycle of their relevant biorhythm.

There may be some truth to this notion, but that’s not the main point here. What’s undisputed is that you almost certainly do have periods of time when you can perform at a higher level, and other times where the best you can do is not quite as good as that.

This is the main point: you can and should take advantage of your natural ups and downs by tracking them – noting on your calendar, for example, the times when you feel your best and the other times when you feel your worst. Once you see the pattern, you can begin trying to use your periods of higher performance to do your best writing.

Whether biorhythms work on not for you, the cyclical nature of high and low performance often breaks down to something as simple as:

  • Being a “morning person” or an “evening person,”
  • Feeling better writing in bed before you go to sleep, or in the afternoon after taking a nap,
  • Waking up early and getting in some solid hours of creativity or staying up late in order to record whatever wonderful thoughts you have been accumulating during the day.

Identify Your Most Productive Patterns

Another aspect of this timing technique involves recognizing and exploiting the length of time at a stretch you prefer to work. I have found that I do better working three, four, even five hours at one sitting – the longer I go, the better my writing becomes. Other writers I know like to dash off a few paragraphs as soon as they come to mind, then do something more routine until another flash of inspiration hits them.

There’s no right or wrong here, no absolute better or worse. All I’m suggesting is that you discover the times of day, and days of the week when you are at your best, and do at least some of your writing during those periods.

Break Down A Project Into Separate, Simple Tasks

Once you know the best times to work on your writing, take the next step and figure out what you ought to be working on.

One of the best ways to do this is to have a plan for what you’re going to write, whether it’s a novel, a play, a poem, or anything else. At a minimum, it’ll have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It might have five acts. You might envision 20 or 30 scenes, seven key images, or ten important moments.

No matter how you have conceived the project at hand, if you know each of the parts you want to include in it, you can have the next part in mind as you sit down to work, and even before.

Knowing what comes next is helpful not only because it eliminates the “blank page” problem that so many writers dislike, it allows your subconscious mind to be working on the project during the interval between your last writing session and your next one.

Develop A Productive Working Routine

One way that has helped me be a productive writer over the years is to reserve certain times for writing, and nothing else. During my self-scheduled writing hours, I don’t allow myself to straighten my desk, sharpen pencils, answer the telephone, read, doodle, or anything else. I’m there to write. If I feel stuck or can’t muster the energy to work, my only alternative is to sit idly until I can start working on my project.

I have found that sitting idly during these intended writing times is so unpleasant and boring that I quickly start my writing engine and begin putting words on paper.

Another trick that many writers use is to stop writing in the middle of a passage that’s coming easily and feeling great. The idea is that later, when you come back to the project, you’ll find it relatively easy to pick up where you left off and start producing good material right away. The corresponding fear is that if you finish that great passage and then stop writing, when you come back to the project later on you’ll face a difficult time getting started again.

Either of these ideas may or may not be true for you, but there’s no doubt that if you regularly sit down to write during your “high performance” periods, you’ll produce better work than if you work at random times or – worse – when your performance level is on the downswing.

Follow Your Schedule

Any or all of this may seem great, but I can assure you that it’s helpful only to the extent you actually put it into practice.

If you don’t have enough self-discipline to follow your self-imposed schedule, understand that becoming a professional writer requires more of it.

Stay Flexible

Having said all this, I want you to remember that creativity should never be a chore, never a drag on your time or energy, never a task to get through so you can do something else that’s more fun. Creativity should be your most enjoyable activity.

That’s why it’s important that your working schedule – no matter how carefully laid out and how many great techniques and ideas it incorporates – should be more of a “guideline” than an implacable routine.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Developing a Business Plan

If you want to be a professional writer, then you ought to treat your work as a business. And that means you ought to develop a business plan.

If you’re just starting out to become a professional writer, you probably won’t need a complex one; you may be able to scratch out a totally adequate business plan on the back of an envelope. If you’ve got some experience under your belt, or you have major ambitions, you’ll benefit from a more robust, comprehensive, and heavily detailed plan.

Either way, having a business plan gives you a road map for what to focus on, what to do next, what to expect in the future, how to handle the unexpected, and how to assess the progress you are making toward your goal of becoming a professional writer.

What Will You Do?

The first part of your business plan should contain a simple but complete, high-level statement of your planned professional activities:

  • What products and services will you offer?
  • To whom will you offer them?
  • How will you make yourself known to these potential buyers?
  • What performance milestones will you aim for?

Do some clear thinking as you write this part of your plan, but be ready to come back to it with refinements after you finish fleshing out the details in the sections to follow.

Products and Services

In this section, try to nail down the work you expect to be doing in more detail.

Start by naming and characterizing each of your products and services (Scripts? Novels? Booklets? Plays? Speeches? Or what?). Then specify the relevant details, such as word lengths, audiences, and formats.

