In school, I won writing awards, got the highest grades on writing assignments, and even did a little writing in my free time.
Throughout school and into my adult life though, I wondered what work I was meant to do, what talent I had, completely negating my knack for writing.
The first thing I really had my mind set on was Cryptozoology. For those of you that don’t know what that means, dictionary.com defines it as, “the study of evidence tending to substantiate the existence of, or the search for, creatures whose reported existence is unproven, as the Abominable Snowman or the Loch Ness monster.”
I loved reading about ghosts, goblins, monsters, and ghouls since I was old enough to read and thought studying them would be a viable career choice.
The next thing was an actual zoologist, I wanted to travel to different countries collecting samples from various dangerous animals for disease cure research…that didn’t pan out either.
I’ve worked in a daycare, restaurant, café, dental office, and as an advertising executive for a print and digital media company.
Nothing felt like it clicked. Call me a millennial, I know that to older generations believe you should find a good paying job with benefits and work until you die, but hell no I won’t do that.
A little over 6 months ago, my husband and I went on vacation to the mountains and had a fantastic time. We took plenty of pictures, drank ourselves under the table, hiked, shopped, and the like.
On the 13-hour drive home, we did what we always do on our road trips–we listened to scary stories on YouTube.
We laughed and talked about the vacation adventures we had and how we wished we could do this more often. Then a story came on in which the main character talked about backpacking through different mountain ranges and how she was able to sustain herself financially through her freelance writing career.
A bit of backstory is needed here I guess, my husband has always told me that I should write. Hearing this story at that time, with my husband in the car, was the catalyst for the crazy life decision I made to quit my job a few months later.
Through almost a full 6-months in the biz, what have I learned? More importantly, what experiences have I gone through that could help other writers?
Lesson # 1: You will be stolen from
Maybe ‘stolen from’ is a bit of an overstatement, but that is exactly the feeling you’ll get when it happens to you.
It is almost inevitable that through your search and desperation at times for work, you’ll work for someone, provide them your very best content, and never get paid.
I wrote for someone on a job bidding website and provided them with over 5,000 words in the course of a week. At the end of the week, when it was time to get paid, they disappeared. They deleted their account.
I was sick to my stomach. Not only did I need the money, I DESERVED the money. I worked hard doing research and writing specifically the way they wanted and didn’t see a dime.
That’s not even the worst part. I copied a section of what I had written and searched it on Google. That sorry son of a bitch published MY work in someone else’s name and didn’t even pay me for it.
The reason I’m telling you this is to let you know that you can try to prevent this from happening by being smart, using reputable websites and job boards, and trusting your gut.
If this does happen or has happened to you, the way you handle the situation will determine your career moving forward. I cried. Then I cried some more, emailed the website who told me they couldn’t help me, that I shouldn’t risk working with “unverified” job posters.
Then, I deleted my account on that website and began applying for more jobs elsewhere. And…I got more jobs!
Lesson # 2: You will be criticized
I don’t mean criticized by an editor, that’s part of the territory and necessary to producing good content.
I mean criticized for your decision to do a job that a lot of people don’t look at as a job. “Oh, you’re a blogger?” Well, no. I’m not just a blogger…I write for a magazine, I help companies with content marketing online, I even ghostwrite (which, side note, my 8-year-old step son thinks means I write about ghosts lol).
This job is just as valid and just as hard as any other. I’m responsible for creating content geared with a specific purpose to help companies reach their goals, again I don’t just blog. Middle fingers to those people (figuratively), keep writing kick-ass content and move on.
Lesson # 3: You will be paid less than you are worth
When you start out at something, it is expected that you receive the bare minimum payment for that job. That’s the beauty of working for yourself is that you can determine how much you’ll accept.
The problem is, when a writer first starts out, no matter how good they are, they’ll often cut themselves short in order to put together work to go in their portfolio. That’s fine for a little bit, but don’t fall into the trap of perpetually crappy pay.
I worked with a client that promised one thing and then delivered another. Almost from the start, the work started piling on. It went from “We want you to write for our blog” to eventually, “We want you to pitch, write, format, find photos, write social copy, write email copy, interview people for quotes…all for the same pay.” We had to amicably part ways because what I was getting paid wasn’t equal to the amount of work I was doing.
Don’t be a brat–don’t expect a huge payment for little work, but also know when it is time to step away from a client that isn’t paying you what you deserve.
Lesson # 4: You don’t work for clients you work with clients
As a freelancer, whether part time or full time, you are essentially running a business. Your business has a service that another business needs and you get paid in return.
Why is this distinction important?
You will undoubtedly work with people that treat you like crap. You will have clients that absolutely treat you as an employee.
You dear, are not an employee. The best work I’ve done for clients has been through collaborative efforts with professional people that understand the difference between working for and with someone.
Do I start every email off with, “Let’s get one thing straight here, buddy–I don’t work for anybody but me, you hear?!”
I just speak as if I am a business owner, speaking to another business owner and we find a way to work together for kick-ass content.
Lesson # 5: This is the best job you’ll ever have
Finally connecting with my talent after years of wondering what I was supposed to be doing was like a surge of lightning. I’ve heard so many people say as they beamed with pride, “I am a baker, I am a doctor, I am an architect, I am an artist.” I didn’t have that ability until now, it was always this is what I do, not who I am.
Now I can say that.
I am a writer.
There are a lot of challenges that come with this job, from not getting paid, finding work, and working with a myriad of personalities, but I would not trade what I do for anything in the world.
If you are a writer, too–I know you understand.
Just a little advice, as I’m fairly new at this too, to new writers: If you love to write, if every time you complete a piece you read it and feel an immense sense of accomplishment and pride for the work you’ve created–find your way around the challenges and pitfalls of this career and keep writing, because this is the best job you’ll ever have.