Recently, subscriber KK wrote and asked me how she could succeed as a freelance writer.
More specifically, she wanted to know whether she could have it all, meaning have fun and enjoy writing as well as get paid a lot of money for her writing.
Often, the two are in conflict.
For instance, direct marketing master Mark Ford has built a multi-million-dollar fortune, largely from copywriting—both his own writing as well as from the copy of those copywriters he has trained and mentored.
He is also a serious and talented poet, with a hardcover book of his poetry published. Yet I suspect he makes very little money as a poet, though of course, I could be wrong and he will no doubt let me know if I am.
He has also written numerous short stories, and again I suspect he doesn’t make much money from fiction. I know I don’t.
The fact is: some kinds of writing—and copywriting heads the list—pay handsomely and can earn you a comfortable six-figure staff or freelance income.
Other kinds of writing, which include newspaper reporting, magazine writing, blogging, poetry, short story writing, pay anywhere from mediocre to zilch.
The conflict writers have is that often copywriting and other commercial assignments are profitable, but not what they dream of. I have said before that no one grows up dreaming they will write the Great American Annual Report.
The writing that people consider fun and creative, and that they want to do—the novels, the poetry—they usually can’t come close to making a living from.
My solution for them is: the 80/20 rule.
I recommend to writers: devote 80% of your time to serious money-making projects like copywriting assignments or whatever else is your money-maker.
That gives you two benefits: (1) you make a great living and enjoy all the benefits that go along with that—financial security, material comfort, freedom from money worries…
…you can live in a nice house, drive a nice car, travel, dine in good restaurants, send your kids to college…
…but (2) you also make that terrific living while doing something you at least find palatable—writing—instead of something that would make you miserable and bore you to tears, like being an insurance agent, dentist, or accountant.
Then, you spend the rest of your work time—about 20%—doing writing that is pure joy for you; e.g., poetry, movie scripts, your blog…without worrying whether you make a dime from it, because of your income from the other 80% of your writing, you don’t have to!
That way, you do not feel your creative impulses or desire for self-expression are stifled.
Yet you spend virtually all your time doing a core activity you like writing, some commercial, some creative or artistic, while earning a very good living at it.
There are 2 extra perks that can sometimes arise from application of the 80/20 formula to your writing career.
The first perk is that you, like me, discover that you actually like—or even love—copywriting or whatever other kind of writing you do to pay the bills.
I love copywriting so much that I actually would rather write a sales letter than a short story, although I do both!
In other words, the writing you initially went into just for the money you may come to actually enjoy beyond your wildest dreams, which is the case with me and direct response copywriting, which as I said I love.
The second perk is that you may find the 20% of your writing, which you do for pure pleasure actually becoming profitable for you.
For instance, I have not gotten rich off writing books but every year I add tens of thousands of dollars in advances and royalties to my income from book writing.
And a lot of writers have made a lot more money with their ‘hobby’ writing than I have, like Tom Clancy, who originally wrote his novels at night after putting in a hard day in his office as an insurance agent.
I close with this Scottish proverb quoted by David Ogilvy in his writing: “Be happy while you’re living for you’re a long time dead.”
Bob Bly is the author of “World’s Best Copywriting Secrets” and has written copy for more than 100 companies including IBM, Boardroom, Medical Economics and AT&T. He is the author of more than 75 books and a columnist for Target Marketing, Early To Rise and The Writer. McGraw-Hill calls him “America’s top copywriter”.