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Two words often associated with freelance writers are “poor” and “starving.” It doesn’t have to be that way. Life is expensive, and ramen noodles and pbj soon lose any culinary charm. Many writers earn comfortable livings, some even in the six figures. Here’s my advice for becoming a career freelancer:

* Take any assignment offered. We all love bylines, but most magazines and newspapers don’t pay well. Especially not when you’re starting out. My ultimate goal was to do strictly editorial work. However, to keep the cash flowing and my rent paid, I also wrote newsletters, press releases, brochures and speeches. One of my early assignments was a press release about a new battery-operated, plastic sump pump. I got paid $50. At least I was writing.

* Find a steady side job. I tended bar and worked in a jewelry store, 20 hours a week or so. These gigs were flexible enough that I could fit them around my writing assignments. I also got health insurance. As my writing income grew, I ditched the part-time jobs.

* Always have multiple sources of income. The freelance world is volatile, and clients come and go. Years ago I made the mistake of keeping myself busy with only two clients. When one relationship went bust, I lost half my billings. It took me two years to make up the money, with several smaller clients and editors.

* Live under your means. I love great clothes and beach vacations as well as anyone, but what I love more than spending money is saving it. I’m a bargain shopper and a coupon queen. I drive a 16-year-old Toyota Corolla. I could buy another car, but this one runs just fine.┬áSomeday you’ll want to buy a home. Lenders don’t look favorably on freelancers, so you’ll need a big down-payment to get their attention. Start saving now.

* Invest in your career. You’ll find many writers groups, organizations and conferences, but most aren’t free. Some focus on professional development, and others are more social. I attend only the events that will help me make money. Networking is fine, but I’m not looking for a sorority. Visit a few groups to see which is best for you. As for getting a master’s degree, I’m lukewarm. Don’t go into debt for grad school unless you know your writing income will increase.

* Fund an Individual Retirement Account. Every year. You don’t have an employer to help finance your future, so you’ve got to do it yourself. The sooner you get started, the less money you’ll have to sock away. Give up a vacation if you must. Or sock away your side-job earnings.

* Writing is an art, but treat it like a business. That means keeping regular  hours, marketing your skills and managing your time and money. My philosophy: As long as I take care of the business end, I can afford to practice my art. You can, too.