I earned $70 after completing my first job as a freelance writer.
Not knowing any better, I’d agreed to complete a series of articles (yes, I said a SERIES) for a client for literally pennies each.
That was, as I hope you can guess, a mistake. I did a lot of work (and, later, far too many revisions) for basically no money. By the time I’d successfully completed the job, I’d decided never to work with that client again — or anyone who preyed on new freelancers who were desperate enough for work to sign a contract that would pretty much earn them negative income.
But at the time, I was elated. That was the first time someone had actually paid me to write online content.
Up until that point, I’d worked as a student journalist, an intern, and a “contributing writer” (which usually implies, as was the case for me, you don’t get paid in funds). I was 23. I had 2 academic degrees. And I was struggling to turn writing into a job, even after working with my first few clients.
There’s only one thing that got me through that — the initial phase of writing professionally, when you’re nobody, you’re working with people who only want to work with you if you’re willing to agree to the absolute minimum stipend and you’re frustrated and angry all the time.
I kept telling myself, over and over again, that it was OK to write for pennies. Even for free. Because it would not, could not, be like this forever.
The first step to earning income as a writer is understanding that you cannot make a lot of money — or any money at all — in the beginning.
Often times, it’s best to write assuming you’ll never make a comfortable living doing it. It’s not that you can’t or that many people don’t. But a lot of new writers put way too much pressure on themselves to earn a living right away. You don’t need that kind of stress. Getting your stuff out there is hard enough already.
Once I stopped stressing about my weekly income, I started making more money. Ridding myself of that burden allowed me to focus on the most important thing in that moment: Writing good content, building experience, forming relationships with clients, and learning as much as I could about writing as a craft AND as a business.
I’ve mostly left the freelancing world for a much more stable, less draining writing job. But I will never forget those first few months. That first year, even. And even the years before that, when no one would pay me, but I had to keep writing anyway.
You are going to get through it.
It’s not going to be easy.
You’re going to have days when you hate the career path you’ve chosen.
But it does get better. Not everyone is trying to squeeze words out of you for as little money as possible. There are people and businesses and publications out there who really do care about hiring people who can write good stuff consistently for long periods of time.
You will get there.
Writing for free seems like a waste of time. But in the end, it’s actually an investment you won’t regret buying into.
I can help you make it through the early stages of your writing career. 3 Important Things All Writers Need to Learn In Their First Year You Don't Have to Love Your Day Job Things You Can (and Can't) Control As a Writer
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.