I am in the middle of my seventh year as a FT professional writer. Oh, and I work from home. I started working from home as a writer in 2013 on a part-time basis. By 2014, I had enough clients to make this my only means of work (yes, with kids and a spouse and pets…even with people screaming it can’t happen). As someone who does not have a traditional job or someone who treats writing as a side-hustle, I’ve learned a lot over the last seven years…but the biggest lesson?
And the biggest misconception about professional writing? Well, it’s almost as good as the biggest misconception about working from home (which is the fact that it’s always a big ol’ load of fun).
The biggest misconception about professional writing is that being a writer for money is all fun and games. You’re always in a super creative mood. Everyone is super great to work with and for. You always love what you do. Kumbaya. Om.
Professional writing is a business. So, while I am living the dream and it definitely has its perks (I have the best clients in the world), I’ve also dealt with more than my fair share of assholes (and fired them), can’t find reliable contractors (that’s why most freelancers fail – they just aren’t dependable and then complain that no one will hire them), and the hours can suck. To keep up with my current demand, I work 10 hours or so six days per week. I know, I know…first world problems.
Professional Writing Is a Business With Highs and Lows
During the earlier part of my career, there were wicked lows. Initially, I kept my rates low: per word, flat-rate, and hourly. I had two other jobs (at the same time). I worked a lot of late nights, early mornings, and weekends (when my kids were occupied). I had an income. My goal was to break in and get the feedback. (It’s fine if your strategy is different.) When I set out with writing as my only source of income, I didn’t think about what would happen if I had a lull in business…and for a couple of years, I had a lull in business around the holidays because I work primarily with law firms and educational institutions (and yes, they know about my blog and my filthy mouth; they like my “sparkling” personality because I keep it separate from professional Robin). We didn’t starve and the bills were paid, but for me? It was fucking scary as hell. I grew up with food insecurity. I grew up not knowing if we would be evicted (our home is paid off, but I have generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, and CPTSD so those feelings inside of me just don’t go away). I grew up without running water or electricity a lot of the time. The first marriage I was in where when it was over the ex-husband kept trying to get my utilities shut off…those lulls of quiet also triggered a lot of anxiety. So, I knew this was a problem I had to solve.
And that’s what I am – a problem solver. I started looking for more work both on and off Upwork. I created a referral program for my non-Upwork clients. I started targeting more prospective clients outside of social media. Basically, I started marketing myself.
That created more work over time. But…that creates something most prospective professional writers don’t want to deal with: waiting.
I am very good at spotting ideal clients, pitching, and closing contracts. Despite being extremely introverted in person, I am very good with people. People like me.
The highs are the parts that most professional writer wannabes (and I don’t use that as a derogatory term) think about: staying home and writing). That part is good…most of the time. Except you don’t think about the fact that many clients often say, “I want a blog/article about [general idea].” They give no guidance or direction because they expect you to have all the answers…even if you don’t.
You may not think about niching. Or maybe you think about it too much. It can be a careful balancing act. I can write in most industries, but there are some I avoid.
Oh, let’s not forget the distractions.
- Beautiful weather
- Shitty weather (I live in Oklahoma…tornadoes, ice storms in October, snow storms for weeks in February)
- Your phone
- Social media (no, you do NOT need to be on it all the time)
Hell, sometimes I distract myself…thanks, CPTSD.
Yes, you can set your own rates…you will also have someone say to you that they’ll find someone less expensive (the correct response is either no response or to wish them well in their search. I’ve had people come back to me to fix the screw ups caused by less expensive writers, editors, and SEO “gurus.”). You’re also responsible for your own taxes, setting and keeping your own schedule (don’t fall into the “do it later” trap because later rarely comes), finding and serving your own clients, finding and using the appropriate software, your own marketing, and so much more.
I don’t tell you any of this to deter you from following your dream of becoming a professional writer. Frankly, I think anyone who wants to be a professional writer should put in the work and do it. I tell you all of this so that you do not get into it and think that because it’s not “easy” that you’ve somehow failed. You didn’t. Writing is a business if you plan to do it for others. And if people tell you it isn’t a business that people make money doing, ask them why spend so much time on their fucking phones or buying shit from Amazon or any other retail site. Those sites all hire copywriters and pay them.