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The Dilemmas of the Aspiring Online Writer

Updated on August 6, 2015
Denmarkguy profile image

When Peter was 7 he started WRITING, rather than drawing, in his coloring books. He's been writing ever since, including online since 1996.


Separating Writing "Facts" from "Fiction"

The web is littered with articles about "how to succeed as a writer." Maybe they don't exactly make it sound like it's "easy," but on the whole people discover that the journey from "dream" to "making it" tends to be far longer and more arduous than most of these stories would suggest.

Sure, there are REAL stories of people who wrote a screenplay in their spare time and sold it to Hollywood for a million dollars, and stories of people who are making $10,000 a month from blogging. There are REAL stories about someone's article "going viral" and getting ten million hits, or YouTube videos being viewed fifty million times, earning their creators tens of thousands of dollars.

But there are also REAL stories about people whose lives were changed after the won the lottery or inherited a million dollars.

They are cool stories, but it's not advisable to plan your grocery budget around them, because they are the extreme success stories, not the typical result.

"The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel."

~Steve Furtick


Reality Check: Do you REALLY want to do this?

As humans, we generally don't like to deal with "reality." We prefer to pursue "dreams," and live in fantasy worlds of our own making... even when they are quite unrealistic, and we often give up when it seems like reality falls terribly short of aforesaid dreams.

This article, then, tells of ONE "reality" of what it's like to be the aspiring writer, where the rubber meets the road.

Now, before we get started, this article is NOT for those of you who treat writing like it's a "math problem." If your approach to writing is "I need to put 500 words in this space containing this-and-that keyword density using using "X number" of Google phrases searched for more than 20,000 times a month" I can't help you. You're in the business of "making money, and it HAPPENS TO BE with writing." I used to do that when I was in the technical writing field.

It ended up boring me to tears, so I quit.

This article is intended for those who write as a PASSION, but wish they could get paid for pursuing their passion.

Yes, You Should Get This Book!

Writing Online: Write Your Dreams To Reality
Writing Online: Write Your Dreams To Reality
Writing with integrity 101: I'm not going to recommend anything I don't OWN and actually think is worthwhile. IF you are going to invest in a book about "making money writing online" this is the one to get... The author doesn't gloss over stuff, and he doesn't try to "glamour" you into thinking things are easier than they are... AND he has "walked his talk," and that means a lot, too. I don't normally recommend books this NEW, but this supports a lot of my own experience.

The Daily Routine of "Aspiring" Writers

As is true on many occasions, I start my day by sitting down and having a long hard look at what I am going to achieve today. Well, at least I sit down and have a long hard look at what I would like to achieve today.

Even though I have been writing for several decades-- granted, a couple of them "on and off"-- I remain an "aspiring" writer. What I mean by that is that I write, and occasionally my writing earns me "a few peanuts," but I have to do other things to actually make a living wage.

The dilemma I face every morning is that I look at my daily to-do list-- and it is long-- and start prioritizing. And writing doesn't always get to be on the day's "menu," except for a small amount of "maintenance."

In many cases, what I would LIKE to do is sit down and take the day to just write new articles and work on finishing the ones I have already started. But I just can't justify spending time to do it, because it will-- in essence-- be "non-income time."

Welcome to self-employment in 2015!

Self-Employment... and Writing

Yes, I am self-employed. For a decade and a half, I have been supporting myself (and my family) through a patchwork of work-at-home businesses-- most of them revolving around things I sell on eBay, and some artwork, and occasionally conducting workshops with my wife in the self-development, metaphysical and New Age field.

I like to tell people that "I'm a writer," because that's a very true statement, in the spiritual and "essential" sense of who I am.

The "problem" with writing is that-- as much as I love it-- spending (significant) time with it essentially takes food OFF our table. In a manner of speaking. It's what my economics professor in college referred to as "opportunity cost."

Sure, I get "paid" for writing, mostly through various indirect income streams-- a few pennies for advertising running the margins of my article or blog posts; a few pennies for a book I recommend on articles. However, if I were to spend a day "just writing," it normally means that I would be agreeing to "not make $100 today" in exchange for possibly making 50 cents a month for the article, more or less in perpetuity.

Of course, my approach is not like many people's.

Understanding Residual Income

People in online writing talk a lot about "residual income," and it's definitely a nifty idea that your published writing may keep earning you income for years.

