“The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.” – Robert Benchley
Like many writers, I’ve been writing pretty much since I was old enough to hold a pencil, and before that, I dictated my stories, poems, and essays to my unfailingly patient grandparents to write down for me. If you’d asked me what I wanted to be in 3rd grade, I’d have told you that I wanted to be a writer. By high school, I’d realized that “novelist” might be another word for “broke” unless I was very lucky, but I still wanted to write, so I joined my high school newspaper and changed my focus to print journalism. These days, you might recognize that as yet another word for “broke”. By college, I’d more or less let the idea of professional writing go, and had my sights set on a safe job, like teaching English.
The years went by and life got away from me. I had my oldest son, got married, had two younger children. I worked in early childhood education and then ended up as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home, a vocation that I would stay in for more than half a dozen years. I returned to college to finish my degree, this time with the intention to become a nurse myself. After all, it was a job that would always have openings, I thought, and I needed the stability. And I did enjoy caregiving. So what if it wasn’t my dream job? Who cared if the office politics were brutal and my back hurt every night? It was steady work that I could count on. And I didn’t hate it, even when it was hard. By that time, the thought of writing professionally wasn’t even a thought in the back of my head.
In 2010, I lost the nurse’s aide job that I’d had for years. I was on unemployment, then severely underemployed in an “adult novelty” store, then unemployed again. By 2012, I was in big trouble. The unemployment was running out, there were no jobs in sight, and I could barely afford to go and look for work. I had no idea what my next move should be. That’s when I had what I think of as my big break — the break that reminded me of my passion for writing and got me out of the brick-and-mortar job spiral.
I was (and still am) a member of a small debate forum. I go there to debate and argue about politics, religion, parenting, and current events, mostly with other moms, a few dads, and some assorted others. I’ve been a member there for years now, and the other members are my friends. They knew how worried I was and what my situation was. And one day, one of them sent me a message that changed everything.
This particular friend is a freelance writer. She has her own site, takes on mostly private clients, and does well for herself. She was actually doing so well that she could afford to outsource her work. She said that years of reading my debate posts suggested to her that I might be up for the job, and did I want to try it? The pay was good for a small amount of work, so I accepted. Doing so let me rediscover how much I enjoyed writing and researching.
When I say that that one message changed everything, I wasn’t kidding. Of course, my friend didn’t have enough extra work to create a full time income (though, to this day, she’s my favorite client) but she was the first person to let me know that writing on the internet could pay (until that time, I honestly hadn’t known that was a possibility) and she was kind enough to point me in the right direction to find other jobs. I’ve since discovered just how very lucky I was for that, because internet writers are rarely interested in sharing their income streams (you can expect more commentary on that in another post.) Within six months, I was making the equivalent of a 40 hour a week minimum wage job, and it’s only gone up from there. Suddenly, not only did I not need a “real job” anymore, I didn’t even want one. The world where I broke my back and punched a clock every day looks miles away now, and I can’t imagine ever returning to it.
This was a long first post, and it’s after midnight in my corner of the internet. I could probably say so much more, but it will have to wait for another day. I’m shooting for at least a post a week, so I’ll return soon enough.