This is a rehash of a blog post I wrote on another site years ago. Since I started on my writing journey decades ago, I often receive questions on how to get into writing. Assuming the person asking has a level of writing ability I skip a discussion on skills, but rather focus on the tangible needs every writer should consider when starting a writing business. Additionally, anyone interested in writing their own life story will benefit from these tools.
Before stepping into these essential business writing needs, it’s important to remember the things I won’t discuss here such as how you organize your business (LLC, sole proprietor, etc.), taxes, base of operations, etc. I’ll touch on it in a later post, but one of the first things to realize is that even though you are working from home, library, coffee shop, or wherever, you are still running a business. You should treat it as such. If you don’t you will suffer getting work completed, getting clients, and earning an income big enough to work from home. You’ve probably seen ads suggesting that “if you buy my program I guarantee you will make six figures as an at home writer.” Well, yes you can make that much money, but it comes with a lot of time, effort, research, persistence, experience, and yes, some luck. Most stay at home writers I know earn $30,000 to $50,000 a year. What I find in my own business is that it fluctuates greatly from one year to the next.
From the obvious to the curious, the items below are the basics to launch your career as a writer. As opposed to other businesses with high-overhead and start-up costs, a stay at home writer (or editor) is relatively low. A frugal person can start-up with less than $100. In fact, I knew one writer who worked from their local library with access to a computer and free internet. Someone who wants to work from home and have portability can start for as little as $500. A full-fledged writer who makes writing their sole business can start-up for less than $1000. If you want all the fun and funky gadgets out there $2000 will get you that and more.
These are my essentials. Have fun shopping, and don’t forget to share anything you use that you think me or others writers would love to have!
Laptop – $350 to $1500:
Can I be more obvious? In today’s world, if you don’t have a means of typing out documents you simply won’t make it as a writer. Sure, a laptop is only one type of computer you can use. The reason I say a laptop is indispensable to me is that I need the portability. I write on airplanes, coffee shops, client offices, and in various rooms in my house. However, when my laptops were stolen, I wrote at a library computer for six months, and at times I could only afford a computer that a friend built and had laying around his house. You don’t need to have an expensive laptop to start. You simply need the capability to have software such as Microsoft Office and good internet speeds. These are both available in the least expensive models. As you grow you may want to upgrade so you can handle any additional software.
Internet Capability – $40 a month:
To many people internet and Wi-Fi capability is more indispensable than a computer. This is your connection to clients and potential clients. Without internet you will have a world of trouble. One thing I suggest from experience is to have internet capability with as high a speed as you can afford. You never know your future work load. I had a client who required I log into their user interface to work on their projects. While it was easy to use, the interface internet speed requirements needed to be high. This may not be a big issue for most writers, but you never know what’s going to come up. While you can start at a lower speed I recommend at least 50mps download and 10mps upload.
Audio Recorder – $30 – $100 :
If you write books like I do you need to be a good listener, but above all, you need to recollect your interviews and discussions. This all comes down to having a good audio recorder. Your recorder should be digital and many will upload directly to their computer via a port or chord. A fancy recorder isn’t needed but after several interviews, you will quickly learn why they are better. I paid $100 in 2014 for an Olympus WS-802, and the recorder has handled over 400 interviews and about 800 hours of interviews. You can find digital recorders for $30 to several hundred dollars. Recorders typically range $30 to $100. You can even use your phone if you’d like, and I’ll have a suggestion below on a great transcription program to use with your phone.
Notebook and a Ton of your Favorite Pens – $10:
So, yeah. I’ll toss the old-school into my pile of needs. For some reason, there are things I require when I write. Having a notebook and pens handy helps me organize and take simple notes better than any app ever has. I use my notebook and pens to manage my schedule more than anything. The night before, I make a checklist of everything I need to complete the next day. As I talk to other writers I find that they have the exact same thoughts. I also carry a notebook with me to quickly jot down ideas, write outlines and basically use it as a laptop when I don’t bring my laptop with me.
Another benefit to a pen and notebook is jotting notes while you are interviewing. Interviewing should be focused on the interviewee, so it is important to allow the interviewee to talk while you jot down questions to keep the interview moving when it slows.
There are a lot of different programs you can use, and I am all about keeping it cheap. If you are budget minded, here are a few recommendations:
- Word processing software: Microsoft Office’s Word is great and very popular, but if you are looking for something easier and FREE try Google Drive. Yes, you will need to have a Gmail account, but Google Drive is very intuitive for Office users, and can be used to share documents. Plus, they offer comparable lines to Office such as Docs (Word), Sheets (Excel), and Slides (Powerpoint). Additionally Google Drive has all sorts of helpful functions such as Keep (notetaking), Tasks (checklists), and Calendar which can sync to your phone to manage your schedule. I love Google Drive and their apps. Best of all, they are free.
- Trint: In my opinion Trint is the best transcription tool out there. You can either pay as you go or pay a monthly subscription that you can start and stop as you go. This has halved my transcription times. Essentially you upload audio files to Trint and they transcribe. You then read the text while listening to the interview, making changes where the digital transcription didn’t transcribe correctly. Its user friendly, and for someone who does a lot of interviews absolutely a must. Additionally, the Trint app allows you to record and upload directly from your phone.
- Grammarly: Well, the fact is that most writers are not very good editors. Over time, that improves and one way to get there is by using Grammarly. They have a free and an annual subscription which is affordable. This editing tool not only allows you to make a decision on suggested changes but also provides reasons why you would or would not make a change and good examples.
Other helpful tools
While the items above I consider necessary, the ones following are very helpful, and at times I wouldn’t consider going without.
I have a fancy color laser printer, copier, fax with Wi-Fi capability and a bunch of fancy features. Over time I’ve come to need a lot of these extras. However, you can find simple printers with the same capabilities at reasonable prices. I’d say less than $50.
I prefer printing out pages for editing, and rewriting. If a client sends me hundreds of pages to review, this is also helpful for research. Reams of paper are pretty inexpensive, and I recommend laser printers for the number of pages that can be printed per cartridge.
I have a friend who at one time I counted four additional monitors attached to her computer. I thought it was crazy! But, the more I use dual screens the faster I realize I work.
I’m a big fan of USB hubs. They allow you to turn your single USB drive into multiple ports. I think they range from 3-5. Why is this helpful? I often have several ports needed throughout a year. My wireless mouse, Ipad for the dual screen, headphones for a Skype conversation, my recorder, and multiple other devices.
Sure, I mentioned this earlier with Google Drive. However, there are a ton of filing sharing tools out there. I like Google Drive because there is so much included, but other options are One Drive, Trello, and Dropbox. Take your time to research what is best for you.
This suggestion used to be for an external hard drive, but I’ve had two of those crash in the last few years and lost everything. So, I’m sticking to my shared cloud drives.
Writing Specific Software:
There are a lot of programs out there for writers. If you decide you want to specialize in something like novel or script writing I suggest you invest in a type-specific software like New Novelist, Scrivener, or Final Draft. Of these, New Novelist is the least expensive at about $45 and I use it for both novels and non-fiction. It’s, in my opinion, the easiest to use and best way for me to manage writing a book.
I’m sure there are several tools out there that I haven’t used, but in 20+ years probably not many. If you have a suggestion for tools you can’t live without, I’d love to hear your thoughts.