Write First, Earn Later

How important is making money in the beginning of your writing career?

I casually follow a number of “writing as a business” groups on Facebook. These groups can be great for meeting people, sharing ideas, and helping newcomers out with innocent questions/concerns. But sometimes my news feed gets clogged with multiple versions of a query, within days of each other, that goes something like this:

“I’m about to/I just started a blog, and I want to know how to monetize. Please help.”

A valid question, sure. We all want to know how people earn a decent income blogging full-time.

But there’s something that really bothers me about these kinds of questions. Because while I get that you might want to make a career out of writing ASAP, I think you have things a little backwards.

Writing comes first. Good writing. Money is only a possible, never guaranteed, side effect.

I don’t know of a writer who became financially successful without a solid foundation and years of content to raise them up to that level. Money is important — we all need it to some degree to survive. But when you focus on money first, and writing second, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Yes, setting up a blog in the beginning does sometimes require that you know how advertising and affiliate slots are going to fit into your structure. I get that. I get that a good business strategy includes plans for future monetization of your products (blog posts). But I wish more commenters would point to the most important aspect of monetization, which is making sure your content is good and plentiful enough for monetization to actually work — often even before you start trying to monetize.

I prefer a “write first, earn later” approach to writing. It’s how I built the necessary foundation for enough freelance writing clients to keep me afloat for 14 months when I couldn’t get any other job. It’s why I spent three years as a writing intern, publishing hundreds of articles, none of which I got paid for. Because exposure comes first. Without it, how do you know you’re writing well enough for the right audience to have earned the right to get paid for your effort?

My many years of blogging and writing for free have more than paid off in the past six months alone. It’s because of my writing internship that I decided to get a master’s degree; it’s because of my master’s degree, and many months of freelancing, that I got a full-time writing job. I still don’t earn a cent from this blog, and most days, I don’t even mind that much. Because putting you first — my readers — is what drives me to create good content for you. Not the money. Money pays the bills, but it does not get you loyal followers, who appreciate and respect you almost as much as you do them.

People who ask questions in Facebook groups are dedicated to their work, their profession, their earnings. Just because someone asks about monetization doesn’t mean they aren’t more concerned about their content; it’s just one question. But please always remember that it’s what you have to say, the wisdom you have to share with your readers, that makes you a successful writer. Not how much you earn in a year. Believe me, I fully appreciate being able to afford to pre-order John Green’s upcoming novel the second he announces it, but I don’t write to get rich. And neither should you.

And if it ever does happen to you, well, that’s just a pretty sweet bonus. You’re allowed to be proud of that. Just don’t make it a bigger priority than making sure your readers are taken care of. They’re the ones who are going to stick with you through it all, whether you’re flat-out broke or quite the opposite.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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