While you’re at it, try to identify the benefits of your products and services. What’s special about you and your offerings? Why should anyone hire you, or buy what you can produce? What differentiates your products and services from those of your competitors?

Incidentally, if you think you don’t have any competitors, you’re almost certainly wrong. You probably haven’t found them because you haven’t done enough research into the market(s) you plan to enter.

Sales and Marketing

In this section of your business plan, try to include all the important details about how you will obtain clients, customers, buyers, or whatever you want to call the people who will pay you for your products and services.

  • How much do you hope to charge for each product and/or service?
  • Will you advertise? Where? How often?
  • Will you participate in trade shows or display at conventions? Which ones?
  • Will you mail or email sales and marketing materials? To whom? Saying what?
  • Will you make hay within your network? Where? When? How?
  • Will you get sales and marketing help from an agent? A publisher? A collaborator?
  • Will you develop a “web presence”? How? With what sales and marketing messages?

Try to list, describe, and specify enough details so that you could – if you wish – simply hand off this information to a sales and marketing agency, and afterwards feel confident they could implement your plans without having to guess or find their own answers.

Practical Matters

Since you are starting a business, you need to work out in advance several practical matters that will effectively translate your dreams and rough ideas into a tangible business entity. Think about and decide such matters as:

  • Where and when will you work?
  • Who will do your billing? Accounting? Taxes?
  • What’s the name of your business?
  • How is it organized: A “sole proprietorship”? A “limited liability company”? A “corporation”? In what state?
  • Who will own the business?
  • How will you ensure compliance with applicable laws, and get answers to the inevitable legal questions?
  • Do any existing contracts or agreements (non-disclosure? non-compete?) limit your ability to do what you are planning? If so, how will you handle these limitations?
  • Where will you obtain the start-up capital you will need?

Management and Decision-Making

Who will run your business? You alone, or you with others, or just these others? What powers will management have, and not have, to impact your everyday work and your ability to make deals (and other business arrangements)?

Will you have any advisors, partners, or collaborators? What power will these people have to control your work, your deal-making, and your business activities?


What’s your plan for growing this new business? Will it always be just you, or will you bring in others as contractors, employees, partners, coaches, or people in other roles to help you grow your business?

How will you measure your business’s growth? In terms of income? Number of people doing the work? Number of items sold? Some other way? Remember that whatever you measure is generally what changes, so be sure you’re measuring what’s important to the future of your professional writing business.

It’s often interesting and useful to include goals for the future in your business plan. Consolidate your vision of how big you want this business to be in a year. In five years. In ten years. Twenty.

Since the most important constraints tend to be internal, don’t be shy about detailing the success you’d like to achieve as a professional writer.


No business plan is complete without a financial section. Here is where you detail the amount of money you’ll be dealing with during various time frames.

Start with your first year of business activity: how much money will you need just to survive (you’ve got to eat and sleep) and also to start and operate your business. How much in each of the following four years? If you don’t have enough money on hand, or you can’t raise it, then include reasonable interest charges on the loans you’ll be taking out to keep afloat.

Once you’ve calculated these expense figures, start adding up the money you can realistically expect to earn as a professional writer. Take into account the prices you can charge, and the quantity of products or services you can realistically expect to sell each year. Since you can’t nail this down to the exact dollar, work with a range of likely minimum to likely maximum income during each of the first five years you’ll be in business.

Now compare your anticipated income against your anticipated expenditures. How long will it take until you’re breaking even? How long after that until you recoup all the money you spend while your income ramps up to that break-even point? How long until your new business is profitable and you can start saving for your retirement? If five years aren’t enough, then project your estimates of expenses and income even farther out, until you do get to a profitable level of operation.

Be aware that your new business might accumulate significant value as it grows. For example, any assets it owns might become valuable, including its contracts, its relationships with solid customers, its inventory and unspent earnings, its real estate or other property, and so forth.

All this work to develop a business plan can be fun, as you run through all the possible scenarios and contemplate your potential success as a professional writer. But that doesn’t prevent it from being a meaningful exercise.

If you don’t get the business plan right, you’ll be depending on luck for your success. And it’s highly unlikely you’ll be the one in a million writer who lucks into success as a professional. If you do get your business plan right, though, your chances of success take an immediate leap into the realm of the possible, the do-able, and even the likely.

One Final Thought

Many people make the mistake of thinking that just by stating a goal, or writing it up as a business plan, that you’re a lock to achieve it. Totally untrue. Any goals you state – and intend to achieve – are simply distant milestones to help guide your direction. To achieve them, you must actually do the necessary hard work, and do it as well as you can.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Please join me for a very educational webinar, June 22 at Noon, Pacific Time

June 22, 2019

Time: 3:00 pm Eastern

Webinar: Wake Up the Professional Writer Inside You
with Robert Moskowitz, NAIWE’s Professionalism Expert

NAIWE Members: $10
Non-Members: $30

To register:, please send an email to along with your name and telephone number. You will receive an invoice for payment.

