If you’re going to call yourself a writer, there’s just a single prerequisite – one thing, and one thing only, that you must do.
Seems pretty basic, doesn’t it? If you’re a punter on an NFL team, you’ll be lacing up your shoes following every possession and punting the ball. Your job description is right there in your title. If you’re a diver, you aren’t going to sit around reading books about coral reefs – you’re going to slip into a wetsuit and literally take the plunge. The same is true of butchers and bakers and candlestick makers.
Yet, for some reason, in recent weeks I had strayed from my self-anointed path.
I found myself reading a lot of books on freelance writing. And completing profiles on freelance sites like oDesk. Planning story ideas in my head. I was busy doing everything but the one thing I should have been doing all along: writing.
I’m not even sure how I fell into this trap of suddenly and persistently not writing. For a couple of months, my days were spent hunched over the computer, knocking out articles for my clients. And then I grew bored with the SEO assignments and broke up with a client, and the Groupon gig fell through. I sort of completely lost the will to write after that. Why should I bother? I thought. Either way, I’m getting paid the same amount every week. It’s easy to justify your laziness that way, because it’s true. I get paid $xxx.xx amount every week from the state of Washington. If I’ve earned income from self-employment that week, it’s deducted from my unemployment earnings, so it’s not like I gain anything from busting my butt on a daily basis.
I’ve realized, though, that while I may not have been gaining anything financially, I had definitely lost something: my passion. And that is inexcusable.
Why am I a writer? Because it’s what I love to do, plain and simple. It’s not the idea or the dream that I love, either – it’s the very process of creating. It doesn’t matter that I’m not a published novelist yet or earning $50K a year. I still rely on unemployment to get by…so what? The truth is, not writing is like stepping into a void. It leaves me feeling empty and without purpose. I don’t like that feeling.
You’ve probably heard of “the writer’s high.” I can tell you that isn’t just a nifty-sounding phrase, but a very real phenomenon. When I am writing, I feel a sense of euphoria wash over me. I am connected to the words on the screen, and can practically feel the creativity pumping in my blood and pulsing through my veins. It feels good, and like any junkie I crave more. More, more, more. I imagine it’s exactly how a punter feels when he’s squaring off against the ball in a packed stadium full of cheering and jeering fans, and how a diver feels while descending through the depths of Davy Jones’ locker. Alive. In their element. Full of purpose.
It’s very easy to be lazy. All you’ve got to do is nothing. And, I’ve learned, that’s contagious. If you’ve done nothing yesterday, you’ll feel like doing nothing today, and when tomorrow rolls around guess what you’ll be doing?
Doing something is a lot harder. That actually takes effort. But if it’s something you’re passionate about, not so much.
Sheesh, I feel like Yoda. Next I’ll be spouting off lines like, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Or designing motivational posters for office walls. The important thing is, I had an epiphany this week. I remembered that I’m a writer. And I began to write again.
If you’re a writer, I’ve come up with a few tips that will hopefully lead to success. These are things I’m tryi…err, doing (sorry, Yoda!) now.
- Don’t bother with freelance outsource bidding sites. There are plenty of them out there – oDesk and elance.com are a couple of the better-known ones – but they are not worth your time. If you don’t believe me, read this. Basically you’ll find yourself competing against others for slave wages. Personally, I felt like I was part of a herd of cattle at an auction where each animal goes to the lowest bidder. Hey, I fired my first client because they were “only” paying me $12 per article – and then found myself competing for jobs promising $4 an article. Yes, I was temporarily insane.
- “Content mills” aren’t necessarily evil. Though they often get a bad rap, so-called content mills – websites that pay freelancers to churn out articles that help the site rank highly on search engines – can be a good source of income, and provide steady work. Take Demand Studios, for instance (best known for eHow.com). I have been writing for them since January, and my experience has been nothing but positive. Here’s why: I choose which topics to write about from a continuously evolving queue (this morning there were 66,230 articles to choose from); each article pays a minimum of $15, and the format and structure enable a good writer to easily pen two or three an hour. I don’t know about you, but I’d call $45/hour pretty decent! Even doing one article an hour isn’t bad. Payments are made directly to your PayPal account twice a week, and you get your own byline. Plus, they don’t hire anybody off the street – you have to apply and write several sample articles that pass muster with their copy editors. I know people who have been rejected. It may not be the most glamorous writing you’ll ever do, but it’s a great way to hone your skills, build your portfolio, and leverage yourself to take it to the next level.
- Aim for the stars. While it’s important to have a reliable source of income, $15 an article is still $15 article. If you’re going to be successful, you have to set your sights high and take a few risks. Last week I pitched a story idea to Portland Monthly, a regional magazine with a loyal subscriber base. If they accept the assignment, I’ll write about an unemployed single Oregon mother following her dream and starting her own business in the midst of a down economy. This person just happens to be my friend and sometime-client Chris from Portland Book Review. This would be great publicity for her, and freelance assignments with magazines are where the money – and glory – are. I plan to query some national publications next. A few clips in magazines can open a lot of doors that would be otherwise closed.
- Don’t forget your blog! Blogging is the perfect creative outlet – you can write about tortilla chips that look like states or why you should avoid eating at Mexican restaurants with sombreros on the wall or whatever your heart desires. Sometimes you can even write about writing – how existential is that? Plus, it keeps your skills fresh and your brain from turning to mush. A few blogs even become ultra-popular and lead to fame and riches. Or so I’ve heard. Plus, it’s free publicity, and if done well can be an excellent showcase for your writing. Just don’t denigrate corporate America and scare off any potential employers!
There you have it – a few writing tips from a guy who isn’t yet a huge success, but has at least remembered who he is and what he does and is once again doing it.
- Want to write full time? Don’t Sell Yourself Short (barbaratyler.wordpress.com)
- The Old-School Content Marketing Strategy That Scores Freelance Writing Clients (copyblogger.com)