The lure of that residual income is great-- and in a sense represents "everything I've ever wanted," but it is just not "functionally feasible" in a life context where our perpetual worry is convincing the electric company not to turn the electricity off tomorrow, or whether we'll be able to come up with the $600 for auto insurance that's due at the end of the month.

I have things that can "pay for that," but writing is not one of them, alas. At least not yet. And the reality many writers face is that this elusive "yet" isn't ever going to come, because we have to be fully engaged in "other things" for 70 hours a week to keep our little "personal ships" afloat, AT ALL.

Maybe that all sounds rather bleak-- but I continue to write, and I continue to find inspiration from fellow writers who have made it to a path further along the road on which I find myself. I especially find inspriration from those who reached "critical mass" with their writing... after some 4, 7, 10, 18 years of toil... they woke up and realized that the "peanuts" they'd been making had turned into $1000 a month... enough that they felt comfortable "backing off" a little from all their OTHER work, which-- in turn-- meant that they suddenly did have more time to write. And thus COULD spend time building their future passive income from writing and blogging.

So the "takeway" here is that earning residuals/royalties from writing does not mean "work today, money tomorrow," it means "work today, start a long-term trickle of daily pennies and dimes."

One of the best books about WRITING

The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life (Artist's Way)
The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life (Artist's Way)
Unlike my other recommendation here, this book has been around "forever" (since 1999) and remains one of my all-time favorites. It's really not about "how to" write, it's about how to access the true SPIRIT of writing, and being a writer. For me, this has been FAR more valuable than any "connect A to B" manual I have ever owned.

Just keep plugging along...

Much of the process that leads to writing success lies in never giving up, and in having the ability to still sit down with a creative thought and commit it to paper (or web page) even when you are exhausted after a day at your "other" work and feel like you have nothing left to give.

And it also comes in using every opportunity you have to "create writing," by making notes of your ideas for later... even when you have no time "in the now" to finish the article or blog post. I write lots and lots of articles from "notes" I took, while in the middle of doing something else. The thing is, creativity doesn't always happen "on schedule."

So I sit here this morning, writing this article while drinking my cup of coffee and planning my day... realizing that it is "part of the process," to grab an hour "when I can" to write an article.

A few years from now, some people might still be reading these words and find a small glimmer of hope in their own writing process... and the article might still be earning me 75 cents a month, so the time I originally "invested" to create these words is no longer worth a paltry "25 cents an hour" but has grown to a cumulative "$25 an hour."

Not All Writers Were Created Equal

Now, if this all sounds a bit like sour grapes and "woe is me," it's actually not intended to.

In actuality, I am thrilled that I do get to write, to the extent that I get to write. But I am writing this because there is far more illusion and false promises about "writing online for money" than there is "reality" out there... and frankly, I feel like "reality" deserves equal time.

Let's keep in mind, though, that I am just offering one perspective.

Naturally, people's circumstances differ. If you're not already living on the edge of poverty, and can actually justify spending 20 hours-- and have the hours to spend!-- a week on your writing, the process will be much faster.

Alas, many aspiring writers end up "here" because they are looking for every conceivable way to make a few more cents to keep them out of the poorhouse, so they often face this time/effort dilemma.

To them I say "Keep writing!"

Keep writing, because it "means" something to you, and it does eventually start to add up. In my first year of attempting to "monetize" my meager body of online writing, I made about $70. In the second year, about $350. In my 3rd year, a little over $800. This year, I am feeling hopeful that I can get up to near the $2000 mark. And so on, and so forth.

I'll come back and post updates to this article, as they happen.

Naysayers and Pompous Critics

Now there are those out there who would argue that "if you're a REAL writer, you wouldn't CARE about the money."

OK... that's fine and good as a piece of "artistic philosophy." And truth be known, I don't "care about the money" in the mercenary sense of the word.

But let me point you back to my previous statement that "I feel like 'reality' deserves equal time." Part of that reality also involves the simple fact that when I get to the front of the line at the supermarket, they will expect money, not "artistic philosophy" in payment for my corn flakes and broccoli. And I have to live within that reality... as do most other people in the world.

And part of my reality is also that I don't want to live my life as a burger flipper at McEvil's solely so I can tell the world that I am pursuing writing "as a pure art form." Whereas it is very "artistic" and all that, in my world that just smacks too much of "cutting your nose off to spite your face." If you're on that "pompous high road," just go back home and curl up with the latest tragic copy of "Depressed Artist Quarterly."

