Turning a hobby into income

I’ve often asked myself what I wanted to do after I “retire” because retirement means different things to different people. I talk about retirement and financial independence interchangeably because to me they mean similar things; it’s a time where you have the option to quit your day job and do whatever you actually want to do with your life.

The goal for me is to reach financial independence and then decide if I want to transition into early retirement or continue working. I think a lot of people want to quite their job as quickly as possible but I often wonder if they ask themselves what they’d do with their time if they quit? There’s a reason that a lot of millionaires and billionaires continue doing…something long after they’re financially settled and that reason has to do with boredom.
I’m in the middle of an extended vacation right now. It’s great not going to work but it’s also quite boring at times. Historically, in my free time, I am a professional at wasting time away by sitting on my ass while watching TV, playing video games or surfing the net. I’m on this journey for financial independence and early retirement and yet I’ve never really thought about what I want to do with the time after that.

Doing nothing sounds pretty appealing right now as I head back to work but I’m not so sure it’s something I’d want to do for the rest of my life.

Now that’s not to say that the alternative is awesome.
Working a 9-5 gig in an office isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time either and while some enjoy the hell out of it and don’t mind doing it until they’re 65, I’m not one of those people.
I’m lucky enough in that I have a job that I somewhat like at the moment but if I had the option of this versus something nothing without financially worry; I’d choose nothing. Nothing means no office politics, not having to get up at 7 A.M. on a snowy cold day and all the other BS that comes with office work. I think that’s the dream for most people – no more office work but what exactly does that mean? If I’m not working in an office then what the hell am I doing with my day? I bet a lot of people have a ready answer to that but I really don’t and that’s something I want to change this year.
If you’re one of those people who have it all figured out then I bet your answer has something to do with one of your hobbies. These can be anything from traveling, blogging, gardening, working on cars, or whatever interests you. I think if you ask people what they want to do after they retire, you’ll get an answer that includes hobbies in one way or another. I want to garden more, I want to read more, I want to travel more, etc.
I’ve spent some time the last few weeks asking myself this same question. It’s easy to say I want to retire early and start saving for that retirement but I also wanted to define what that retirement would include. For me, it’s not as easy as saying, I’m done working, now I’m going to sit, hang out, go on walks and read because I think(and know through experience in college) that I’d get bored of that rather quickly.

I want something more out of life, I want my personal growth to continue when I quit the office grind. I think a lot of people don’t realize how beneficial your job is as a driver of personal growth. I know I’ve become quite a different person in the past ten years and I think a lot of that is due to my job environment and the things it forces me to do and endure. I’ve struggled with social anxiety through my teenage years(forget about presentations!) and have learned to deal with it through my job because it puts me out there and allows me to practice things I’d never otherwise practice in a structured environment.

I’m not a social butterfly in general and having to get out there every day and talk to people has made me a much better speaker, presenter and overall a better person to be around. All I’m saying is that jobs aren’t all bad and you get a lot of benefits besides a paycheck if you look for them.

It’s certainly not all great and frankly a lot of it sucks ass and if I won three million dollars tomorrow, I’d be out the door in a second BUT there’s structure there that helps you manage your life better and stimulation that your brain sorely needs to grow and be healthy. I may not appreciate a lot of it but I appreciate those parts. I want those parts to still be in my life when I do ultimately give up the 9-5 gig and transition into something else.

And that’s where writing comes into play. These questions around what I actually want to do when I finally pull the plug on retirement ultimately come down to a hobby that I’ve enjoyed since my teenage years and that’s writing. I don’t mean the type of writing I do on this blog although I do enjoy that as well, I mean publishing short stories and novels; creating characters and worlds.
Starting this blog has made me realize that the road to financial independence and early retirement isn’t that easy. Limiting expenses to maximize savings rate isn’t all that fun either as I live the type of life I want now and I’m not in a rush to be super frugal now to enjoy life later. I want to enjoy life now and enjoy life later as well. That presents a  challenge since the only other avenue to increase savings rate is to make more money. I do expect raises and career progression in my job that will help that but I also don’t want to transition into a life where my job becomes my entire life. That means there’s a maximum I can expect to earn without transitioning into middle or upper management and maximizing my income.

However, there is an alternative path to improving income and that’s taking my hobby and trying to convert it into income! The internet has created opportunities that didn’t exist before for people with a certain skill set. Whether you write, create music or video content, program, stream video games or whatever you can take that skill and earn money off of it in ways you couldn’t do before.

There is a whole new subset of self established earners that are making money off of their talents through the wonders of the internet and writing allows me to do that as well.

Back in 2013, I first dabbled in self-publishing my stories via the various self-publishing platforms. I wrote a few stories, learned how to format and publish them on the various websites(amazon kindle publishing, smashwords, nook press, apple, etc.). It was all relatively easy, I wrote, formatted and clicked some buttons that allowed people to buy them. Indie publishing was all the rage back then and I wanted to jump on the bandwagon and see if I could do it.

Within a few months, I was making $100+/month writing short stories and novellas but ultimately as my laziness got the better of me, it all fizzled out and I stopped writing. Writing is fun but it’s also work and I began to realize that and my younger self preferred to just sit on my ass and play video games or watch TV.

I didn’t have the drive to stick with it and see where it would lead me. I spent about four months total writing, published about a dozen stories and then stopped even dropping an almost finished novella. Self-publishing isn’t the perfect way to generate passive income as you have to continue to produce content to drive people to your sales channels and eventually my income began to fizzle out but still the payments from amazon kept coming even if they slowed down a lot. Even this month I made about $10 from stories I wrote almost four years ago. It’s not a lot but it made me wonder what would have happened if I stuck with it.

