Top Ten Little-Known Freelance Writer Survival Tips

From talking to a lot of writers who have lived off of their fiction much longer than I have, I’ve gained some useful perspective on what they do when times get particularly tough. Here’re what seem to be the top ten tips for survival, in case it’s of use to someone. I’ve ranked them from most used at #1 to least used at #10.

#1 – Go outside at dawn to lap up dew from leaves after the water’s been turned off. (Alternatively, scour backyard for “insect protein”.)

#2 – Mug the kid of the other freelance writer on the block for the pen knife, dollar fifty, stale cig, and rusty old bike with training wheels he took off of your kid the month before.

#3 – Throw self (in several layers of clothing) in front of slow-moving cars for insurance money.

#4 – Rationalize (and try to write off) living in tent by freeway with a guy named Spazzo as “research.”

#5 – Stand on street corner (until cops come) with a guitar you can’t play and an empty hat for tips, trying to turn your far-future SF novel about intelligent whale-bears into song lyrics. (“Oh mangy whale-bear/Oh mangy whale-bear/What happened to yer hair?/What happened to yer hair?/Was it glooooooobal waaaarming?”)

#6 – Start writer gigolo/escort service called “If No One Else Is Available…” and put free advertisement in local edition of “Mug Shots” newspaper.

#7 – Find copies of latest tanking book, put three in an old B&N bag, and attempt to get refund at local store by claiming your three cousins already had The Talking Spleen of Tribeca County.

#8 – Sell sperm or eggs to SFWA-Writer’s Guild “Spawn a Writer Today” fertility bank. (“Eudora Welty and Charles Bukowski still available.”)

#9 – Extract, bottle, and sell via blog or livejournal “Eau d’ Writer” (“Inspiration in an alluring scent; not approved by FDA, may cause blindness, masturbation, bleeting stupidity, arrogance, and alcoholism.”)

#10 – Get day job.

18 comments on “Top Ten Little-Known Freelance Writer Survival Tips

  1. Larry says:

    #9, is that like animal scent (like squirrel scent) that I could use if I wanted to hunt wild, crazed animals?

  2. Ennis Drake says:

    I’ve been doing the dew-lapping, bug-hunting bit for a few weeks now. Ever since I LOST the day job. Fortunately, the economic downturn (the Depression, as I like to think of it, despite the media’s best efforts) seems to be doing wonders for my writing.

  3. TJ says:

    Too funny. I actually thought about trying #6 (, but it didn’t work out too well (

  4. Matt Bell says:

    So I kind of read these out of order because I have a 5-second attention span, so I I thought #7 was teh best, until I read #5, which is really fantastic. I’m looking forward to your mangy whale-bear cycle.

  5. I am fascinated by people’s terrible reviews of their own works, especially when their works are perhaps their best yet. Thus, I am eager to hear how you’d scathe Finch.

  6. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I wouldn’t. It kicks too much ass for me to get through it without laughing.

  7. Or, “Finch is the worst romantic comedy I have ever read. The slapstick is morbid and the flirtatious dialogue is fer shit.”

  8. Bill Ectric says:

    I kind of like that Barnes & Noble idea, so I’ve been thinking of other ways to get my book into B&N. Like, smuggle it in and pretend to read it in the food area, then leave it on a table so one of the clerks will stick it on a shelf somewhere.

    Or, have a bunch of your books hanging inside a long overcoat and covertly display them to people, as though they were stolen goods. “This is a genuine VanderMeer, ” you mumble from the side of your mouth. “Written under a pen name, before he went squirley. Give you a good price on it.”

    Stand outside a middle school and hand a flier to every kid as they leave to go home. The flier will say, “Friends of the Book are putting on a big event in which all the kids in town have to read the same book. You get your book at Barnes & Noble. Or your kid fails for the year.” Then, hang out at the bookstore with the long overcoat full of books.

    Just walk by a Barnes & Noble and throw a couple of books in through the door. You don’t know. Maybe someone would pick it up and look at it. You don’t know.

  9. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Hmmm. These sound nefarious. Shouldn’t I just have my publisher make sure B&N carries it?

    We must distinguish here between *distribution*, kind sir, and *financial need*. I merely ready myself for the possible complete breakdown of the American economy.

  10. Wollff says:

    Readying for the breakdown of the economy?
    What’s 10 doing on the list then? Is there a deeper meaning in getting a day job, just to lose it as soon as you would need it?

  11. Well, as regards the need for #10 in breakdown times, I think it would help one keep perspective on why you were writing to begin with. It’s easy to get bogged up in the money aspect, but if you have a soul-crushing, stifling, cushy salary job, where food and gas is not a debate, you remember that writing is/was and forever shall be more about life than bank statements.

  12. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Wollff–writers are known for getting all kinds of temporary day jobs, and all kinds of jobs period to pay the bills. It’s just commenting on that.

  13. Mark Gerrits says:

    Re #5: This made me think of Rock Plaza Central’s album Are We Not Horses. It’s about robot horses who think they’re real horses while waging war on heaven (I think I got that right). Good album.

  14. Lane says:

    Well darn. I wrote some flash a month ago that referenced bear-whales. Do I need to find that guy on the corner and steal his tip-hat?

  15. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Ya sure ya wanted to admit that? ;)

  16. Paul Riddell says:

    Bill, you know what’s funny? You’re not the only one who’s thought that. Particularly with POD titles, now not only does Barnes & Noble require that all copies be pre-purchased before any of the friendly clerks will put in an order, but they’ll just pitch them if you buy copies and then “accidentally” forget to pick them up. Why, no, I wasn’t thinking about doing anything like _that_. Why do you ask?

  17. Paul Riddell says:

    By the way, I take umbrage at needing to write a fake scathing negative review to garner sympathy. What’s wrong with writing something so foul that you get real scathing negative reviews that stimulate sales? (That’s the problem with the whole POD and PublishAmerica movement. Ten years ago, my books would have been the subject of any number of horrible reviews. These days, just knowing which letters of the alphabet go where and whether or not they’re capitalized immediately puts me in the top 10 percent of published writers this year. Compared to some of the completely illiterate gibberish such as _Space Ark_, I’m getting good reviews, and good reviews don’t get sales worth a damn.)

  18. Maggie May says:

    These tips are awesome;) Guess I’ll make my fortune now.

Comments are closed.