Three things I tell anyone who asks about being a full-time freelance writer

It’s been one year since leaving my full-time job as a copywriter at an agency to work as a freelance writer M-F/24/7.

The gig life isn’t for everyone. It requires a lot of speed, adaptability, and discipline. Oh, and contacts. I’m so grateful for the network of contacts and connections I’ve made at full-time jobs before now; they’ve supplied me with the majority of my assignments this past year.

As the freelance/ remote work life becomes more and more feasible, especially for those of us in creative or tech-driven fields, I get a lot of questions from friends and colleagues about how it’s been going. Do I like it? How do I find jobs? Would I recommend it?

Here are three things I tell all of them.

It’s the best work-life-balance move I’ve ever made.

I used to worry about work and, more specifically, money all the time. It was a constant stressor. That’s common, but I think it was exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis. I graduated from college that year, and though I got a job in my field immediately following my big cap and gown moment, it was a really nerve-wracking time. I watched so many friends struggle to find work in what they had studied (and were now trying to pay tens of thousands of dollars for). I watched my industry (journalism) crumble as job opportunity dried up. The stress made me sacrifice everything for work, including my health, my time, everything.

Because of all of that insecurity, in which the reality of drowning seemed mere days away, I’ve always tried to have multiple streams of income. While I was a journalist, I worked second and third jobs to pay off my student loans and, let’s be honest, simply pay my rent.

I think I’ve mentally needed those multiple streams of income, even after moving into marketing, paying off my student loans, and finally starting making contributions to my savings account. Freelance has given me a chance to relax. Ironically, not having a full time traditional job has made me less concerned about my future of having one.

Worry doll be worryin’. Justin got me Guatemalan worry dolls as a gift during our first Christmas together years ago. He was all, “Um, yeah, you worry all the time and it makes me worry about you. Are you ok? Merry Christmas?”

I feel like I now have more peace of mind in knowing that if the economy fails or if the job market I’ve chosen faces an unforeseeable blow (ie. if changing net neutrality rules limit the need for web content, thus drying up a lot of my freelance assignments), I’ve got the education and experience to be valuable to all kinds of employers.

That’s not just because of freelance; part of it’s related to age and adding notches of experience to my work belt. But as a freelance writer, I gain a comprehensive skill set. I’m able to write for an entire range of industries, work with companies of all sizes, and learn myriad project management and CMS tools instead of simply the ones my current employer operates with. I’m learning industry-standard work across every industry.

I feel really confident in my ability to land on my feet in the future. Because I have to land on my feet everyday as a freelancer.

It’s not always easy. Some days I have to work 16 hours, especially if assignments overlap. And on days like that, I have to really stay on top of myself to stay mentally focused on each task—because each job requires and deserves my best work, no matter what.

It’s worth it. Every. Time. With Justin working nights as a stand-up comedian, freelance work allows me to be flexible with when I work during the day (unless, of course, I have a meeting or deadline in the day). I can travel with him as he commutes to out-of-state gigs, using my phone’s hotspot in the car. It’s freed up time to work on my creative writing, too, which is enough to have made this all worth it. Not having to commute to an office saves me at least two hours a day. That’s two hours I now put into personal writing projects.

I feel more in control of myself than ever before. I feel in charge of my destiny, not beholden to a job market or one person at the top of the work food chain.  I’m technically not working for myself. I’m not my own boss. But I am my own director. I choose what I do or don’t take on and have to live with those choices. I decide how much to take on. I determine how successful or unsuccessful I am. And all of that makes me work harder. Better. More creatively. Freelance is freedom for people who crave independence.

And I’m not so terrified of work anymore. Which, go figure, makes me even better at it.

Get organized now.

Clean your workspace. Set up a file system. Buy a better, faster computer. Whatever you need to do to make the workflow happen like a well-oiled machine, do it. And do it before you book your first job.

Start documents for the following items and save them to your bookmark bar now:

  • A to do list with items and breaks broken down by the hour. Make it a Google doc so you can access and update it anywhere. My to do list is my bff. The night before a work day, I track everything I have to do tomorrow—and I’m really specific about the tasks. Specificity makes it easier to get myself motivated to get into it (bird by bird, baby girl), and the smallness of each task simultaneously makes me see the bigger picture so I can be realistic about how much time a project will need committed to it. I also schedule blocks of time just for writing. It’s hard to get in the flow that writing requires if I am bouncing in between emails, interview, or meetings. I block out three to four hours a day to do nothing but write. All the administrative tasks have to take place around that. Make the time, respect the time. Namaste.
  • A tax doc. Record all payments that have taxes taken out and those that don’t. I save 35% of each check that doesn’t have taxes taken out and put it into savings. While you’re at it, hire an accountant now. I also track my expenses and invoice numbers/links on this spreadsheet as their own pages.
  • A running list of assignments and hours. Google Cal is my dream man. Get yours organized now and consider signing up for time-saving apps like Calendly if you schedule a lot of meetings. I also keep a spreadsheet of all the assignments I’ve taken on in the calendar year and all the deadlines I have coming up. In each row I track contact information for the job, tax info, check numbers or direct deposit account dates, deadlines, dates I turned the assignment in, links to the final document and associated interview transcripts, and even the subject line of the email conversation with the employer so that it’s easy to search in my Gmail inbox. I keep the link to this spreadsheet at the top of my to do list doc so it’s easy to reference on my phone, too.

Be honest about whether you’re ready for this.

I tried freelancing full time about five years ago, when I left the journalism field. It didn’t work. Not because I wasn’t willing to work hard; it didn’t work because I wasn’t ready for it yet. I needed to beef up my skill set with a traditional employer. I needed to make more contacts. I needed more experience. I needed to get better at writing and managing my time. I needed to confirm that writing was my dream career.

You’re risking a lot of financial stability when you go freelance, and if you’re not ready for it yet, you’re going to be hurting fast. I started down this full-time path only a year ago, and that was after almost five years of working the freelance hustle and building up my own business on the side of my full time job. I also waited until I had paid off my student loans and had enough saved to pay off our wedding. I know it’s easier to live this way, too, because Justin and I don’t have children. I can work a 16-hour day guilt free because I don’t have anyone’s little heart dependent on my attention.

Freelancing, working remotely, living that gig life can also be a little lonely. If you’re an extrovert who gets creative and professional energy off being around other talented people, this might not be for you. I’m an introvert with extrovert tendencies, so I find myself eagerly awaiting human contact via video conference calls. But only occasionally. For the most part, I write better when I’m alone.

I know how privileged and lucky I am to get to live this lifestyle. It’s involved a lot of good timing (landing the right jobs before this, making the right contacts, building genuine connections with people) and universe-given talent (shout-out to whatever muse makes my writing bones dance whenever I come-a-knockin’ on ’em). But I’ve also worked really, really hard at a long game to get here. You can as well, even if it’s not a gig life. I hope you find the work situation that is best for you—so you’re not just working, you’re living too.

2 thoughts to “Three things I tell anyone who asks about being a full-time freelance writer”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for it – & that’s OK, too. As long as I never stop writing! You, though, continue to be the inspiration & gold standard on both fronts. <3

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