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Writing for Money: Writing for Love is the Key to Success

Posted in anxiety, Commercial Writing, Creative Writing, creativity, fear, Fiction, Freelance writing, Independent Publishing, living the dream, making a living as a writer, Productivity for creatives, Writing for Money, writing life, and Writing Tips

Should You Write for Money or Love?

This business about writing for love or writing for money matters. It’s a cause of tension in my writing life; it’s a nagging concern which sometimes keeps me up at night; and it’s a burning question which I’ve answered in different ways at different points in my career.

Whenever my only motivation for writing has been to earn money, it hasn’t worked out. I’m not suggesting there’s money-making magic in only writing for love. I’ve written plenty for love that’s never made money.

But I ran stats on my writing output since I first went professional. The results are a revelation. We’ll get to that in a minute.

This blog is an example of writing for love rather than money. There’s no mechanism by which it could make money. There’re so many fake writing gurus and other phonies plugging the internet, claiming to help people, but whose only aim is to make a sale. I don’t want to associate with that crowd.

That’s one reason I decided not to run ads on this blog. Yes, the blog has links to my books. But there’s no hard sell. I’m not making any claims for my books here; I’m not encouraging you to go read them. Equally, there’s no point pretending I haven’t written them. They’re just there. This blog isn’t about selling books.

The Price of Integrity

When I examined writing for love and writing for money, it wasn’t blogging I had in mind. I’m sure you can write a blog you believe in, that’s honest, that connects with other people in a way that’s useful, encouraging or entertaining to them, and make money from ads and affiliate links and all of that.

Maybe when this blog has proved its value, I might run ads or put up affiliate links to writing tools, books, and products I’ve found useful. But that day may be a long way off, and if I’m still making a living with copy writing and book publishing, then I don’t see why I’d need to do it. No need to muddy the waters.

The Two-Way Split

I’d always thought of my writing life as split two ways:

  • the writing I do for money as a copywriter
  • the writing I do for love as a fiction author

That’s changed since I researched my writing successes and failures. There’s still a practical split between copy writing and fiction writing. They’re different magesteria and demand different skills. But I learned something wonderful, liberating, which applies to both, and fuzzes the lines between them in interesting ways.

Several big life-changes are affecting me right now. They’re forcing me to reassess what I do and why; to re-calibrate my system of values and priorities. My writing has come under the same microscopic analysis; testing my motivations and how they link to the realities of what I do as a writer.

As I’m easily scared and get anxious about everything I do, I’ve learned a lot about riding that anxiety, practicing mindfulness, staying sane and healthy and being positive; but the tendency to worry is unlikely to go away soon. A major life-overhaul at my age (I’m 49 going on 50 at the time of writing) isn’t something I took on board without trepidation.

But I know when something needs doing, it needs doing – and the best way of overcoming anxiety is to take a deep breath, plunge right in and just get on with it, however difficult or painful the first step.

Ten Years of Writing for Money Under the Microscope

I examined the past ten years of my writing journey. I don’t count the time before because I was working in a different sphere (TV and theater) and publication wasn’t the focus of my writing. It was a sideline to my other work. I wasn’t writing for money per se.

I’d no idea what the outcome of this audit of my writing career so far, which has largely felt like floundering about in the dark figuring how to get the lights to come on, would be.

It’s hard for an argument to persuade me unless I can see the figures, the numbers, and satisfy myself they hold up to robust statistical analysis. This isn’t the place to dish out the stats, but I gave each piece a binary score (0 or 1) based on whether I’d written it for love or money and then applied a measure of success based on sales/fees/reader response.

The Results

Here are the two key results:

  1. The simplified graph of my writing success, which measures productivity vs. successes over time, looks like this:
writing for money
The more work I produce, the more work I sell.
  1. My most successful writing, whether works of fiction, a blog post, or even a piece of commercial copy for a client, has been motivated, informed, and enriched by love.

The first point shows that, regardless of writing for love or money, I’m getting better at what I do. The strongest reason for increased success is a rise in productivity. Writing more and publishing more is a faultless route to better writing and more visibility. I’ve written about productivity elsewhere on this blog.

The second is the one that excites me, and the thing I want to share with you right now. But what do I mean by love in this context?

