As a writer there are two ways in which I generate income (yes, I do make actual money as I writer. yes, I find that insane too.). One is when a client assigns me something to write and the other is when I write something and hope someone wants to read it. When most people think of a writer’s job, the latter is usually what they visualize. They think of the writer sitting at his desk, spending hours staring out a rainy window, stroking his well-trimmed goatee, dreaming up the next scene of the novel he’s been assembling for months.

That’s all well and good, but I have groceries to buy. And I don’t even have a goatee. And, that dreamy scene is the picture of a writer in pursuit of theoretical income. Unless

you live in theoretical house and eat theoretical food, it’s not a very sustainable method for getting your writing career off the ground. So while this visual may be apt when thinking about John Irving and Joyce Carol Oates’ writing schedule, those of us who don’t have a $500,000 advance on our next project have a very different to-do list. It’s like imagining the workday of the “average musician” to look like Elton John’s daily schedule. Before becoming a pop icon, Elton undoubtably played a lot of bar gigs and opening acts to make a living like a normal musician does.

Assigned projects are the bar gigs and opening acts of a writer’s life. They’re what pays the bills. They can vary from wildly fulfilling to completely perfunctory, but what they have in common is that they pay money. In the best of cases they can pay good money and are regular, relied upon income. This is awesome, because this is what allows one to be a writer.

However, few writers are without a million solo projects in the back of their minds, just as few musicians prefer playing covers to their own originals. So the key is finding a balance between theoretical and actual income and then making time for both. In my life that means I have a certain number of hours day to work on each. For example, here an average Tuesday for me:

My Tuesday: BH = Projects I can bill hourly; Interviews = regular journalism gig; Biz Writing = Pay per project work, Writing = Theoretical income

Every day is a battle to not let the billable hours or business writing work bleed into my theoretical writing time. It’s tough, because if you’re like me, you’re really fond of being paid for your work. So it’s easy to prioritize the guaranteed income over the maybe-if-this-works-out income.

Who knew the key to a creative career was sticking to a rigorous schedule?

But not too rigorous; one must be flexible. But that sounds like a blog for another time…

One thought on “Theoretical Income – A Writer’s Constant Battle

  1. This is really interesting to those of us who haven’t yet crossed the fence to self-employment, definitely a good post to refer back to in the future!

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