The Not-So-Glamorous Life of a Freelance Writer
Not a big surprise, my dream was to be a writer. A fiction novelist to be exact. In my mid-twenties I completed my first novel and carried out the tedious details of trying to get an agent or a publisher. For a first try with no previous published work I came pretty damn close. I got all the way to having the entire work requested by a well-known publisher (won't say which one but there was an animal involved in the name) only to receive a kind-worded but heart-breaking rejection letter. Like any quick tempered, irrational girl in her twenties I vowed that was the end of my attempt at writing ever again. It didn't even matter that short stories I entered in the Writer's Digest Annual contest prior to this let down ended up coming in 2nd and 3rd place later that year among over 17,000 entries world-wide.
Nothing like a girl in her 20's and a dramatic exit...
Of course once a writer always a writer (except apparently the ever elusive Harper Lee author of To Kill a Mockingbird). In my 30's it became apparent I was stuck with this curse but was going to have to approach it from another angle. While still dabbling in short fiction and eventually publishing (ok, self-publishing) a collection of short fiction I knew I wanted to write for a living. I am not made up mentally to be able to handle a normal 9-to-5 and the same goes for college. This meant reconsidering the world of freelance writing in hopes of doing what I love.
Previously I had written this option off as something I was unwilling to do as it was “too commercial”. Something about being in your 30's and having to seriously consider returning to retail management made writing about topics or taking writing projects I never would have seem completely acceptable. So here I am, 37 and struggling to launch a career as a freelancer. I have completed a copywriting course through AWAI (which I highly recommend but wish included job placement) am now in the bidding war on several different freelance sites while in the meantime writing articles for a dollar every 500 words. This is where someone would have said “don't quit your day job” but I didn't have one to quit. In my “freetime” (the snipplets of time I am not writing about topics I know nothing about and spending more time researching than writing for sweatshop wages) I write articles of interest to me for Constant Content in hopes of selling pieces at slightly higher amounts.
You may be wondering why I am doing this (as am I sometimes) but it is all in hopes of building up a resume of my work and establishing credibility so that I can take on better paying projects. My friend who convinced me to try this writes sales letters that earn him around $1500 a project, he just failed to mention the hard road that leads to that point.
My purpose in writing this is to give a realistic view of what becoming a freelance writer means. Of course not everyone has to struggle this much in the beginning, but the point is if you love writing you may have to go through this. As soon as I completed my first $1 article that took 4 hours to research and write I wanted to cry. But that was the moment I had to decide if I should continue to pursue this madness or start sending out resumes at the local mall. So far, I am sticking with it.
So here is my advice to anyone considering taking this path...
Treat this like starting your own business. If you can maintain a full or part time job until things fall into place, do so. If not think about other start-ups. While they may have more cash flow coming in, they have probably had to sink a sizable amount of money into the launch for either renting a space and/or inventory. In the world of freelance the investment is your time. But you had better be willing to give to the cause. That means writing daily, even if you aren't getting paid to keep your skills sharp and stay in a routine of writing. But remember even my friend who gets those $1500 projects often invests 12 hour days to meet deadlines. Of course the pay off is being able to not take gigs back-to-back to recover from the previous job and prepare for the next. And honestly, there are people who write sales letters that take much less time and earn a great deal more money, but it is all about being able to get there.
Hopefully this has given some insight to anyone interested in or starting off as a freelance writer. That's all the time I have – there are 5 articles about soccer at $1 a piece waiting for me to write.