For everyone else: Write On!

More on the Writing Life

Although it's not the primary thing I write about, I have written a few other things about the reality of being a writer.

Slightly related to this article, I also wrote an article about Examining your Motivations for Writing. It's worth a read, too. I think so, anyway. It's actually my most-read article about writing.

Also worthwhile, an exploration of how I made a determination to always stay true to writing my truth, even if that truth wasn't "popular," in the mass appeal sense.

And last-- but not least-- the "Sales Pitch!"

Well, actually... there IS no sales pitch.

But if you enjoyed this article, or learned something from it, or it made you think, or you were mildly entertained... it would be really groovy if you used one (or several!) of these nifty social media sharing buttons!
◄ ◄ ◄

Thanks for reading!

(Because my mom always told me it was polite to thank people for things...)

© 2014 Peter Messerschmidt

So what is YOUR approach to writing? Are you a hobbyist, or part timer, or full timer? Are you in it "for the words" or "for the money?" Leave a comment!

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    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks for the "reality check!" Although I have been writing on-line for the past four years, I haven't made enough to sneeze at. Perhaps that is my fault. I didn't start writing for the money, I started writing because I wanted to write, and to somehow share my world with others and help them in the process. I have succeeded at that goal, and now I am at the point that I would like it to be something more. I eventually want to quit my "day job" and focus primarily on free-lance work. That won't be until the debts are paid, and I can find more than just a trickle coming in for my efforts!

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Your mom was right, Peter, so 'thanks' for your wise words--this reminder about the 'why' of writing online. Although I'm 'officially' retired, I actually spend almost as much time working now as I did in my career job. The difference is, I can work in my pajamas if I choose to do so....and sometimes I do.

      Voted Up++


    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      6 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      At this point in my life, I'm not dependent on writing to provide income. And if I ever get to the point where producing income becomes the priority in the use of my time, writing will have to go by the wayside. So, right now I can write just for the fun of it, and accept whatever income results as an added blessing. I found this hub encouraging in that it reassures me my writing doesn't have to produce significant income to be valuable.

    • Denmarkguy profile imageAUTHOR

      Peter Messerschmidt 

      6 years ago from Port Townsend

      Thanks, all, for your kind words!

      @fpherj48 - I love words, too... and I write because I am compelled to do so. In a sense, it is my "calling"... Dr. Barrie Jaeger (a work purpose expert and coach) defines a calling (in part) by posing the question "Would you do this, regardless of whether you get paid?" My answer is yes. The money is certainly "nice" but not the determining factor.

      @MarleneB - I feel like there is sometimes a certain masochistic long suffering-ness that people adopt in the name of being a "true" artist-- be it writing, painting, or whatever. And it's just plain silly because of the contradiction of proclaiming their ostensible "authenticity" while putting on the "air" of the stereotypical "starving artist."

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      6 years ago from USA

      I enjoyed reading this. You certainly do keep it real. Your point to people who suggest you are not a "real" writer if you do it for the money is a reality check. I wonder if they could write for the pure joy of writing if there wasn't someone else paying the bills.

    • DealForALiving profile image

      Nick Deal 

      6 years ago from Earth

      I feel your pain -- thanks for being honest and to the point.

    • Warren Curtis profile image

      Warren Curtis Daniels Jr 

      6 years ago from Buffalo, New York

      I so needed this article! Thank you so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      6 years ago from Hollister, MO

      This really ran true with me. Thank you, so much. I found every word inspirational, because this why, and how, I write. Thank you, again! ;-)

    • AngeShearer profile image

      Angie Shearer 

      6 years ago from Whangarei, Northland

      Hi Peter

      I really enjoyed reading your article and you made some really good points. I loved your down to earth honesty.

      Thankyou so much for's a great read.x

    • fpherj48 profile image


      6 years ago from Carson City

      Peter...My genuine motivation is my total and complete love affair with words. I suppose I could go into detail, add a few powerful statements and decorate with ribbons and flowers....but it's really just so simple. And to me......All Truth & Beauty is simplistic......Wonderful and wise words you've shared with your of whom is now Me....Up++++

      Peace, Paula

    • Sinyailbro profile image


      6 years ago from Honolulu

      Love this!


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