Writers Do Need Math (Don't Panic)

Laura Laing
Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash

Raise your hand if you’ve ever said anything like this: “I am no good at reading. I must not have what it takes to be a reading person.”

Ridiculous, right?

How about: “I stink at math. Some people are just good at it, and well, I’m not one of those people.”

I’m guessing more than a few of you don’t consider math to be one of your best buddies. Heck, most writers I know brag about the fact that they never had to take a college math course. Yet, like reading, we all — yes, even you — have what it takes to do everyday math. Even with an English, communications or journalism degree, you absolutely can (and must) do a few basic calculations here and there.

Don’t believe me? How about these examples?

Mind-Numbing Numbers

Imagine 513 Yankee Stadiums lined up side by side. Now picture each one filled to capacity, an adult or child in every, single seat. That’s a lot of people, right? In fact, it’s pretty close to the number of Americans who have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Now imagine that about two-thirds of these folks walk out. Those remaining? They represent the number of people who don’t know they have diabetes.

Look, numbers are great. But sometimes hard, cold facts are just that: hard and cold. As writers, our job is to help people understand complex and sometimes overwhelming information. It may be easy, but not be so compelling, to report that 25.8 million children and adults have diabetes and 7 million of these don’t even know it. Paint a picture that readers can remember, and it’s very likely they learned something.

The Almighty Hourly Rate

There’s no greater debate among freelance writers or authors than how we set our fees. Fact is, there’s no one-size-fits all answer. At times, a per-word rate is all we’ll get. At other times, we can work up a project fee. And then there’s the hourly rate, often reserved for those clients with very deep pockets.

But knowing your hourly rate is a really powerful tool that can help you assess the value of any gig. All you need is a little bit of math.

So let’s say you’ve been offered a 300-word article at $1.50 per word. That comes to $450 for the whole thing. If your hourly rate is $100, you’d better spend only 4.5 hours on this story, or you’ll be giving away your time.

No one is suggesting that writers need to enroll in a pre-calculus course or invest in a graphing calculator. The biggest favor that most writers can do for themselves is simple: lose the fear. The math you will have to do in order to engage your readers, land more gigs and make more money has nothing to do with variables or triangles.

So I challenge you all. Next time you catch yourself thinking, “I can’t do math,” try countering that negative thought with something a little more encouraging. No one is saying it’s easy. But when it comes to your craft and your bank account, doing a little bit of math sure is worthwhile.