am a full-time freelance writer who works from home.
I have published over three dozen books and perhaps 2,000 magazine articles
and short stories--most of this since I left my last job in March, 1983.
Much of my work involves the history of technology, biography, how-to
(writing and computing), or making technical topics understandable to the
lay person. Over the years Iíve also written science fiction (three novels
and 20 short stories published), books on hobbies, catalog and brochure
copy, book cover copy, and print advertising.
I wrote on the side for 11 years before going full-time. (I was 21
when I began writing with intent to be published.) At first I had no
particular area of expertise. I wrote science fiction short stories and
articles about people and places I found interesting -- basic human-interest
material. I had no goal in mind other than to make some extra money and
enjoy the ego-boost of getting published.
The two areas of expertise that made it possible for me to write for a
living are research and (appropriately) writing. I developed my
abilities in these areas by researching and writing for 11 years. The jobs
I held during this period were technical posts, and did not contribute to
the development of my research or writing skills.
I did not start thinking about going out on my own until two things
happened. First, my writing was bringing in more than half as much as
my job income, in less than half the time. Naturally, I began to wonder
what kind of money I could make if I more than doubled the time spent
Second, stress from job at which
Iíd worked for eight years put me in the hospital. It was as if I was
presented with a problem (end the stress) and the solution (writing for a
living) at the same time. It helped, so to speak, that the job was pretty
much a dead-end, with no chance of advancement.
I waited 18 months before making the transition to writing fulltime.
In that time I lined up two new book contracts and cultivated several
magazines as regular markets. I also lined up a magazine column. This
proved to be valuable not only financially, but also psychologically. When
things were slow, I still had the validation of regular publication.
As a sort of hedge against dry spells, I made cold calls (by phone and in person) on local
businesses, offering my services as a writer for
advertising, brochures, and whatever else they might need. This later led
to some lucrative technical writing assignments.
Six weeks before I gave notice to my employer, I began querying some
better-paying magazines for which Iíd not written, and snagged a couple of
nice assignments with short deadlines. The idea was to start off running.
It was a bit more than I should
have undertaken but, as I soon learned, not everything pans out. One of the
assignments was cancelled, which left me with plenty of time to finish the
other and get more assignments.
The way things go in this
business, if Iíd only gotten one of those two assignments, that would have
been the one cancelled. The moral of the story: donít count on anything
until you have the check.
The only thing I should have done but was unable to do before leaving my job
was save a lot of money. In fact, I had less than $1,000 when I made the
break. Thus, I had to start producing from the very beginning. I donít
recommend this if you are easily discouraged or donít like suspense, but it
may have been an added inducement to keep me working on a regular schedule.
I had a family, a mortgage, health insurance to buy, a car loan, and so
forth, so I knew I had to earn a certain amount every month. So I was
sustaining myself from the very beginning.
Now, over 22 years later, I still work like IĎm just starting out. I
cultivate long-term working relationships, look for a variety of work, and I
donít count on anything.
About the Author: Michael A. Banks is the author
of "How to Become a Fulltime Freelance Writer" (The Writer Books, 2003),
"The eBay Survival Manual" (No Starch Press, 2005), and an upcoming
biography of industrialist and radio pioneer Powel Crosley, Jr.