Here’s Why You Should Attend: Almost everyone can write. Heck, nearly every high school graduate can cobble together some words and call it writing. Some people can even earn a few bucks as a writer. But if you really want to pursue the writing life, you’ll find you can do it only if you succeed at becoming a professional. Many years ago, I had a dream of writing professionally. I even got a job as a writer. But it was just a job. Two years later, after too many job interviews in which pretty much every 9-to-5-er I met expressed massive regret at having to give up their dream of writing in order to earn a living, I found myself undergoing a three-month epiphany that helped me transform and commit to the writing life. This webinar is informed by that transformation, as well as by my decades of successful professional writing. It will help you determine just how much “fire in the belly” you have around becoming a professional writer and will help you make the adjustments and develop the attributes you need to get there. We will leave the writing itself for another time and emphasize the professionalism involved in a successful professional writing career.

  • Exercises to help you know yourself better
  • Business lessons for the professional writer
  • Opening the pipeline to your creativity
  • Turning good ideas into finished material
  • How to more fully trust your talent and your know-how

Hope to be with you then!

Pricing Your Work

One of the most difficult questions you’ll ever be asked about your work is: “What’s it worth?”

Unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, the road to becoming a professional writer involves navigating the intricacies and trade-offs of this difficult question and coming up with answers that lead to advancement toward that goal, rather than retreat.

The intricacies of that difficult question involve issues that are practical, economic, competitive, and emotional. Let’s take a look at each of those sets of issues:

Practical Issues

The first set of issues you encounter when setting prices for your work involves practical matters:

  • How much money do you have on hand?
  • How much do you spend each month or each year?
  • How much money is coming in?

The bottom line of all this is simple: How long can you stay in the writing game before you run out of money and must quit writing to put that time and energy toward other means of earning a living?

Pricing is one way to directly change that bottom line result. If you can adjust your pricing to increase the amount of money coming in, you can stretch out the time remaining in your career as a professional writer. If you can increase the amount of money coming in substantially enough, you can keep writing professionally for the rest of your life.

Most times, to increase your writing income you’ll need to raise your prices. But this calculation can lead you to lower your prices, too. The point is to maximize the income you generate from the combination of two factors: the amount of work you sell and the price you earn from each sale.

For example, suppose you’re now selling ten pieces of writing per month at $100 per piece. That’s $1000 income per month. If raising your price will not lose too many sales, you might be able to sell eight pieces at month $150 per piece. That would earn you $1200 per month total income.

On the other hand, if lowering your price will result in extra sales, you might be able to sell 15 pieces per month at $90 per piece. That would bring you $1350 per month.

A great many factors go into determining the most lucrative “price point” for each item you sell. Sometimes, you won’t know the best price point until you experiment. But the basic fact is that changing your prices is the first, and often most practical, way to increase your income as a professional writer.


Economic Issues

If you lived in a vacuum, or in a static world, you could raise and lower your prices however you wish and expect to receive a mathematically calculated result. But you live in an economy which has its own ups and downs independent of you and your wishes.

That’s one reason professional writing can often be a case of “feast or famine.” During good economic times, you might sell all the work you can produce at prices you enjoy. During bad economic times, you might struggle to sell any of your work, and have no choice but to accept prices you wish were higher.

Your pricing decisions should therefore recognize and take into account the current economic climate in which you are operating. You should be alert not only to current economic conditions, but also to upcoming changes in the economic climate. Looking ahead, you can strive to position yourself – by means of pricing changes (and perhaps other ways, as well) – to take maximum advantage of the economic hand you will soon be dealt.


Competitive Issues

Just as you live in an economic climate, you also live in a competitive climate. If you’re the only one capable of writing a particular piece of work – say a Katy Perry song or a best-seller on White House intrigue – you can pretty much write your own ticket as far as income from that work is concerned.

However, if you are cranking out the same kind of boiler plate that’s available from ten thousand other writers, it’s hard to price your work outside of the competitive range the market has established for such work.

This has two implications for professional writers:

  1. Don’t expect to earn more from highly competitive work than the vast majority of your competitors are earning. Your prices and to some extent your income will be tightly constrained by the market.


  1. There are major advantages to stepping out of the competitive rat race and into some niche where competition is relatively scarce and where your natural talents help you become a leader – or even a “one of a kind.” There are lots of genres and markets out there. Which one fits you better and offers you a greater chance to earn the living you want as a professional writer?


