Thinking About Year-end Numbers: How a Freelance Writer Makes a Living

i can't do the sum November 2014 Stats:

Total Earnings: $5,317.46

Completed Pieces (all types): 102

Posts/Articles Published: 62

(This month, $934.10 of my income came from music, and $4,383.36 came from writing.)

I’ve been curious all year if I would manage to hit $50,000 in gross earnings by December 31, 2014.

As of November 30, I’m at $44,273.45. (I haven’t received all of it yet; I have $2,105 in unpaid invoices which will trickle in over the next month.)

But will I hit $50K? Probably not. December is a holiday month, and although that won’t necessarily stop the flow of writing jobs, I have to go in with the idea that I’ll only really be working three out of December’s 4.5 weeks.

I am fine with not hitting arbitrary round numbers that I set for myself as stretch goals. Seriously. I’m fine with it. (My heart is breaking. I like meeting my own arbitrary round number stretch goals.)

Last year, I wrote a year-end freelancing round-up on my Tumblr in which I stated that I earned $35,208.79 gross in 2013, and then quickly added that the number wasn’t quite right because I still had a few more pieces I wanted to tap out before midnight. Look at Past Nicole, trying to squeeze in as much work as possible before the clock runs out.

Even after I jammed out those last few pieces, the gross number is never perfectly right. PayPal takes a cut, so it’s never quite as much as I think it will be. I have yet to automate factoring the PayPal deductions into my gross calculations. No matter how many columns I put into my spreadsheet, this income tracking business still feels like an imperfect science. It shouldn’t be, though. I should have a little asterisk by every client that pays via PayPal, and an extra formula to subtract out the PayPal deduction. That’s something I should do to make my finance tracking tidier for 2015.

After I went to my CPA and talked deductions and stuff, I ended up paying $3,022 in federal taxes for 2013 (as well as business, state, and music-related sales taxes that I am not going to dig out of my records and tally up). That surprised me, a bit, as it surprises most new freelancers—I’d been paying estimated taxes all that year, but I hadn’t estimated enough—but it feels right. I am earning enough. This year, more than enough.

The best way to illustrate the difference: last year, I had to ask my parents for help paying the ridiculously expensive plane flight home for Christmas. This year, I could pay it myself no problem and have money left over.

I still have $12,244.37 in debt. I have a Debt Burndown Chart and I hope I can pay off my debt completely by the end of 2015. Sometimes I tell myself that I’ll have it paid off by June 2015, but that’s an arbitrary round number stretch goal that I’m setting for myself.

My January 2014 monthly earnings were $3,300.91. I increased my earnings by something like 30% over the course of the year. This didn’t happen because I did more work; it happened because I got better paying work. A $300 piece is worth ten $30 pieces, and only takes about three times as long to write.

Of course, I still feel like I’m working constantly. I put in a 13-hour day yesterday. Today (by which I mean yesterday, when I’m writing this) we’re looking at 9 hours and counting. As I wrote in my Ask A Freelancer column, if I put a hard stop on my time, like making dinner plans or buying tickets to Rifftrax LIVE: Santa Claus, I’ll stop working. But if I don’t have anything else to do, I tend to keep going. Is this just how the freelance life is, always trying to squeeze out one more piece before midnight?

I’m also doing a lot more emailing editors and interviewing sources and researching topics than I was last year. I used to write 5,000 words a day so I could complete enough lower-paying work to earn $150. Today (yesterday), I wrote 2,879 brand-new words, including these ones. But I also edited two pieces, connected with sources for a new piece, and have a few more people I need to email tonight.

This is all part of the “knowledge worker” or “creative worker” or “remote worker” or just “anyone with an email address worker” job, these days; you don’t need me to tell you that emails take up a lot of time.

In 2015, I want to move out of my microapartment. After I finish paying off my debt. What would it be like to live in a one-bedroom? I’ve never done that, ever, in my adult life. What would it be like to have a couch and a TV and to be able to invite friends over to play Fibbage? To be able to say “XBox! Play Fibbage!” and have it be my XBox? (Whoa, there—that’s getting into super fantasy territory. An XBox? I need to find a place where I’m not washing my dishes in a bucket, first.)

So, right. Pay off the debt, then get the apartment. Write the pieces, earn the money, pay the bills, pay the estimated taxes, pay off the debt, then get the apartment. Then get the couch. Then get the XBox. Then I can throw a party.

I’m going to write one more of these How a Freelance Writer Makes a Living pieces for you, in January, when I do my complete end-of-year roundup. Then, in 2015, I’ll be doing my income roundups over at The Write Life. (Don’t worry, I’m still going to be writing for The Billfold. You couldn’t stop me from writing for The Billfold. This is my favorite place ever, and I’m saying that as a person who gets to write Avengers analyses and interview people who worked on Broad City. The Billfold is STILL THE BEST.)

Anyway, where was I? Right. This is my penultimate How a Freelance Writer Makes a Living piece, because by now we are all very clear on how this freelance writer makes a living. It’s been an amazing year, hasn’t it? I mean, if you’re me, or my career. It’s been an amazing year.

Next month: I’ll give you the final numbers on 2014 income, and answer any questions you leave in the comments for me today. So if you have questions about how I earn or manage my freelance income, let me know.

See the previous entries here.

Nicole Dieker is a freelance writer, copywriter, and blogger, and is the only member of the band Hello, The Future!

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