11 Mar

Good things come to those who write

Most of my highest paid friends are writers or teachers.

At first thought that sounds ridiculous. Generally those are two of the lowest paid professions around. English majors are told to enjoy their career at Starbucks. Teachers are respected, but know they’ll never be well paid. Teaching is more of a labor of love than anything else.

So why is it that my writer friends get paid more than anyone else I know?

My software developer friends are next in the amount of money they make. But even in our current tech bubble where six figure salaries are handed out like dentures at an old folks home, many developers don’t make as much as the writers. On top of that, they all have jobs that keep them working for one company, usually in one city. The only time they take extended trips is for a month or so before their new job starts.

The writers have freedom. My Instagram feed is constantly filled with the new locations my writer friends are visiting. Hiking on Kauai, a road trip through Bulgaria, and housesitting in Menorca are just what three writer friends are doing as I write this.

Money and freedom? For writing? Based on all our modern stereotypes about careers this is a ridiculous concept.

They say get a real career. Become a doctor, engineer, or software developer.

Leave writing to the baristas.

Good things from writing

If I look back at all the good things that have happened in my career in the last 3 years, they all come from writing. One little habit of writing 1,000 words a day revolutionized my career.

Today I earn my living owning a software company, but for years I paid the bills as a writer. During that time I…

  • Made over $35,000 in a single day from a book launch.
  • Built a network of close friends I can turn to when I need help.
  • Visited almost two dozen countries while traveling for fun.
  • Hosted a formal workshop at one of the most exclusive clubs in West-London.
  • Been paid to speak at conferences that I would have normally paid to attend.
  • All while making a salary that is 4x my last traditional job.

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t decided to write a book.

Attention is the most valuable resource

Alright, I left you hanging earlier. Let’s talk about why my writer friends make more than anyone else I know. It’s not because they are particularly amazing at their craft or that their works will be adoringly placed in libraries for future generations.

The reason is simple that writing is how you get attention. And in todays world attention is the most valuable resource.

Major companies spend billions of dollars on advertising each year in order to interrupt people for a chance at getting attention for their products.

Writers get that for free. They have tens of thousands of people raising their hands to say, “Sign me up. I want to read everything you write. You have my attention.”

Then when the writer uses a small portion of that attention to promote something else that will benefit the reader, hundreds or thousands of them buy it.

Writers can gather attention better than anyone else.

And in today’s business world attention is the most valuable resource.

That’s why my friends who are writers are the best paid of anyone I know.

…but I’m not a writer.

When I was 12 I told my mom that learning writing skills was a waste of time. I was frustrated with whatever high school essay I was working on and so I said “This is ridiculous. I’m never going to be a writer. Why can’t I learn a skill that will actually be useful to me?”

My mom still reminds me of that from time to time, now that I make my living through writing.

I never thought of myself as a writer.

About a year after I started to earn a living from my blog I overheard my wife talking to a few friends answering the question, “What does your husband do?” She said I was a writer.

Before that moment I’d never applied that term to myself. Designer, yes. But not a writer. I just taught people about design (and now marketing).

Good writing is about teaching.

Unless you’re writing a novel, good writing is about teaching. Most of my friends who make their living from writing wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves writers. Instead they are developers, freelancers, hobbyists, marketers, designers, and business owners.

They just realized they had valuable skills and started teaching them to anyone who wanted to listen.

When you start writing you don’t have to worry about crafting perfect prose. Instead you just need to focus on teaching useful skills.

Do that and you’ll build an audience. Then write a book or course that is a more complete guide to your topic.

Charge for it.

Use the attention that your audience gives you each week from blog posts and a newsletter to promote the new product.

And that’s how you join the rest of my writer friends in the highest paid group of people I know.

Good things come to those who write.


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8 Responses to “Good things come to those who write”

  1. Ha, well Nathan, could be that some writers/teachers make the big bucks, but they need to have something going on beyond that craft.

    The Big Guns who teach content marketing say that more time should be spent marketing the content than making it, and therein lies the difference between money and no money — the money peeps either know how to market their content, got lucky, are connected or are already well known.

    My experience, anyway.



    • I couldn’t have said it any better. If you concentrate on the writing part and don’t know the first thing about marketing yourself, you’ll only earn pittance.

  2. It’s interesting that writers are at the top of the heap, but there is a good chunk of survival bias built into that. I super hope we can all do what we want and find a way to make it work financially, but that anecdote is a little misleading.

    If you put in the hours and become a programmer, there is probably a 90%+ chance you’ll be able to find a job and get paid well. If you pick a writing/training niche and put in a couple years of work… Maybe 10-20%? You could pick the wrong niche or just burn out before you’re able to build up a big enough following to survive off it. I don’t think it would be crazy if in Boise there are thousands of engineers/programmers making 100k, but only a few dozen writers making that.


  3. Wonderful read – thanks for sharing!

    I have a similar (yet not as successful) story too. I started my writing career in my high school days and it has been with me ever since.
    I have a 9-to-5 job now, which usually pays more than my writing gig.
    Funny thing – I could make that amount in one week (~5 days of focused freelance work).

    I wish people would focus on the art of writing. It’s one of the best ways to build a brand and make a successful living online!


  4. Important thing is in your last point.

    It’s all about teaching. Writers are teachers. Teachers should write OR learn to write. Those who spent time to teach others, having good things…

  5. Following your 1000 words per day challenge, i was inspired
    to write 1000 – 2000 words in a day for 40 days in a row.
    And that actually gave me more confidence and portfolio
    which i use to convince prospective clients.

    Thanks a lot for yet another useful ”reminder piece”
    This falls in line with what i have read from
    Jeff Goins, Seth Godin and Yaro Starak.

  6. Thanks for the post Nathan! I know what you mean, and your lessons have help my career over the years too. Just sad to live in a society where the professional writers and teachers make much, much less money and have worse life conditions than marketeers.

  7. Thank you for this. Concise and productive. Great piece!

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