Emotional Issues

So far, we’ve covered three practical, objective, external issues that tend to influence how much you can earn from your work. But the most important issues are internal:

If you don’t feel worthy of big bucks for your work, you won’t ask for them. And if the market nevertheless insists on offering you those big bucks, psychology tells us you’ll find ways to screw up, or even to lose hold of those big bucks very quickly after they are forced on you.

If you don’t work at improving your pricing, you’ll set your prices at less than optimum levels. The result: you’ll leave money on the table, money that could have been yours.

If you don’t build up the psychological strength to withstand the inevitable stresses, losses, and – yes – even failures you will experience not only on the road to becoming a professional writer, but more generally in life, you will burn out, quit, or otherwise settle for less. Without sufficient inner resilience, you’ll be far less likely to last long enough to accomplish any of your most important goals.

The road to becoming a professional writer is much easier to travel when you recognize that however large and unyielding the external barriers to success may seem, the barriers that are most difficult to surmount are the internal ones.

Having said all this, I recognize and understand that you may not make the same choices on pricing as I make. But I still challenge you to price your work as close as you can to its full value. It’s a difficult challenge to meet, and a continuing one. Yet optimum pricing is a central aspect of becoming a professional writer, and also a key element in earning a good living from your skills and your craft.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.


How to Harness the Power of Your Dreams

Aside from the actual craft of writing, one of the best ways to improve your work (and generate more personal satisfaction and income as a result) is to harness the power of your dreams.

In this context, let’s use the word “dreams” to include those stories you tell yourself while you’re sleeping, of course, and also your waking daydreams, your fantasies about how life could or should or would be, plus those many “what if” scenarios you dream up in response to real life situations that strangers helpfully play out in front of you.

All of these ideas, scenes, set pieces, snippets, and snapshots may be sparked by external reality. But they nearly always feed off some of your innermost feelings, drives, and desires. As such, they are normally connected to strong emotions that, when woven into your writings, will tend to attract and captivate others much more powerfully than the relatively dry stuff that spills out from your comparatively cerebral creative processes.

It has often been said that if you are not crying while you are writing, you’re not doing it right. Starting with material from your dreams will make crying – and other high emotions – a more commonplace part of your writing process.

Here are some tips to help you harness the power of your dreams:

1. Keep Track of Your Dreams

The first step in harnessing the power of your dreams is to capture as much of this raw material as you can. This requires you to keep a “dream journal” in which, every morning on first awakening, you immediately note what you can remember of any dreams you’ve had during the night. At first, you might remember just a few disconnected snippets of your dreams. But as you continue with this practice, you’ll get better and better at remembering the details of what you dreamt the night before.

But don’t stop with nighttime dreams. Carry some kind of note-taking mechanism with you – scrap paper and pencil, a bound journal, your smart phone, a tape recorder, or anything else you can comfortably tote all the time – and use it frequently. Record random thoughts, complete ideas, simple stories you make up during the day, human interactions you witness, and any other fodder for writing that you encounter as you go about your daily business.

Don’t try to vet these items for quality, relevance, or any other virtue. Capture them all as they come to you. Later, you can decide whether a particular note has enough merit or potential to warrant further work.

2. Brainstorm On Your Dreams

You can think of dreams that pop into your head as “first generation” material, because it comes unbidden to your mind. But equally valuable is the “second generation” material you intentionally manufacture using your “first generation” material as starting points.

There are many rules to aid in brainstorming, the full range of which I won’t bother to discuss here. But I will cover just two: free writing, and pyramiding.

Free writing is a simple exercise designed to uncover lots of ideas that your native internal editor would normally try to keep hidden. It consists of starting with an item of first generation dream material and then writing whatever comes to mind, without stopping or thinking or editing, for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. If you have nothing to say, just write “I have nothing to say” over and over again until you do have something to say. The result of this free writing exercise is to “clear the pipes” and uncover subconscious material that often reveals additional thoughts, feelings, memories, and ideas tied in with your strong emotions.

Pyramiding is a more conscious process in which you start with an item of first generation dream material, then intentionally and logically build on it. Say you originally dreamt of an umbrella. You might pyramid on that idea by thinking of umbrella uses, such as shielding a person from rain or sun. You might think of other items that are reminiscent of or associated with umbrellas, such as awnings, tarps, tents, and porch roofs. If you start with an item of clothing, you might build to whole outfits or trending fashions. If you start with a snippet of human interaction, you might pyramid from there toward an entire play.

The discipline and practice of brainstorming applied to your first generation dream material is helpful because it produces further raw material on the basis of which you may later write something wonderful.

3. Refine Your Dream Material

Although your first and second generation dream material provides the valuable ore containing hints of golden promise, you extract the most value from this raw material when you refine it into ingots of first-rate creative expression.

To do this, sift through your dream material in search of nuggets, grains, or even flecks of worthwhile story material. Look for elements like a great line of dialog or description, a powerful conflict, a memorable character, a captivating visual, an exciting journey, an enthralling plot, or something better.

