Chip MacGregor

November 26, 2013

Writers: Learn to Think Quarterly


We’ve been talking about making a living at writing, and I’ve talked about the importance of having a place, a time, a project, a writing goal, and a calendar (among other things). Let me suggest there’s one other thing you’re going to have to learn to do if you are to take the next step in your writing career: think quarterly. 

It can be daunting to think you need to earn $1000 this month. It’s much less daunting to think you need to earn $3000 in a quarter. The fact that you have the extra time allows you to shift your priorities around, and give yourself enough breathing room that you can earn the money. So don’t think the pressure is on you to make all the money NOW — assume you’ve got a three-month goal.

The federal government already thinks that way — it’s why they ask self-employed writers and editors to pay quarterly taxes instead of monthly. Writing income never arrives on a monthly basis anyway, though it’s fair for a writer to plan for a decent paycheck four times per year. So you move your income into quarterly groupings, lowering the pressure and giving yourself a better big-picture view of your budget.

In essence, I’m suggesting the conversation with yourself becomes something like this: “I’m going to make $3000 this quarter. It’s going to come from three sources — my completion money, my royalty check, and those magazine articles I’m completing. And the money is going to go toward these things…” (because part of having a budget is determining where the money goes, not just where it will come from).

When I was given this idea from an experienced freelance writer, I found it took a bunch of pressure of my shoulders. LOTS of writers and other self-employed people have based their budgets on this model over the years. Thinking quarterly will help you survive as a writer.

What are the other tips for making a living at writing you’ve learned along the way?

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  • Jane Gaugler Daly says:

    After divesting myself of the idea of writing a novel, getting it published, writing another novel, getting it published, etc, I’ve decided to continue to write fiction, but add freelance writing to accomplish two things. To build my resume, and to bring in some extra cash until that novel hits the best-seller list 🙂 Having a quarterly goal is an excellent idea for a new writer. Most of my published articles so far have paid little or no money, but have added to my experience. I’m ready to advance my career – thanks for the excellent advice in this blog, Chip.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks very much for the compliment, Jane. (And for your patience for me to get back and comment.) Here’s hoping that sort of determination leads to a book deal for you!

  • Hi Chip!
    Reading this post made me think of something I do on a weekly basis which helps me stay on track with financial goals. Since freelance writing typically generates sporadic paychecks, this might help ensure the bills get paid on time…;~)
    For every typical expense I know is coming up…i.e. mortgage, electricity, taxes, etc…I break up the cost into a weekly amount. For example, if my utility bill averages $100 per month then I know I want to try and set aside $25 per week to pay the bill. I then take blank envelopes and write the expense on the front of it, along with the weekly amount I’m looking for. I have a job outside of my writing so I am fortunate to have something coming in each week. This system could be adjusted to fit the individual. As I receive money each week I ration the funds into each envelope and then get to spend the rest as I want to without the stress or guilt of wondering if my bills will be paid each month. My focus is maintaining a basic lifestyle expectation AND being able to enjoy my free time as I further my writing career.
    Great post, as always and Happy Thanksgiving!
    Take care,
    Donna L Martin

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