When I started this blog eleven months ago, I viewed it only as a way for me to connect with friends and family back home. I never imagined that less than one year later it would become foundation I needed to start my own writing career.
Actually, I had such low aspirations when I started that I simply created a free blog through Google. And then cried for a whole day when, a month in, I lost that blog when the college email address I used to create it was terminated.
I tentatively started over again with WordPress and agonized about whether I could justify spending $3 a month to self host my site. When I realized that in order to get that rate I’d have to commit to a three year contract, I almost gave up blogging altogether. But Ian convinced me to suck it up and realize the enjoyment that I’d get out of writing would be worth the $120.
Well… he was right. Whether this blog has been helpful or enjoyable for anyone else I don’t know. What I do know is that it has been a fantastic medium of self discovery for me. I never expected to find such a love of writing and taking pictures, or such fulfillment from learning what makes the internet tick (I can even code a bit now!). Least of all did I expect the doors to open for me that have since I started.
Turns out I quickly recovered that initial financial investment. Last fall I used my blog as a portfolio and had the amazing opportunity to complete an internship with the Global Sisters Report. For this job, I was required to write eight blog posts about my experiences working with Catholic Sisters (Check them out here!). This was my first experience writing with an editor and I surprised myself with how much I looked forward to the assignment every week. Certainly college assignments never brought me such joy. The writing was fun, it was thrilling to see myself published online, and I couldn’t get over the fact that at least one person was willing to pay me to write for them. I’d assumed professional writing was impossible for me without a MFA or at least an English degree.
Experiences slowly built up from there. I’ve been writing (unpaid) for Mother Earth New’s website for months, which has been great experience for learning to write for the web and understanding what makes posts go “viral”. Just a few months ago, I was paging through the print magazines, wondering what I’d have to do to become a print writer for them, only to later be contacted by both Grit Magazine and Mother Earth News and learn that two of my articles have been picked up to be run in their fall magazines (this time for compensation). The hours of writing for their site were getting some attention, and I started to feel that I was on to something big.
Since then I’ve been joining online writing support groups, apprenticing with successful bloggers, and tentatively putting my name out there as willing to write for hire. In the middle of May I decided to give freelance writing my best shot. I initially wrote for pennies an hour for a couple content mill websites like Iwriter (a terrible idea for most self respecting people- learn from my mistakes and don’t subject yourself to this!) before landing my first “real” job on the bidding site Upwork. The article I wrote was about the health benefits of Greek yogurt. It took me over four hours to write and earned me $12.50. But it was a stepping stone for building up my reputation on the highly-competitive site, so I was thrilled.
Things picked up exponentially after that. In the past seven weeks I’ve taken on dozens of jobs covering a wide array of subject matter. One week I’m writing trivia questions on beer, the next researching male pattern hair loss. The work is incredibly varied (and far better paying than my first jobs) and I’ve picked up jobs from weird places, including Craigslist and Reddit.
It takes me hours of submitting cover letters to land a single job and I’ve occasionally gotten ripped off by shady clients. But gaining experience takes time and I’m slowly learning the signs of quality jobs. I am starting to build myself a network of reliable clients, most of which have come back to me with additional work. I’m also seeing some results financially. When I first started in May, I earned $177 in two weeks. Then in June, my earnings jumped to $1,290, most of which was earned the second half of the month. Looking at how the first week of July has gone, I’m on track to double that if I can somehow accept all my job offers and then magically cram more writing hours into my days filled with summer camps, family visits and a tragically neglected garden.
It’s not enough to retire on certainly, but it’s already about as much as I take home from AmeriCorps every month. And that’s what’s led me to make the terrifying decision to start writing full time.
This means that starting in September I won’t be aiding in classrooms for AmeriCorps. Instead, I’ll be sitting at my desk, freelance writing on every subject I feel qualified enough to write on.
Am I terrified? Absolutely. I’m giving up steady income in order to work purely on the internet. The jobs might dry up, I may get sunk by bad reviews, or I might get royally ripped off. There is no job security, no mediating services, and no paycheck just for showing up. It’s going to take a lot of hard work for me to pull this off.
But there are also no set work hours, no work expenses, and no cap to my earning potential. I can (and do) wake up at 5am and put in eight solids hours of work before 2. I can choose to say yes to whatever assignments I want to take on, take long walks in the woods in the middle of the day with my dogs, and change my day plans on a moment’s notice when grand opportunities present themselves. Even better, I can be fully present when we host groups on the mountain, something that would have been impossible with any other job. And best of all, I can continue to pursue writing, a craft I seem to have some talent for and that makes me happier than anything else I do.
In some ways freelance writing seems like a natural fit for the homesteading life we are living, and in others it feels like a terrible idea. Ian and I already live in rural isolation- is it really so smart for both of us to work at home, a few feet apart, for the next two years? Being intentional about getting away from home, volunteering in the greater community and staying in touch with outside friends will be more essential than ever.
We’ll be leaving this mountain either more in love than ever or unable to stomach the sight of each other. Frankly, I’d say the odds are close to 50/50. Just kidding….mostly.
But that being said, I’ve never felt more in control of my own life than right now. I’m taking something that I’ve been happily doing for free and finding ways to forge a career out of it. I’ve been watching Ian grow into his role as Director of Big Laurel, and now I’m ready to push myself towards my own career goals.
I have no idea how the next two years of writing will go for me. But I do know that I would forever regret it if I didn’t try to make something out of my momentum right now. I’ve taken the first step of saying yes to opportunity. Now it’s time to make something of it.
So…I guess that means I’m a real writer now. Wish me luck! I’m going to need it.