Collect and organize these as the basis for the most “writerly” part of this process:

4. Edit Your Dream Material Into Story Ideas

Here’s another place where we separate the “wannabes” from the professional writers. Anybody can think of a great line of dialog or an enthralling plot. It takes a professional to craft such elements into a complete idea for a story.

Take, for example, “Proof of Life.” It’s a compelling film based on a magazine article prompted by the actual practice of gaining freedom for hostages taken by terrorists. Lots of people knew about the practice; thousands more read the magazine article. The raw material was sitting out there in public view, just waiting for a professional writer to do the work necessary to wrangle the raw idea into a story.

Steps one through three, above, will regularly provide you with a treasure trove of raw dream material chock full of powerful elements from your own life, mind, and unconscious.

From that point on, you will have endless opportunities to use your writing chops to crank out a great story. Or more than one.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Earn More While Working Less

I don’t know about you, but while I greatly enjoy writing, and I love to re-read my finished work (plus I metaphorically glow every time I hear the occasional “you changed my life”), I have never forgotten that under the capitalist system there’s always the component of money.

As a result, I have spent a good deal of my professional time and effort thinking about, and finding ways to increase, my income from writing.

Here are some of the methods I have used to accomplish this simple but important purpose:

1. Raise Your Rates

This is fundamental to increasing your income. In part, I’ve always thought of this process as a simple scenario: Suppose you’re in a room or on the phone with a relative stranger, and you ask them to give you $10. Chances are, they’ll scoff and brush you off with a forceful “no.” That’s a natural reaction. But when you are in a room or on the phone with someone who is negotiating to buy your work, you can ask them for that same $10 (extra) with a much greater likelihood they’ll say “yes.”

That’s one big reason I’m routinely exploring how much more I can get for every word I write.

Asking for more is the basic tool for earning more. If I’m getting $1.00 a word from most of my clients, I’m likely to quote a slightly higher rate to my next prospective client. If she balks, I can always change my tune and offer the lower rate I’m already getting from so many others.

Of course, you don’t want to appear avaricious, nor do you want to queer a deal by behaving too greedily or money-grubbing. But there’s nothing wrong with considering the total earnout from a piece of your work and trying to maximize it.

Aside from outright asking for more, there are a couple of other considerations to keep in mind when trying to raise your rates.

First, part of the process of kicking up your rates is to establish and maintain a minimum rate, under which you will not work. If you don’t have such a minimum, it’ll be extra difficult to resist the inevitable capitalist pressures on you to work cheaper and cheaper. Naturally, you’ll want to keep raising this floor as you cement your ability to get higher and higher rates for your work.

Second, calculate how much you “should” earn, and how much you “want to” earn by summing up your living expenses for the year and dividing by the number of hours you generally work. If you spend $100,000 a year and work 2,000 hours (40 hours times 50 weeks), you should earn $50 per hour to meet your expenses. If you want to earn $120,000 next year, you’ll have to find ways to get $60 per hour.

Since inflation eats away at the value of your dollars, this calculation contains a built-in incentive for you to keep raising your rates.

Of course, you can always work more hours or spend less money, but that’s fodder for a different discussion.

2. Specialize and Become an Expert

As I’ve mentioned in a recent article I wrote for NAIWE, most writers should choose between specializing on a single field of knowledge, or writing on a variety of topics.

Aside from any other considerations, however, choosing to specialize can bring you more income. This is because:

  • You’ll tend to establish yourself as an expert,
  • You’ll be writing on a topic that few others can cover as well as you,
  • You’ll be writing for a narrower audience of people who may feel more willing to pay well for good information, and
  • You may uncover ancillary sources of income such as speaking, teaching, editing, researching, or something else.

3. Work More Efficiently

We’ve already touched on the number of hours you can work in a year and the amount you can earn each hour. Reading those ideas, you may have realized that another way to earn more is to produce more output per hour.

This brings you into the world of productivity and efficiency.

Back in 1980, I found a great way to increase my income by switching from an electric typewriter to a word processing computer. I not only cranked out more material on the computer, every line read better because I could craft it more meticulously.

At this late date in the computer revolution, there are probably very few changes you can make that offer a comparable productivity advantage. But you might want to think about:

  • Speech-to-text software instead of typing,
  • Auto-correcting software to reduce the time needed to clean up your work,
  • Automatic formatting software to facilitate writing scripts and plays,
  • “Mind mapping” software to help you develop complex characters and plots,

and perhaps other technologies I haven’t discovered yet.

You could also pull a “James Patterson” and simply supervise as others do your writing for you. But that’s a topic for another post.

4. Self-Publish Your Best Material

During the gold rush, it wasn’t the prospectors who tended to make a fortune. It was the prospectors buying equipment and supplies who made many shopkeepers rich.