  • in terms of fiction, I mean the story demanded I tell it, and moved me as I wrote it.
  • in terms of blogging (this is not my first blog, but we won’t discuss the others) I mean sharing something personal from the heart.
  • in terms of copy writing, writing for money on a subject I can write about with sincerity.

The Big, Fat, Lovely, Paradoxical Take-Away

The more passion you can bring to a project, the more successful it will be. Put into simple words, the big take away is:

When I write for love, I make more money and my work is more widely read and appreciated than when I write only for money.

How beautiful is that?

In the past, with copy writing and blogging, I’ve followed the standard commercial advice; and I’ve experimented with the “write to market” philosophy fashionable for fiction in the indie world. Now, I’m ready to reinvent my writing process more in line with the bidding of my heart.

The Commercial Copy Writing Process in a Nutshell

The typical copy writing process goes something like this:

  • before putting any ink on the paper or letting your fingers brush the keyboard, research a topic keyword or keywords (to death)
  • next check the “competition” for said keyword or keywords
  • then engineer a piece which satisfies the market and outdoes your client’s competitors
  • now devise a structure based on commercial parameters
  • when you’re sick to the back-teeth of the subject and have reduced it to little more than a strategic model, you add words to it

It’s logical, it’s a rinse-and-repeat process, and for commercial copy writing I can testify it produces work which keeps clients happy and the pay checks rolling.

But it’s a very mechanical approach. At its worst, it can edge toward soul-destroying. What the marketing gurus mean by “storytelling” is a sales technique. What I mean by storytelling is something sacred and magical in its power. It’s the same word for two very different things.

Can You Write for Love AND Money?

Now, it would be foolhardy of me to abandon all care for commercial interest or market research overnight. If Monday through Friday next week I only turn in the splurging of my heart as copy, I’ll be sleeping on a park bench come the weekend. But the insight that writing for love incidentally makes more money is powerful. It’s worth prioritizing those projects which I can write for love and let the money take care of itself.

I’ve enjoyed moderate success with commercial writing and it continues to put bread on my plate, and butter on my bread. There are lessons there, too. The adage about not throwing the baby out with the bath water springs to mind. How to resolve the common-sense of keyword research, commercial measures, and logical strategies, with the free process of writing from the heart?

Well, I can solve that.

The Secret Sauce of Synthesis

I believe in conflict resolution. A thesis and an antithesis are best resolved in synthesis. Conflicts between ideas, approaches, and perceptions, are often failures of creative thought. Need they be in opposition? Might they not be complimentary? In personal relationships, in the political arena, in culture and society, the most effective solutions, bringing the greatest benefits to all, are not extremist positions, but non-partisan solutions which result in peaceful synthesis.

The same applies to this problem of writing for love or money. You can write for both. It’s just a case of getting the order right. Choose projects you can write for love. Write them from the heart. At least make it something you can support without ethical conflict. Never compromise your integrity. Writing is about communication and sharing. Share honestly, communicate clearly.

But you need readers. And to find readers, your writing must be discoverable. That’s where keyword research, a look over the markets, a gentle strategy to place your piece in the publishing ecology, doesn’t hurt. But let it be other than your primary purpose. Use the strategic tools typical of commerce to push your work off in the right direction, not to define what that work should be.

If you want to write something that has more than ephemeral value, which makes a contribution to others; write from the heart, tell the truth, and write for love.

Your Writing Success Hangs in the Balance

Get the balance between the “spiritual” side of writing and the “commercial” side right. Give 80% of your time and effort to the first, and only 20% to the second.  If there will be money in it, it’ll take care of itself. If not, at least you leave behind a legacy you can be proud of creating.

There’s so much more to life, and writing, than the bottom line.

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If you’ve enjoyed this post or if you haven’t, I would love to read your insights, experiences, thoughts, critiques, or reflections in the comments below. Please share this post on your social media. That would be a lovely thing to do.

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Image credits: all images (apart from the book covers of my novels and the photo of me) are in the Public Domain and were sourced via the Creative Commons. Click on the image to reveal the name of the artist and the work in the address bar.

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8 Comments

  1. robert bucchianeri
    robert bucchianeri

    Hello Austin,

    Just wanted to let you know that I stumbled across your videos on You Tube and have now read a number of your blogposts and thoroughly enjoyed them. Solid and interesting content. Thanks!

