Artistic & Financial Sense: Scott Nicholson on Freelancing

Scott Nicholson has been writing professionally for a while now.  His first collection came out back in 1998, his first novel in 2002.  Since then he’s written a dozen more novels, three more collections, and diversified into comics, screenplays, and children’s books.  His most recent novels include Disintegration and As I Die Lying.

In November, I spoke with Nicholson about his free e-book, Write Good or Die, which is a collection of essays about everything from craft to the business of writing.  Nicholson gathered the essays from some of popular fiction’s biggest names and offers it up free as a way of thanking all the writers who’ve helped him throughout his ever-changing career.

Last week, Nicholson went full-time freelance.  It wasn’t really a plunge or a leap, so much as the culmination of a well-thought out plan.  Below, he talks about how things are going.

How long have you been working as a full-time freelancer and what sort of work do you do?

Scott Nicholson: Actually, I am in my first week, though I have been freelancing on the side for as long as I’ve been a writer. It finally made artistic and financial sense to go for it, and I also continue freelance editing on the side, so really, I am still working two jobs.

What is a typical day like for you?  How is it different than a traditional “day job”?

Scott Nicholson: The only difference is I get to wear sweatpants. I still spend a large part of the day essentially running a business, from product creation (writing) to marketing, accounting, file management, and checking in with partners and associates.

Is there anything you wish you’d known before you took the plunge into freelancing?

Scott Nicholson: Not really. It’s a little harder to set up a structured environment, but since I consider my job a hobby and a passion, it never really feels like work.

What are some of the frustrations of freelancing and how do you handle them?

Scott Nicholson: I haven’t met any significant frustrations yet, but since I’ve been planning this transition for years, there aren’t many surprises. I am sure there will be tight spots when the money doesn’t come on time, or things may collapse, but that could happen in a “day job,” too. You could walk in any day and get a pink slip.

What’s the best part?

Scott Nicholson: Really, not having to drive into town, getting in traffic jams, responding to someone else’s schedule or demands. That and wearing clothes with holes in them. I mentioned once that now I wouldn’t have to comb my hair, but a friend pointed out I wasn’t doing that anyway.

Is there a project that you simply couldn’t have pulled off if you’d been working at a full-time day job?

Scott Nicholson: I impose deadlines on myself and my partners; otherwise, it’s easy to lose a sense of urgency. I still work 60 or 70 hours a week just like before, but I am investing in my future.

A salary… is it friend or foe?

Scott Nicholson: A salary can seem like security until you break it down. Writers I know who quit writing were often people in “real” careers, like engineers or lawyers, who could never afford to give up the day job because they were in too deep. I never pursued a career because this was my career. So a salary is just as much of an anchor as it is a blessing. I may fail, but I plan to fail spectacularly, on my own terms.

Any parting words?  Words of encouragement or caution?

Scott Nicholson: I believe in a minimalist living, which is part of my philosophy. You don’t necessarily need to earn “more, more, more.” Look for ways you can cut costs, give up habits, or lower your requirements without suffering a loss in quality of life. Most people could live on half their current income if they paid off their debt, only bought items they could pay for with cash, and had a little garden. Expensive television, Internet, and cell phone plans keep a lot of people tied to jobs that make money for someone else instead of themselves.


Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher.  He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly.  He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.

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