Along the same lines, it isn’t the writers who tend to make most of the money available from crafting the written word. More often, it’s the publishers who do.

Fortunately, self-publishing has become much easier than ever before.

The techniques of self-publishing are topics for a different discussion, but there’s no shortage of information and advice on how to do it. In fact, by one reckoning, many of the most successful self-published books unabashedly cover the topic of how to self-publish.

Of course, that’s not the only topic that works as self-published material. Look into it. You’ll discover that when you are keeping 100% of the sales income, you don’t have to sell very much to earn more than what you might receive from a project that pays you only a small fraction of total sales or, even worse, only a flat fee.

5. Negotiate for a Piece of the Action

One of the nice things about TV, film, and music is that the writer can reasonably expect to get paid not just an upfront fee, but a portion of all the revenue the work generates.

You can gain increased income from this simple principle by trying to write for industries that offer such ongoing payment.

I’m not telling you to abandon your principles and your passion to write pot-boilers for network television. I’m simply saying that if you’re looking to harvest apples, you’ll do better in an apple orchard than in a fallow field.

To a lesser extent, you can also try to gain more revenue by negotiating a piece of the action from the kind of writing you already do for other projects and purposes.

6. Stop Getting Screwed

Perhaps the most difficult, yet important, avenue for earning more income is to stop signing contracts or accepting assignments that allow others to take advantage of you. I’ve done lots of work for people that resulted in limited – even zero – income for me. I’m not proud of it. I don’t like to talk about it. It really galls me. But it motivates me to avoid making the same kinds of mistakes in the future.

I therefore suggest that you make one of your professional mottos the following: “Screw me once, shame on you. Screw me twice, shame on me.”

You can find more advice on avoiding bad contracts here.

Working to increase your income from writing is different from, but related to learning the craft of writing. Based on my own career, as well as those of people I have helped to succeed as professional writers, I can tell you that half a loaf is better than none, and being able to afford to buy a full loaf is even better than that.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

What are your writing strengths and weaknesses?

No matter what the field, what the profession, what the skill set, everyone who strives to accomplish specific goals brings to the effort a variety of strengths and weaknesses. This is no less true in the field of professional writing than anything else.

But while it may be lamentable that you are not great at everything you try, this simple truth need not be a source of unhappiness nor a one-way ticket to failure.

One of the most important distinctions between a highly professional writer and a lesser one is that the former recognizes her strengths and weaknesses, while the latter is to some extent blind to them.

Here’s how you open your eyes to your strengths and weaknesses, and begin to incorporate them into your work:

1. Assess

First, the professional writer continually assesses his or her talents, skills, and capabilities. Each new effort, each new finished piece, stands as a milestone from which the professional writer can look back at his or her body of work and try to understand the patterns it contains.

For example, perhaps you can write a snappy poem, but your efforts to pen a political essay often fall short. Maybe you can craft a compelling short story about a young person coming of age, but that novel you’d love to write about an aging couple with regrets over past relationships eludes you. It’s possible you can describe an article of clothing in terms so soaring that you drive sales higher than the designer’s expectations. But that’s no guarantee you can write a meaningful review of the newest video game.

Strengths and weaknesses don’t manifest themselves simply in terms of whether a certain project is easy or hard for you to complete at a high level of proficiency. There are other factors, such as your willingness to work at honing a difficult passage, your satisfaction with your results, and – of course – how other people react to your output.

Most of us want to rely on our own judgments about our capabilities in various styles, genres, topic areas, purposes, audiences, and formats. Fine. Go ahead and make those personal assessments. But it’s helpful if you check your judgments against those of others, at least once in a while, to make sure you’re not just spinning fantasies about your abilities that won’t hold up in the world of impersonal market-based judgments.

2. Map

Consider both your strengths and weaknesses in terms of the kinds of material to which they relate. If you’re great at explaining actions in step-by-step fashion, that’ll be useful in writing “how to” articles and revealing what’s behind the scenes of complex current events. But it won’t be much help in writing dialog in a bodice-ripper.

On the other hand, if characters you imagine instantly come to life in your head and heart, then you’ll find it easier to tell intense personal stories that keep various audiences turning your pages. But you might not find it as easy to cover a news event or write a compelling press release.

By the same token, if you tend to lose track of where you’re going while writing procedural dramas, there’s little point in beating your head against the wall by trying to draft a spec script for “Law and Order.” Yet that deficiency says nothing about your ability to accomplish other writing objectives.

Take time to evaluate the talents, skills, and capabilities that normally go into creating any category of writing that interests you. Then carefully compare what you actually can do best against what you probably need to be able to do if you expect to excel in a specific kind of writing.

