17 February, 2012

Writer: Fail

Remember, when you were a kid, how you used to race your bike as fast as it would go along the sidewalk? Now, remember how, at the epic moment of reaching your top speed, you'd hit that one lousy crack in the cement and be launched over the handlebars as you screamed for mercy from the burn part of a crash-and-burn? Yeah, I never had the chance to scream. I was always too busy wishing for a fairy to appear and grant me flying powers before I could hit the ground.

Today, I kind of feel like I'm back on that sidewalk, flying over the handlebars. Only this time, I'm screaming for all I'm worth.

I began my career as a full-time freelance writer back in October. Cold turkey. I know, I know, the experts say not to do that, but I decided to take my life in my hands and race down the sidewalk of self-employment with nothing but a flimsy frame to support me.

Oddly enough, it worked. I went to a few bidding sites (not knowing where else to start) and found work almost immediately. I received and completed over 20 jobs (some of them repeat business) before I went on my Christmas break. Sure, I wasn't making fistfuls of money but it was enough to get me by while I searched for ways to keep expanding.

I came back from my Christmas break with multiple books from experienced freelancers, sites galore full of tips and tricks and how-to's, and a plan to get my name out there. But...no jobs. Plenty that fit my expertise and plenty that I've applied to, but no one returns my calls now, so to speak. The few jobs I have gotten have been limited and pay little.

I have a website, simple but there for my platform. I've been networking on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I'm on five bidding sites and scour outside ads every day.

I don't know what happened or why it turned so suddenly. So, I'm turning to other freelancers for help. I need your advice. Have you ever been here? Why is it happening? Did my Christmas break do me in or is the time of year? Does freelancing even have "seasons?" How did you peel yourself off the sidewalk and make it back to safety without bleeding out first?

I could definitely use the assistance. Because I'm flying through the air and screaming my lungs out and there's no pixie dust to save me.


  1. Jess,

    First of all, you are NOT failing. You might have hit a patch of thick, sticky mud that hinders your navigation, but that's not failing. In fact, it's just the opposite. Failing is saying to yourself, "Well, Jess, you gave it a try. Looks like it's not going to work out. Okay, so I can cross that off my list." What you're doing is putting in the time and work and patience required to carve out your niche. You're succeeding; you just don't see it right now because that "flying over the handlebars feeling" makes a person kind of queasy and unable to see things clearly. I wish I had some concrete advice--sorry about that inadvertent reference to cement :-)--for you, but aside from newspaper columns, I've never tried freelancing. I know, though, that you're going to be just fine. You have what it takes to do what you love. Remember, too, that God is on your side. How can you fail as a writer when God has placed it on your heart? Keep your chin up!


  2. Thanks, Deb. I needed the encouragement. It's hard to see the light when the concrete is big, scary, and can create quite the "owie" if you hit hard enough.

  3. Hi, Jessica! Here via Twitter. :-) I'm a contract writer myself (instructional design, to be specific), and I know a little something about what you're going through, believe me. But don't freak out--it takes a while to build up momentum, and if you're looking for a way to improve your odds, here are a few things that have worked for me.

    Craigslist. Don't ask me why, but for some reason all my best jobs have come from Craigslist. I think that even with telecommuting jobs, employers like to pick local when they can.

    Agencies. I'm working for a big company right now on a long-term contract, which I found out about through a staffing agency. Many of the bigger companies are only allowed to hire through staffing agencies (not sure why), so it might be a good idea to find one in your area that specializes in your type of gig (e.g., IT, marketing, grant writing, "creative solutions," etc.). They're free for you, so registering with an agency can only help you. You could also potentially get health benefits and 401K, if you're into that kind of thing. (Note: IT is a hotbed right now--consider slanting your marketing strategy more to the IT industry).

    Websites. Virtual vocations is a good one, though you have to pay for the service, which is kinda annoying. I've also found leads on flexjobs.com. My personal recommendation is to avoid elance and other bidding sites, though. Like you, I tried them when I first went solo. But in my experience, writers from other countries WAY underbid me (which they can do since their cost of living is often lower), and it seemed after a while like the companies using those sites were more interested in quantity than quality. Don't sell yourself short. It's worth it to forgo the piddly jobs and look for something juicier that will make you more money in the long run.

    Network like crazy. Tell all your friends and family--multiple times!--that you are a writer for hire. I've gotten lots of smaller, but still well paying jobs from friends of friends. Also, join your local freelance writers' guild, or even better, something tangentially related to the kind of writing you do. For example, I belong to the local Software Association group, since most of the training I develop is software training. I've been offered a few opportunities after just attending a few meet-ups and getting to know people. Plus, it's always interesting finding out what other people do and how it can help me enhance my own skills.

    And most important of all, BELIEVE you are a freelance/contract writer. When I first started, I was hesitant to even call myself a freelance writer, because I felt like everyone knew I was just faking it. It took me years to really understand that I have skills other people don't have. That not any mook off the street could do what I do. Heck, I still have to remind myself sometimes. But it's true. Writing (and editing) are serious skillzzz, man. One of the team leads at my current job told my supervisor the other day that he would trade his entire team for just one of me. Because I was the only one who could write something so that others could actually understand it. It's a rarer gift than writers realize, I think.

    Anyhoo, I hope this didn't come off sounding too soap-boxy. I really just wanted to help, because I remember how freaked out I was not that long ago when I started on this path. It does take a lot of hard work, and there will be times when you feel like you're pulling your hair out and you have no idea what you're doing, but it'll pass, I promise. :-)

    Good luck! And if you ever have any questions about my experience, I'd be happy to share. You can email me at mesummerbooks [at] gmail [dot] com.

    1. Sorry, that should be mesummerbooks77 [at] gmail [dot] com. :-)

  4. P.S. January is ALWAYS a bad month for me. Documentation is often on the back end of the dragon, so new projects don't hire writers until closer to the end of the year when they're trying to meet their deadlines. Hardly anyone has deadlines scheduled in January. Just keep doing what you're doing!

    1. Hey, thanks for stopping by! And thank you, thank you for the advice. It's been getting a little tight around here with no jobs and lots of bills.

      I would have never thought of the agencies or local guild groups. I'll have to look into what we've got around here.

      Didn't sound like a soapbox at all. I'm really grateful for any help I can get right now, even if it means it will still take a little time to get it all up and running.

      You're right. Some days, I feel like someone is going to notice that I have no clue what I'm doing. It helps to know that I have a right to be here and do this and, on top of it, know how to do it.

      Thanks again!

  5. No advice here, but I'm wishing you all the best!! :)

  6. Thanks, Jo. And thanks for visiting!


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