I grow less and less certain about what would be considered 'normal' or 'average' for a working writer, and this eye-opening article certainly helped give me some perspective, so I thought I might share some of my own.
For a start...
There's More To It Than Just The Writing
I'm an author and screenwriter. My first graphic novel came out three years ago, and I helped co-write a second one about a year later. Something not immediately clear is that in addition to actually producing content, a writer is also (frequently) responsible for being their own PR agent. To wit, the size of your readership is up to you to cultivate.
There are classes on the subject, on how to appeal to readers, knowing what to give away, and how to (hopefully) lure you guys in with something worth your time. Because that's what you're really giving us: your time and attention. I want to make damn sure it's being well spent.
Finishing The Job Guarantees Nothing
Before you leap to "Well that's depressing", that's not my point. It's simply that finishing off a project (such as a horror script) and getting it approved by the producer who paid you for it doesn't guarantee the picture is going to get made straight away (if at all). That's okay. It's showbiz, that's literally how it goes.
It does NOT diminish what you've done, in any way, shape, or form. You still wrote a quality script, and more importantly, SOLD it.
It extends to publishing, as well. Finishing your manuscript, getting those last pages approved, doesn't mean the job is done. IF you have a publishing deal in place, fantastic, but there can be delays for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with you, or the quality of your work.
Being Easy To Work With Changes Everything
As with any line of work— especially freelance work— it is vitally important that you be easy to work with, for one key reason: It frequently leads to more work.
I wrote a horror script on spec for a producer in the late winter of '13. Despite following the outline that was approved, the script itself wound up being, "not what we had in mind". We had a contract in place, my work was done, and I was still getting paid. I would have been justified to say "Too bad, pay me. Enjoy your script you don't like." BUT, by staying flexible and making it clear that satisfying the client was my priority, we found a much better arrangement.
Specifically, I went to to the producer with the following offer: "I'm confident I can deliver to you the script you want. Let's use another outline from our list and start fresh." (In this case, it was preferable to picking apart the existing script.) He agreed to this, and was extremely pleased with the script he received.
"But Casey," you may think, "You just wrote a script for free!" Not so. Ownership of the first script— which I quite liked, and they weren't interested in anymore— passed to me, and I've been marketing it in my own time, ever since.
More to the point, the Producer was impressed with how flexible I'd been, not taking things personally, and the arrangement extended to doing paid edits on two more scripts, extending our working arrangement for several months.
Comparing Your Career To Others' Can Get Depressing, So DON'T DO IT
So after working for a few years full time as a screenwriter, the river of freelance work began to dwindle, and I resorted to getting a day job. For a while, I was in a bit of a funk, wrestling with the thought, I'm a writer. If I'm not making this my living, I'm a failure.
I cannot tell you how relieved I was to know that I wasn't the only one who worked full time in spite of being able to find writing work on a regular basis. The 21st century's an expensive time to be alive. I learned that my comparisons to other writers'— their productivity, and whether or not their writing was their sole source of income— wasn't based on anything accurate. I felt better almost immediately. It is okay if you keep a day job while you continue writing.
You Can Do This, If You Want It Bad Enough
I guess the point here is that there is nothing stopping you from pursuing the career you want, so long as you commit to doing what's necessary, and acknowledge that there are going to be aspects of the work that won't be in your control. Working with realistic expectations certainly helps... even if it lacks a certain romance.
A professor of mine at college told me something I've never forgotten, and he'd been working as an actor professionally at various levels of success / income for over two decades, at that point. "If you are working, and working at your craft, you are not a failure. The only people who are failures are the ones who give up." The same advice holds true in pursuing a writing career.
I hope this message helps, if you're struggling. You can totally do this. You just have to keep at it.