How I Make Money from Creative Writing
Updated: Sep 14
Photo by Estee De Villiers
Growing up, all I wanted to be was a writer. I may have had no idea what that meant at the time or how I would make money from creative writing, but I knew that's what I wanted to be! When it came time to decide what I would study in university, why choose anything else? I was a writer.
I’ll never forget how many people in university asked me “How will you make any money doing that?” when I said I was studying creative writing. It seems ridiculous now, now that I’ve moved abroad, I'm finishing a book, and I'm a fully independent freelance writer with multiple contracts.
Why should you listen to me? I'm less than 30 years old, and I've already published my writing over 100 times in outlets all over the world.
Just a few of the ways I make money as a creative writer are . . .
Finding freelance writing gigs from Upwork in ghostwriting, editing, blogging and making money online.
Writing creative social media captions for companies I find on Upwork.
Writing guest blog posts for hotels, safari lodges, and travel companies.
Hosting my own blog and self-publishing my guides (like this one!) to earn money from ads and affiliate links.
Publishing my poetry or other creative writing through paying publications and literary magazines on Submittable.
Winning creative writing contests and poetry competitions I find through Winning Writers or Submittable.
Hosting creative writing workshops or one-on-one classes online.
Editing other writers' creative writing for them.
(One day soon,) selling my first book and receiving my first advance.
There are so many ways to make money as a creative writer, but my favorite way, the one that can make you $500 for a couple of hours of work is freelance writing!
HOW TO START MAKING MONEY FROM FREELANCE WRITING in 5 easy steps
If you want to be a writer, start by writing! As awesome as it would be, we don’t learn how to do something by sitting at our desks and wishing we could do it already. Start writing now! Take messy action, and learn by doing!
STEP 1, BUILD YOUR WEBSITE AND SOCIAL MEDIa TO SHOWCASE YOUR CREATIVE WRITING SKILLS
Build your social media and your website with an attention-grabbing bio and examples of your published writing. If you don’t have published examples yet, that’s okay. Share a few blog posts on your website in the style of the publications you want to write for.
You will need to link to your website when you start pitching your first publications.
STEP 2, CRAFT THE PERFECT PITCH
Writing your first pitch can be intimidating, but once you know what your first pitch should include, it's a lot easier to write! Start with an attention-grabbing title. You want your pitch to be short, easy to read and grab the editor's attention from the hundreds of other pitches sitting in their inbox. Address your pitch to the editor by name and introduce yourself in the first paragraph. Your first paragraph should make you stand out as a writer, as well as highlight your expertise in the niche you are pitching towards.
In the example below, I highlighted my expertise in writing in the "nonprofit storytelling" niche. Your second paragraph highlights your experience. Essentially, it is a brief resume for why they should "hire" you to write their next story! Have any relevant degrees, research, or the ability to take your own photos? Let them know!
Your third paragraph tells the Editor why you are the person to write this and no one else! Do you have a special connection or are you significantly familiar with the subject? Have you been studying or thinking about the subject for years? Tell them!
Your fourth and fifth paragraphs should make it crystal clear why your idea is the perfect fit for their publication. Often, I will reference and link another publication of theirs to show my familiarity with them, then I'll explain why my idea is an even better fit!
The end of your pitch is your opportunity to showcase your writing. Include links to samples that are relevant. Editors don't have much time to look through each pitch, so make sure it's as easy as possible for them to click through to your writing. Your samples should be similar to the style and theme of the publication and the idea you are pitching. For example: if you're pitching to a travel magazine, don't include links to a what to wear this summer listicle.
STEP 3, PITCH TO PUBLICATIONS
Pitch to 20+ publications a month that are in the right target. Don’t start by pitching to the biggest publications first. Publications like National Geographic or the New York Times have long response times and are unlikely to accept your pitch as they get so many pitches already.
Start small by pitching to relevant local publications or smaller magazines and websites.
It’s important to read the magazines and websites you’re pitching to first, so you get a sense of their style and what they publish. It’s also important to read good writing that will inspire you to write better and more often.
IMPORTANT: Make sure you are pitching to the right email address. These can be hard to find, especially at bigger publications. If I can't find the right contact on the publication's Staff or Contact pages, I usually email or direct message writers they've recently published to ask what email address to pitch to. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
TOP TIP: Don't mention how much you want to be paid in your pitch. Unless it's a lot less than your usual rate, let the publication offer you their idea of payment for your first publication with them. After you've successfully completed a few assignments for them, then it's appropriate to re-negotiate your writer's fee. They will likely base how much they pay you per word on your first your pitch, so make sure it shines!
STEP 4, ONCE YOU'VE LANDED YOUR PITCH, Become THE editor’s favorite writer
You want an editor to LOVE working with you, so get on their good side by responding to their emails quickly (within a day or two) and by always meeting deadlines. In professional writing, a deadline means “Pass this line and you’re dead.” Remember there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of writers they could be working with, so make working with you as easy as possible and they’ll start preferring you for other assignments and more work.
STEP 5, CASH YOUR FIRST CHECK AND START SENDING NEW PITches
As a full-time freelance writer, what has taken me the most time over the year is pitching! It can be difficult to land in an editor's inbox and catch their attention, so once you finish your first assignment for an editor, make them the first email you send your next pitch to!
Instead of your email going to another editor's inbox alongside hundreds of other writers, they'll likely see your email right away. If they liked working with you before and your pitch is a good fit for them, they'll give you another assignment.
TOP TIP: It can take months to receive your check from a publication, so make sure you have enough cash flow to support yourself before starting your full-time freelancing journey! In my experience, the bigger the publication is, the longer it takes for them to pay me.
HOW MUCH MONEY WILL YOU MAKE AS A FREELANCE WRITER?
When I first started writing, I would earn $100 per 500 words ($0.20 a word). Now that I have been writing professionally for a few years and have a BA and MA in Creative Writing, I earn $500 for 300 to 500 words ($1.67 to $1 a word). Of course, there are writers who earn way more than me at $3 to $5 a word, but I am happy with how much I can earn writing creatively, as it allows me to live life on my own terms and be my own boss!