- When I was in journalism school, people told me frequently that I was studying a dying trade.
- By thinking outside the box, I’ve built a six-figure career freelance writing.
- Writing provides my family financial security and flexibility that I wouldn’t have in other jobs.
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When I was a child, I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a writer. I imagined long afternoons spent writing novels while sipping tea, interrupting myself only to head to an interview about my latest bestseller.
I enrolled in college as an English major, and every adult in my life balked. What would I do with an English degree? Teach? They scared me enough that I switched my major to journalism, but that did little to ease their minds — Newspapers? That’s a dying trade.
Despite the negativity, I couldn’t let go of my childhood dream. I was determined to be a writer.
And now, in my mid-30s, I’ve built a six-figure business around writing. I haven’t published a novel yet, but I’m still living my dream. Here’s how I’ve made it work.
1. I realized I could make the most money working for myself
I was lucky to go to a university where I had a lot of internship opportunities. I interned at a newspaper and a magazine before I graduated. Those clips allowed me to get a part-time job as a children’s television writer while I traveled through Australia.
I supported myself with that job plus income from freelance writing. I got varied experience, and a feel for the difference between being an employee versus being an independent contractor. I knew my favorite boss was the one I saw in the mirror each morning.
Still, when I got home, I felt pressure to get a “real job” that would prove the naysayers wrong and show that I could make a “career” from writing. I took an editorial role at a regional publisher of newspapers and magazines.
I was doing what everyone told me I should, but I was only making $13 an hour. It made no sense to me, since as a freelancer with little experience, I was getting paid about $125 per story, which usually only took me three hours to complete.
I quickly realized that the best way to make money by writing was to work for myself. I quit the newspaper gig after nine months and started freelancing full-time. My income increased every year, and I reached a six-figure income after about 6 years of being a full-time freelance writer.
2. I treat freelance writing like the business it is
Learning to run a successful business had a steep learning curve. My parents were self-employed, so I had some framework for what I would need to do. I set up a website, joined professional groups, and started reaching out to all my contacts to market myself.
I realized that my writing skills drew potential clients to me, but what made them stay was my business acumen. If I wasn’t responding to emails professionally, maintaining confidentiality, and — most importantly — meeting deadlines, they would find another writer.
That means I didn’t have the luxury of what I think of as “writer problems” — I can’t spend hours mulling over the finer points of plotting a story, or sit around waiting for inspiration to strike.
I have to write both quickly and competently every single day. Learning to just jump in helped me continue to grow my business.
3. I separate business of writing from my artistic pursuits
Here’s where my current life diverges from my childhood dream. I spend my days writing about many topics, including personal essays like this, to in-depth reporting on mental illness, to private marketing materials for brands that are household names.
I get to be creative, help people find reliable information, and bring attention to issues I’m passionate about. And yet, none of that work is my art.
In fact, it takes from my artistic pursuits, because I’m so focused on my business. I’ve had to realize that the art of writing and the business of writing are two entirely distinct realms. I am a writer, but I still felt out of touch with my artistic side.
Recently I’ve been blocking off one day a week for unpaid, creative writing. I’m my own patron, and the work I do four days a week allows me one full day to work on passion projects. I’m flexing creative muscles that I’ve let atrophy while I focused on building my business. I’m so grateful that I now have the financial security to make space for art.
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