3. Execute

All this effort should result in a list of styles, genres, topic areas, purposes, audiences, and formats that feel very comfortable and interesting to you. These are the categories in which you will do best to concentrate not only your writing time, but your efforts to learn your craft.

Make it your top priority to work on the ones that best match the strengths and weaknesses you bring to the table. Those where you measure up less accurately you can relegate to a back burner or earmark for more concentration later, when you have more time or after you have grown as a writer.

If you’re like most of the writers I’ve known and mentored, you’ll find that the closer you stay to your wheelhouse, the easier and better your professional work will become.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

Some Issues with Contracts

The better a professional writer you become, the bigger and more important will be the contracts people ask you to sign.

But tempting as those financial figures may be (with all those zeroes to the left of the decimal point), you’ll be foolish to sign without applying a little professional savvy to your contract evaluation process.

Here are some fundamental tips to guide you in contract evaluation:

1. “Sign This”

My most important contract advice derives from my very first book deal: I remember sitting in the publisher’s office and chatting amiably about how great was my book concept and how much money we were going to make.

Eventually, the conversation wound down and the publisher looked me square in the eyes. He reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a sheaf of papers. “This is our standard contract,” he said with a warm, friendly smile. “Sign it.”

Instead, I started looking through the pages. Here was something I didn’t like. There was another questionable arrangement. After a few minutes of flipping pages and deconstructing legalese, I looked up and said: “There are some things in this contract I don’t like.”

Without missing a beat, the publisher reached into a different drawer of his desk and said with no trace of embarrassment: “This is our other standard contract. Sign this one.”

2. Watch Out for Claims

This warning may be just as important as the previous item: Most contracts for professional writing come with conventional language warning the writer not to plagiarize, infringe on any rights, defame, or violate any one of a great many laws governing creative work. They follow these injunctions with language in which you agree to indemnify and hold harmless (basically “reimburse”) the publisher for any liabilities arising from your breach of any of those laws and injunctions. So far, so good.

But the lawyers like to sneak another word in here that threatens your entire economic wellbeing. I’m talking about the word “claims”. Basically, most contracts require that you reimburse the publisher for payments made in response to claims that you breached one or more of those laws and injunctions.

Do you see the danger here?

Once you sign such a contract, anyone can make a claim that you violated certain rights, plagiarized, defamed, or did any of a number of bad things, and the publisher doesn’t have to be concerned about whether or not you actually did it. Under the contract, the publisher can simply pay the claimant to go away – and make this payment entirely with your money!

This actually happened to me, once, and I learned my lesson. I have never since signed a contract making me liable to pay for unsupported claims. Instead, I insist on language to the effect that I must reimburse the publisher only for claims “proven in a court of competent jurisdiction.”

Such language is no problem for me because I never plagiarize, defame, or do any of those other bad things.

Once or twice a publisher has been too bureaucratic or hidebound to accept my request for this new language, and so I wasn’t able to make those deals. But I have no regrets; the danger is too large and too real to put myself on the hook for that kind of scam, no matter how lucrative the contract might appear to be.

3. Obligations of the publisher

Contracts generally bind all parties to both rights and obligations. When looking them over, it’s easy and natural – and sensible – to devote most of your attention to your rights and your obligations. But it’s more professional to take a few minutes to consider the publisher’s rights and obligations, too.

For example, I once negotiated a book contract that gave me a wonderful share of revenues from the hardcover version, and less revenue from the paperback version. I signed it. But I didn’t realize until later that the contract did not obligate the publisher to bring out that hardcover edition. Years later, I’m still waiting to see that book in hardcover.

I have to admit I’ve made this kind of mistake twice, not just once. But you can bet your bottom dollar I won’t be making it a third time.

4. Play “What If”

Contracts tend to be written by people who are seemingly paid by the word. They rarely use one word when ten will do. As a result, contract language often gets very confusing and the whole point of what’s required can get lost.

That’s why it’s useful to play “what if” to an extreme, just to see what results from the language of the contract you’re preparing to sign.

Try some of these “what if” ideas, and any more that may appeal to you. What if:

  • The publisher goes out of business
  • The work sells millions of copies
  • The work sells almost no copies
  • You can’t complete the work on time
  • The publisher never publishes the work
  • Someone plagiarizes your work
  • Someone claims you plagiarized their work

The more extreme and wide-ranging the “what if” scenarios you test, the more clarity you’re likely to get regarding the contract.

5. NDA Hijinks

Non-disclosure agreements are increasingly common not only in contracts, but in stand-alone form that someone wants you to sign before you can even begin to learn about a project in which you might want to participate.

But the language here can get very tricky. One potential client asked me to sign a non-disclosure agreement that was so strict I discovered – by playing “what if” – that if I signed it I would be forbidden from revealing my own name!

Maybe these kinds of provisions wouldn’t hold up in court, but it’s easier, cheaper, and more practical not to sign such a sketchy contract in the first place.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.

