I lasted about 22 months as a paid freelance writer before I finally called it quits.
I think every aspiring writer should freelance, if they’re able, if they want the experience. I’m not here to bash the industry as a whole. There simply came a point where I realized I’d learned and gained everything I was going to learn and gain from seeking out new clients. So I stepped back.
I write in the health sciences and nutrition niche, so my experiences and viewpoints might differ a lot from yours. But I wanted to share the reasons behind my decision to focus on my job, my blog, and my own personal projects instead of earning extra money working with businesses to create content.
I got tired of writing product reviews and sales pages. A common reason why businesses hire freelancers in the health space is to sell their products. That doesn’t really align with my mission statement, especially working with businesses trying to sell supplements and programs I don’t agree with. Forget quality content, they just wanted to make money, not teach people how to be healthy. That’s not where I want to focus my energy. I’m trying to build a career here.
Half my clients couldn’t pay me. They stopped giving me work “temporarily” because they couldn’t afford my hourly rate. While I appreciate the honesty (at least I’m assuming they were telling the truth), and the fact that they didn’t ask me to work for free, I think this speaks to the many flaws with freelancing for online audiences. If you aren’t willing to pay writers what they’re worth … good luck.
My credentials didn’t matter — they actually gave me a disadvantage. Many prospective clients would have rather hired someone without credibility in the health space than someone with a master’s degree because people without experience charge lower hourly rates. I’d started working with a few high-profile clients where this wasn’t the case, but a few clients isn’t enough to pay the bills.
I was lucky enough to have a full-time job to fall back on. Compared to clients who barely paid me, weren’t interested in growing with me or establishing meaningful professional relationships, didn’t respect my expertise and couldn’t have cared less about their readers, I was happy to say yes to writing for a media company and goodbye to everything else.
I wasn’t happy. I dreaded logging into my email every evening. I had to work seven days a week to keep up with my clients’ demands. And I wasn’t producing content I was proud of. These are all signs it’s time to quit. Forget money, forget exposure — if you aren’t happy, continuing is a very reckless and self-sabotaging move.
I have other, bigger, better projects in mind. I wasn’t happy with the amount of effort I was(n’t) putting into this blog. I have big plans and perks for my Patreon supporters and casual readers alike. I also want to create other things I wouldn’t have time to work on if I had to keep answering to a dozen “bosses.” Also … there are a lot of unread books hiding in boxes in my room. So there’s that.
In the beginning, none of these things really mattered. But once I achieved the two things I really sought to achieve as a freelancer — building up my savings in my early 20s and landing a full-time writing job in my niche of choice — honestly, I just didn’t need it anymore.
I’m very fortunate to be in that place, when just two years ago I couldn’t get a paid writing job to save my life. And I have freelancing to thank for how much I have grown as a writer and as a human being.
Whether you’re trying to transition from a full-time job to freelancing or you’re just trying to make extra money while you figure out how writing fits into your life, always remember that a writing job is never worth sacrificing your happiness or your goals. Yes, you’re going to have stretches of misery along the way (I believe it’s a rite of passage). Yes, sometimes, you have to do what you have to do.
But make it a point to work hard enough that you have the option to choose where you dedicate your creative energy. Whether you end up freelancing or blogging full-time or starting a business or publishing a book. Those of you who have been here for a few years likely remember how much I struggled. I never thought I’d be in this position. But I worked harder than I probably should have to get here. Now I can say, “Writing that doesn’t fulfill me,” and I’m in control of whether or not I have to put up with it.
If you’re feeling underpaid, undervalued, disrespected, and miserable — I’ve been there. All you can do is take writing one day at a time. You’re going to have to put up with a lot of garbage. But that’s how you get to the better stuff on the other side.
I still get put down on Twitter all the time by experts who think I don’t understand science because I’m not well-known, or I’m young, or I’m a woman, or whatever their excuse is. That stuff never ends. But I only have to swallow it in bite-sized pieces now. I’ve paid my dues. I’ve survived the obstacle course. I hope you can, too. I hope you make it through. I believe in you. I hope you believe in you, too.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.