And I do mean the most important lesson. There is none greater. You must learn this first.
Ask yourself: what is the most important thing for a writer to know? No doubt, you first thought was “the alphabet”, or “how to set a scene”, or “how to communicate in clear, unambiguous language”. And those are all good things.
But they’re wrong.
Where Most Writers Fail
There is one stumbling block that knocks out 99+% of all writers. If you cannot overcome it, you have no hope of facing the thousands of other challenges a writer faces. How you’re going to handle this obstacle needs to be the first thing you plan for after deciding to become a writer.
Can you guess what it is? Surely, that sinking feeling in your gut has told you the answer by now.
That’s right: the most important lesson a writer can learn is how money works.
Most Important of Subjects
You cannot serve God and Mammon, so you’d better figure out a way to make Mammon serve you. You’ll find him to be a good servant, and a best friend to writers. Without him, you’ll find the going to be tough, or even impossible.
It is no coincidence that many of the English language’s greatest writers came from wealthy families. Landed gentry living off passive income from their holdings have plenty of time to train in the author’s craft. They churned out masterpieces at their leisure, sometimes without leaving their beds.
(Don’t believe me? Consider Edith Wharton, who wrote almost all of her works in bed, dropping each finished page on the floor for her secretary to carry off, compile, and type.)
Other authors have needed to reach retirement age before they could ply their craft, unable to live the writer’s life without a pension to protect them.
Without large cash reserves, the people with the best chance of becoming professional authors are the ones whose employment already involves writing in some way. Journalists, copyeditors, advertisers—these tie money to their writing before they even consider putting out their own books.
No matter how you slice it, every potential author needs to start by learning the secrets of money.
But take courage, because making money is merely a skill, much like the skill of writing. If you’re intelligent enough to master writing, then you should also be capable of mastering money. And if you find yourself unable to learn the ways of money, you may rightly question whether you overestimate the quality of your writing.
Oh, come now. You don’t honestly expect me to teach you all there is to know about money in a single blog post, or even a series of blog posts. I may be fond of creating miniseries on this site, and I certainly have learned a thing or two about how money works, but dispensing any kind of money knowledge comes with a great and terrible risk.
The risk of getting sued.
It’s Illegal for Me to Help You
Allow me to state clearly that nothing in this post (or anything that I have ever blogged or tweeted or shared with you) can be considered “financial advice”.
I am not a fiduciary. I am not a financial advisor. And while I may be smarter than many financial advisors, I am forbidden from sharing any knowledge that might lift you out of poverty or deliver a better quality of life.
Because the rulers of the world hate it when that happens.
Luckily, there are many good sources out there that can tell you everything you need to know.
Unluckily, there are countless more bad sources that will give you rotten advice and cause you to lose all your money.
And—you guessed it—I am also not allowed to tell you which is which. It’s a liability thing. Sorry.
Then What’s the Point?
The point of this post is not to reveal how you are going to learn the ways of money. The point is to make clear that you need to make this a priority.
Nearly all of the greatest writers in history came into money first. That is documented. A lot of professional writers pass a trite saying on to amateurs: “Don’t quit your day job.” Yet, historically, a lot of authors had no need of a day job.
If a writer does learn money skills, and can sustain himself without losing one third (or more) of his day to a different career, he will have a monstrous advantage over other writers.
I know it seems daunting, but people have done this. You would need a really good reason to believe that you can’t. There is no other skill you should be learning before this. Not marketing. Not cover design. Not even writing.
And yeah, it’s completely unfair. Just like everything else under the sun. But if you don’t even try to succeed here, there’s little chance of you pulling off the feat of becoming a full-time author.
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