How I became a full-time writer, part two
This is the rest of the story that started about becoming a full-time writer when I walked out of a job I hated.
If you are mainly interested in becoming a full-time writer, click here.
I am a full-time writer. People think it’s super glamorous and Steven-Kingy or J.K.-Rowlingesque, but it’s not that kind of writing. I ghost-write blog posts for technology thought leaders and have a couple of other writing projects on the side. The thought leaders’ stories are usually really interesting: The topics are cloud computing and artificial intelligence. My other work is more personal.
Detour along my path
However, before I got back to where I am today, I had a little detour back into sales for two years, and marketing for another 10, but I never gave up writing. (If you want to be a writer, you must write. All the time, even if no one reads your work.) I had four books published during that time. Let me share something with you about publishing books, though. You will not get rich doing that unless you are like Steven King or J.K. Rowling. Most authors who publish books either have a passion for the stories they’re telling (me) or use their books to position themselves as industry pundits or launch their public speaking career. Most authors will not even make a profit from their books, if you consider all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into writing a book. There’s a detailed discussion on that here. I have made more money as a columnist and contributor to anthologies than I have off my own book sales. (Note that my books are compilations of my columns and stories from the anthologies because I only sell first rights, so in a way I did already get paid to write the books.)
During the time I was working in technology marketing, a large part of my role was to publish customer testimonials. While I mostly had other people doing the writing, I made sure to keep my hand in the craft by writing and publishing a corporate newsletter.
How I came full circle
I got laid off. It wasn’t anything personal; it was just my time. The company I worked for had rolling layoffs and it was either me or someone else on the team. (She got laid off the following year.) I was offered a position as a contractor (where I could continue telecommuting), and some other severance benefits, which included career counseling.
During career counseling, I took a bunch of self-assessments and participated in workshops and talked with a career counselor. She helped me get my LinkedIn profile and resume interview ready and I began talking with prospective employers.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” Thankfully, it was a phone interview so I could roll my eyes. I had been pacing around my family room, because I learned in sales that your voice sounds better a) when you’re smiling and b) when you’re standing up, but I stopped in my tracks.
I realized that I wanted to be more closely involved with the creative process. I didn’t want to be managing customer reference opportunities. I didn’t want to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire of another enormous global technology company.
I reported back to my career counselor who told me, “You’ve reached the point in your career where you can afford to be selfish.” I thought, “Well, if making money doing what you like to do is selfish then sign me up.” I pretty much gave up climbing the corporate ladder when I had kids. Now I am more than grateful to make a good living without having to leave the house.
I took the contract position and worked as a project manager for a year and a half before making the move to full-time writer. In between, I took some online classes (part of my severance benefits) and worked for some content mills. (I’m not proud – this was a seriously good experience for seriously horrible pay.) I’m back where I was 15 years ago, except the pay is better.
Getting started as a full-time writer
A lot of times when I tell people I’m a full-time writer, they tell me about the book they’ve always wanted to write. I love talking to people about the books they are writing, if they are actually writing them. Usually, we can relate about genre, publishing, or how do you find time to write? If they are in the someday-I’ll-write-it camp and don’t actually blog or journal, I simply tell them, “that sounds like an awesome story that I’d like to read someday.”
Sometimes people tell me about the book they think I should ghost write about their friend or relative and I have to explain I am not that kind of ghost writer. I remember being on vacation once years ago and telling someone I was a writer. Initially, she was all intrigued to hear all about my books (I didn’t have any published at the time), but when she found out I wrote datasheets and brochures, I could tell by her vacuous smiling and nodding that she’d checked out.
I imagine if you are reading this, you are not that “someday” person. You are likely interested in becoming a freelance writer.
First of all, you need samples
This is a conundrum because how can you get samples if you have never worked as a writer? Some people will tell you that you should start a blog and start writing about the topics that interest you. I agree with starting a blog, but it is a commitment to learn how to do it and to keep up with regular posting and develop it to a point where you’d want to show it off to prospective clients.
Alternately, work for a content mill for a little while so you can earn while you learn. A content mill is basically a company that hires a bunch of freelance writers to churn out content for its clients. I absolutely do not recommend content mills as a long-term strategy. They will suck the life out of you and crush your soul.
I have worked for both CrowdSource.com (which is now known as OneSpace.com) and WordAgents.com and scoped out many, many more of these sites, some of which only pay $0.009 a word. Yes, that is less than a penny! I have done projects for as little as $0.02 a word, which is highly undesirable. I used to charge $1 per word in the late 90’s for technical white papers. However, I’m comparing apples to oranges here. The low-paying content mill work does not require that I leave my house to attend meetings, make any phone calls, manage review cycles, or work at any particular time of day.
The benefit of working for content mills is that there are specific guidelines for writing that will ultimately make you a better writer. I learned about style guides, keywords/SEO, grammar, and how many sentences to put in paragraphs, and how many words to put in sentences. You can take assessments and earn certifications. I am not ashamed of having worked for content mills. I did so after I got laid off and to fill in some earnings gaps. Ultimately my confidence was buoyed.
You can read about some other writers’ real world experiences with Content Mills here.
Note: I have never joined a site where I have to pay to join – except flexjobs.com, at the recommendation of my career counselor (this site had plenty of writing jobs last time I looked and offers skills assessments). I have also never joined a site where I would be competing against other writers by underbidding them. That just seems wrong to me.
Then you need to pitch clients
Where do you find these clients? I regularly check Freelance Writing Gigs, and Pro Blogger or Blogging Pro are good sites for potential blog post jobs. You’ll get a sense of the going rate or you can check this out for a lengthy discussion about how to set rates.
I wouldn’t recommend quitting your day job to become a freelance writer unless you have a cushion in your bank account. The highs and lows make it too risky.
Note that while I am a full-time writer, with some freelance projects on the side, I am not a full-time freelance writer.
If you have any questions about getting started or want to share your own writing experience, please comment or contact me.