I think I’m an OK writer and there was obviously a market for what I was putting out there. I went back recently and tracked down all my payments from the various sales channels and my four month endeavor yielded about $2000 in earnings. I don’t remember how much time I spent writing but it wasn’t a ton since I’m a pretty quick writer. There are also expenses here, I had to buy stock photos to use as covers and use websites like fiverr to get covers designed but the overall net profit was still far north of $1500.

That doesn’t seem like a lot but it wasn’t a lot of work overall and self-publishing is a business model that builds upon itself. The more stories and novels you have, the more chances you have to get click through sales via amazon also bought sections and similar sections on other websites. The more stories you continue publishing, the more likely you are to show up on amazon new top seller lists and the various other such lists on other channels. The reality is that you have to keep writing to keep earning and stopping means you lose a lot of momentum. As such this isn’t true passive income but that’s not what I’m aiming for with this.

The point I’m trying to make here is that I know it’s possible to make money using one of my skills. I’ve done it before, it wasn’t a lot but it was more than 0 and more than 0 is something that would help improve my savings rate and that’s of interest to me now. On top of that it’ll help me grow as a writer and that’s the main driver here.

I’m a different person now than I was back then and my priorities have changed. I didn’t have this idea of financial independence or early retirement in my head back then and I didn’t appreciate the extra income and the potential for more of it down the line. I was lazy, unmotivated and unstructured and it showed in my approach to the craft.

I look at my future now and I ask myself what I want to do when I retire and if the answer is writing then I have to realize that I simply won’t be a good writer at 45 if I don’t practice. I haven’t written much in the past few years and that’s a shame because it’s a lot of years lost that I can never get back. If I want to be a serious writer later on in life, I have to practice and the best way to do that is to simply write.

That’s what I’m going to do in 2017. I’m going to write and I’m going to edit and I’m going to publish and see if I can get anyone to buy my stories like they did in 2013.

This is something I’ve had on my mind for at least a month now when I started thinking about 2017 goals. I probably have the same goals as many others in this community. I want to improve myself but I also want to improve my savings rate to get that freedom date moved up and this helps me kill two birds with one stone. I can be a better writer by writing and I can potentially earn more income by self-publishing the things I write.

It all won’t be good but the feedback I can get via reviews and emails from my readers will be key in helping me become a better writer. I looked back on some of the things I wrote years ago and read some of the reviews and they weren’t bad. The reality is that you have to be pretty good to make some money in this world as there are thousands of other people doing the same thing and it’s easy to get lost in the clutter. There is potential to make money but maybe I was just lucky in 2013 and this won’t lead to anything and yet I can’t help but want to try.

I’ve seen what tracking can do for my portfolio and asset allocation in this blog and I know how much of a motivator it can be to lay things out publicly and track them monthly.

I plan to do that with my writing as well. This will never become a blog to advertise my writing. I will never share my pen names or anything like that; that will always remain secret and any sales will be generated naturally without advertising. I want this to not only help me grow as a writer but to be a test of whether or not I can make money with a side hustle like writing without outside influence if I stick with it for at least a full year.

I want this next year to be a test to see if I can be a successful writer. It’ll be a full year of writing, publishing and tracking.

I have an advantage here that I have a background in self-publishing, know how it works and know how to do but that advantage is nothing if I don’t commit to writing on a daily basis.

It’s almost 2017 now and I’ve had this thought in my head for at least a month now and to get going, I started writing again on 12/4/2016. I’m finishing up a novella and a few short stories.

I’ve written over 60000 words since that day and just published my first new story today with more novellas on the way. The goal is to write and/or edit for at least one hour every day and so far, I’ve met that goal since I started.

This blog won’t change, it will still be about my journey to financial independence and early retirement but if I can get there earlier by self-publishing and writing then why not try? If this can help me reach my life goals faster then it’s worth doing even if I fail.

Worst case scenario, I sell little to nothing but I become a better writer. Or I simply realize that it’s not something I really want to do when I quit my job and that’s better learned now than after I quit my job and have nothing to fall back on but boredom.

I’m going to approach this like a 2nd job – something I have to do every day without fail in order to make ends meet and hit my goals. I plan to track my progress each month like I do with my dividends, portfolio and savings rate.

I’ll do a post about 2017 goals in a week or two and will make sure to include some writing goals as well to show commitment to this.  If I can make some extra money and boost my savings rate while developing my writing skills then this should be an endeavor well worth doing!


6 thoughts on “Turning a hobby into income

  1. Hi timeinthemarket,

    I think this is a great plan! It will give personal growth rewards as well as financial rewards. It's a lot easier to self-publish books now, I guess the hardest thing is standing out from the crowd.

    Best wishes,

  2. Very well thought out post here. I think one of the main advantages to being on the PATH to financial independence (and not there yet) is that while you definitely need the $$, you also have plenty of time to figure out what's next. Super intimidating for me as well. Congrats on exploring your new path. I think you've laid it out correctly, there is no downside to giving it a shot. Good luck!

  3. Having a hobby that can bring in a little bit of income is a great side gig. I had a little bit on Etsy for a while which was bringing in around 50 a month. It was quite nice, but the work load just wasn't quite worth the time it was costing me. I had other plans to upscale but just never got around to it.

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