How I Went from Writing Unpublishable Fiction to Full-time Freelancing

It took a long time for me to realize I would probably never be a great novelist.


When I was 14, I finished writing a book for the first time.

It was not a good book. But it was then that I decided I wanted to write more books, good ones, with hopes of getting them published someday.

For the next five years, that was all I wanted to do. I took creative writing classes. I attempted and won NaNoWriMo four years in a row. I thrived in my English major. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to write my way to a successful career.

Then I changed my mind.

I can’t say exactly what made me decide I didn’t want to focus on fiction writing anymore. My sophomore year, everything kind of changed. My English major was “too easy” (I don’t know why I thought that was a bad thing) so I added a second major. I started writing for my school’s newspaper. A year later, I started interning for a magazine. Novel writing just became a side project that really only mattered in November and July.

If you watched my Project for Awesome video last year, you already know that all kind of changed again my senior year of college. From the time I graduated in May of 2014 to May of 2015, I blogged for a food allergy company, edited magazine articles, took classes, wrote novels and snagged a full-time temporary data entry job. I was fine with not having a job that focused on writing, because it meant I could go home and write if I wanted to – but I didn’t have to.

Flash forward to a year ago, September 2015. No more temporary job (hence “temporary”). All attempts at finding another full-time job in writing or social media or anything communications related were unsuccessful, because I was in graduate school part-time and people don’t understand how online education works. I was focusing on my less-than-part-time job with the same magazine I’d interned with for three years, growing my blog, and finding places online that would let me write for free.

I figured that was better than nothing. Once I finished my novel from the previous few WriMos, I didn’t have much else to do. I never thought anyone would ever agree to pay me to write anything. I planned on finding a full-time job by the beginning of 2016. And when that didn’t happen, I had a not-quite-quarter-life-crisis. Out of that came the idea to try freelance writing.

That was not something I wanted to do, but trying to pay for grad school and student loan interests made it so I didn’t really have a choice. By the end of January, I had my first client. Then two. Now I’m working with anywhere from five to eight at any given time. I write and/or publish about 30 articles every week, and just this past week went full-time as a freelance writer and editor.

It’s not an unheard of transition. Many people who start out writing fiction figure out how impossible it is to publish an original manuscript, so they turn to something that utilizes their skills and (potentially) helps them pay for necessities.

It’s not unheard of, but I never thought I’d make that kind of decision. It took realizing that I was a better nonfiction writer and editor than I was a novelist to finally accept that you don’t have to rely on just one kind of writing in your life. It’s OK to change directions.

I’m still always working on some fiction writing project on my own time, little by little. Three times a year, I participate in WriMos to keep myself in the fiction writing loop. And while it’s a goal of mine to eventually be able to write, revise and edit a book to the point where sending out queries makes sense, it’s not something I plan on doing anytime soon. There’s just not enough time, and that’s OK, for now.

I haven’t given up on fiction. Giving up is a waste of time and skill. I make it a point to constantly work on a book or novella, even if I don’t make much progress in any given week. I don’t think I’ll ever stop telling fictional stories, because it’s honestly just part of who I am. I feel incomplete without writing fiction. But it’s been knocked down a few spots on my priority list. It’s still something I love, but not something I want to do all day every day. If I ever publish a full-length novel – great. If not, I’d be OK. I wouldn’t feel like I missed out on much. To me, writing a book start to finish, even if it’s unpublishable, is still an accomplishment.

Balancing fiction writing and freelancing is hard. You might be better at it than I am. Online writing could be my job for the next few months until I finish grad school; it could be my career for the rest of my life. I don’t know. But for now, it serves its purposes. I’m content. It took a long time to get to a point where I was OK with not being a great novelist. I’m happy.

If you’re ever struggling, trying to figure out what kind of writing you can or want to do … just keep writing. There are always going to be ups and downs. You’re going to wish you could sit on the beach with your laptop and make fictional people duel to the death all day long, but the next day, you’ll be glad that’s not what you’re doing. Or vice versa. You’re going to wish writers had more respect. You’re going to want to walk away completely, sometimes.

But I can pretty much guarantee you’re always going to come back to writing, in some capacity. Writers are dependent on the freedom to create. The challenges you will face along the way are what get you through the day, whether you’re aware of it or not. If you can’t abandon writing, it’s because you need it. You don’t have to make a career out of it, but you can. It can be just a hobby you indulge in when you have free time. It doesn’t matter. If writing is part of you, you will find a way. Always.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.