I’d bet most of you didn’t get into writing for the money.
When people ask me how I became a writer, it eventually goes back to laying in my bunk bed with my father learning to read using J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (yes, that’s really what he used to teach me to read).
However being a professional writer comes down to our ability to exchange words on a page for dollars in our bank accounts. Or, in the words of A. A. Milne, “Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being.”
There’s nothing like moving three times in 8 months to make you super aware of how important that bottom line is.
Before leaving my job in August I had amassed a solid savings—enough to cover the first six months, as all the freelancing books out there tell you. Then I moved from NYC to the Suburbs for a brief stay with my parents. From there, I hauled myself and a minimal amount of my stuff to my grandmother’s house in North Carolina so that I could apartment hunt four hours away in Charleston, S.C. I stayed there six months before my latest move to Raleigh, NC (where I’ll hopefully be for the next 2 years).
Not only is moving expensive, it makes it really hard to get into a regular schedule and keep all of my financial ducks in a row. Moving meant changing banks, changing bills, changing the address on my invoices… each of which held up various payments and added hoops I had to jump through if I wanted to make ends meet.
There have been a few close calls, but there are three things that have kept me sane:
1) Letting clients know my new address
Each time I’ve moved, I make sure to send any clients whose projects I’m currently working on a note letting them know; then I include another note with their invoice, reminding them that I have a new address AND list that new address on the invoice itself. Despite this, I’ve still had checks go to the wrong address, which is why I set up mail forwarding with the post office. The checks took a bit longer to get to me, but they eventually made it.
2) Keeping a list of what bills I have at any given point
Just knowing what I owe, to whom and when it’s due gives me what I need to have in my account by when. I wish I could say nothing has ever slipped through the cracks, but because I was moving sometimes my paper bills wouldn’t catch up with me until after they were due.
It wasn’t until I completely forgot about one of my credit card bills that I realized how important it really was to keep a list and make sure everything was on it—even the bills I didn’t think I’d forget, because I’d been paying them every month for years.
Creating the list has another benefit: it forces you to go through your bills, and you can decide if there’s anything that you could really do without.
3) Knowing the minimum I have to make each month
It’s nice to have goals—most of us probably have a figure we want to make in a given month, even if it’s only in our heads—but it’s just as important to know what you absolutely have to make just to stay solvent.
It’s also good to know which bills you have some leeway on (ex. I have the option of putting my student loans in forbearance, so that I don’t have to make payments for a month or two) and which have to be paid, on time, every time.
4) Tracking expected pay dates
I keep a excel document of invoices and when I reasonable expect to receive each payment. I try to assume payments will take longer than they actually will, so the figures are mostly a ballpark idea of what I’ll be making in any given month.
I try to keep each month’s income enough to pay the next month’s bills—so the money I’m making in May will pay for my bills in June. Looking this over a few times during the month also lets me know if I need to send out a reminder email to a client who is over due and I can see at a glance exactly how much money each person owes me.