    February 26, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Robert,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you’re finding the output useful. You’re not the first to find a way here via YouTube. I really ought to build video-making into my regular schedule. I’ll give some thought as to how that might be done.

      All the best,

      A.

      February 26, 2017
      |Reply
      • robert bucchianeri
        robert bucchianeri

        I agree. Your video presentations are compelling.

        February 26, 2017
        |Reply
        • Austin Hackney
          Austin Hackney

          Hi Robert,

          Thanks again. You’re very kind.

          February 26, 2017
          |Reply
  2. I love this, Austin.

    I’ve been unable to do copywriting because my health has been too unstable over the last few years to be able to commit to the regularity. In that time, though, I’ve been checking out the landscape of work available for the time when things were more amenable. What I reluctantly concluded was that my conscience wasn’t gonna let me take the easy way. All of these job listings for content writers to write for a range of brands, and I just realised that I wouldn’t be able to just write any old copy. It actually made me feel irritated at being so “sensitive” that I had to feel some connection to what I was writing. It made me feel really quite unprofessional. You’re not meant to be like that. It’s “content”, after all, right? Like a sausage factory.

    It was a relief to finally admit that I wasn’t going to be able to churn. Like a waterfall, really, and I automatically felt safer, somehow.

    I still haven’t gotten to the place yet of feeling sure I’m stable enough to commit to something regular, but it feels good knowing that I’m not going to compromise myself. It’s really hard to sift through all the stuff written by people who are happy and able to write for whoever and whatever to find the people like me who need to be more selective. This post really felt validating to me. Thanks for that

    March 5, 2017
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Sue,

      Thank you for your sincere and profound comment. I very much appreciate your honesty and your contribution.

      The so-called “easy way” is actually rather tough. I’ve been there and done that. I would never recommend anybody work solely online, or for the “content mills.” That’s drudgery for a pittance and isn’t even useful experience. The good news is copy writing doesn’t have to limit you to commercial interests which don’t resonate with you, or are in conflict with your ethical framework. That’s a major concern for me and always has been. If you’re freelancing (which you should be if you want to do this at all) then you can experiment and build an interesting portfolio of work over time. You set the pace, you determine what you will and won’t do.

      I doubt those happy crowds of folk effortlessly churning out any-old content exist. There are a lot of unhappy, desperate people out there doing it, but they are neither to be admired nor imitated. But really that’s the underbelly of the freelance writing world. It’s not a place to venture.

      I suppose I’m guilty of using the term “copy writing” rather loosely. There are all manner of outlets for freelance writing. It takes time and effort and learning by trial and error to find the markets that resonate with you, and no one can do that part for you. But they’re there. I promise you that. One mistake many new writers make is to underestimate and undervalue themselves. They think, “I’m not very good and have no experience, so I’ll work for 1 cent a word writing dross.” No! Don’t do that. Not least because there’s no need.

      Yes, these days all published writing, whether literary fiction, or tabloid journalism, or a blog post about SEO strategies, is dubbed “content.” But the truth, the beautiful truth, remains that not all content is equal. Well-crafted, genuine stories are still the life-blood of the media. Now, I can tell you are a sensitive, reflective, intelligent person just from your comments. I can also see that you can write. There are so many markets to write for, online and offline – blogs, magazines, newspapers, journals, newsletters, radio stations, and TV channels. They’re constantly hungry for more “content” and they want high-quality copy. That signifies relate-able, interesting, well-crafted stories written with love. But you know that already, as the portfolio of your journalism on your website shows. I mention it more for the benefit of anyone listening in!

      It’s all there to be had. It’s damned hard work, mind. And it takes time and disappointment before you find your niche in the publishing ecology. But you can if you want. And you don’t have to jump in at the deep end and promise to swim a mile. There’s a lot of room in the paddling pool where you can test the waters!

      Keep doing what you’re doing and keep doing it well, I’d say. Can’t go wrong.

      I’m so glad you found validation here. That’s beautiful. You’ve made me very happy. 🙂

      March 5, 2017
      |Reply
      • Thanks so much for the encouragement. I really appreciate it.

        March 6, 2017
        |Reply
        • Austin Hackney
          Austin Hackney

          Hi Sue,

          You’re always welcome. Good luck with your writing. Set your own rules and don’t give up!

          And I wish you a timely and solid return to good health.

          Kind regards,

          A.

          March 6, 2017
          |Reply

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