How to Get Your Next Assignment Easier Than Your Last, or Easier Than You Ever Imagined

If you are – or want to be – a working professional writer, then it’s time to realize (or remember) that being able to write a great piece is winning only half the battle.

The other half is being able to sell it.

As far as I can tell, there are only two ways to sell your work:

1. Find your own audience to pay for reading it.
2. Convince someone who already has a paying audience to provide your work to their audience.

I’m all in favor of finding your own audience. I’ve self-published several books and I plan to do more. I’ve known or heard about people who’ve started their own publications, promoted their own blogs and websites, crowd-funded their books and other writing projects, and so forth. I’ve even met people who have sold their own poetry on street corners for as little as 25 cents a pop.

There are lots of ways to find your own audience and I encourage you to try some or all of them en route to building your writing career.

But it’s always helpful to take the easier route and piggyback your desire to be published on someone who already has access to a paying audience.

Again, I believe there are basically two ways to do this. First, you can write whatever you want and then hope to get someone to pay you for it, or second, you can find someone willing to pay you for writing something they assign to you, whether that’s a newspaper or magazine article, a book, a poem, a white paper, liner notes, a website, a blog post, or anything else.

Here’s how to make getting such an assignment even easier.

1. Try Lots of Avenues to a Wide Range of Outlets (and Keep Trying New Ones)

Selling your work is something like a lottery: you can’t win if you don’t play, and the more entries you have working for you, the greater your chances of winning.

If you’re interested in writing magazine articles, for example, make contact with lots of different publications and editors. If you want to write a book, talk to lots of agents. If you’re interested in ghost writing, beat the bushes for lots of different potential clients.

Accept that this is part of the business, and like any professional looking to make a sale, recognize that every rejection brings you one step closer to a “yes”.

2. Be Flexible, Professional, and Easy to Work With

Maybe if you’re the next Hemingway or Doris Lessing, you can afford to be grumpy. But it you’re not, or not yet, then make it pleasant and relaxing to work with you. Hold your complaints, say “yes” as much as you can, and try to find ways to work around the unpleasantries that come with almost every assignment.

I remember when I was young and reporting for a newspaper in Philadelphia, I would sum up the entire wisdom of the world – as it pertained to the topic at hand – in the last paragraph of every article I wrote. The editor would inevitable chop that last paragraph for reasons of space.

I could have gotten angry. Instead, I simply put that wisdom into the second to last paragraph.

Of course, if things get too terrible for you, you can always find a different outlet for your work. But don’t burn any bridges on your way out. You never know when you may have to re-cross that bridge on your way back.

3. Always Have A “Next” Project to Offer

Whenever you sell something, immediately implement the successful professional writer’s “two step”: First, deliver what you promised, on time, as terrific as you can make it. Second, start setting the stage to sell that outlet more of your work.

For the professional writer, a sale is not the end of the process, but the beginning.

4. Go Back to the Best Wells Again and Again

Although following these directions will eventually net you a variety of places to sell your work, some will inevitably be better than others: more interesting, challenging, lucrative, friendly, easy, or whatever.

Don’t be shy; keep going back to these outlets with better and better ideas, as well as better and better work. I mean, if you have found two peach trees, and one makes better peaches than the other, isn’t that the one where you should do most of your picking?

5. Keep Adding New Arrows to Your Quiver

As a professional, part of your job is to keep improving, delivering better and better work in a wide variety of genres, styles, and formats. You’ll find that trying to sell to new outlets is far easier if you have more skills, abilities, and offerings to show them.

6. Sell the Same Prep-Work Over and Over

You may or may not have noticed, but successful professional writers often touch on the same topics, revisit the same information, and appeal to the same audiences over and over again. Of course you want to grow as a professional, but if you spend a lot of time and effort digging into and mastering a certain topic, why not get the most from your investment? You’ll find it’s easier to sell the second and third items resulting from that work than it was to sell the first.

7. Piggyback On Your Best Ideas

One of the techniques of brainstorming is to piggyback on others’ ideas. For example, I might suggest “let’s paint it red,” and then you might piggyback on that by suggesting “let’s offer it in seven different colors.”

But you don’t need others’ ideas for piggybacking to work. Whatever idea you’re working on, you can probably use that idea as a jumping off point and find some other idea(s) that will also yield good material you can sell.

I have consistently used these techniques to maximize the results of pitching my work to publishers, editors, writing partners, and clients. They may have little to do with the craft of writing, but they have a great deal to do with keeping me in the writing game when other “writers” have dropped out of the creative world in order to keep food on the table.

Of course, it’s important you maintain your primary focus on writing rather than on getting your next assignment. But if you lose sight of selling, there’s a chance you’ll fairly soon be writing for an audience of one.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about all this in the comments below.