Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Kelly Gurnett of Cordelia Calls It Quits.
So. Which is it gonna be?
Do you want to use your words to earn a living, or do you want to write the kind of content that will make you wildly, madly in love with the idea of getting up every morning?
I’ll help you out.
It’s a trick question: you can do both.
And I don’t mean by working your little fingers off for pay by daylight, and then “burning the midnight oil” for your passion projects at night. I mean you can write things that fulfill both these goals and get paid for them.
This may seem fairly obvious to you (I know it does to me in hindsight), but if you’re a struggling writer just starting out, and are desperate to start bringing in an income, this obvious truth may elude you at first.
Living To Write
I’ve been “side hustling” as a freelance writer and editor for almost a year now, working in the evenings and weekends around my 9-5 job. And in that almost-year, my idea of what it means to be a “successful” freelancer has drastically evolved.
I’ve learned that when it comes to making a living as a writer, just as in living your life, you’re only as happy as you choose to be. And for me, choosing to be “pickier” about my freelance projects is infinitely worth any tradeoff in potential income.
We’re Happy Just To Be Writing ANYTHING
When you’ve been stuck in cube world for 10 years, lamenting your wasted English degree and all those promising novellas you used to write as a child, just the simple thought of getting paid for your words can seem like a dream come true. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about things that bore you silly, or dealing with clients who are less than easy to work with—you’re getting paid to write!
At first, just being able to tell people “I am a paid writer” had me on cloud nine.
We’re Afraid To Turn Down Opportunities
When you’re just starting out, turning down a job can feel like career suicide. Who knows when the next offer will come? You’re such a newbie, you think, you’re lucky to get any job!
In my first few months of freelancing, I helped someone write a grievance letter to her boss. I wrote and designed a brochure for a concrete company. I helped a scatterbrained professor turn his illegible notes into a legible presentation. These were all paying jobs, but nothing I was really excited to sit down and work on. You see, I was terrified of being overly choosy and that I might run out of work.
We Think Being A “Jack Of All Trades” Will Get Us Further
When I landed my first steady client, a big-time PR hotshot with several clients of her own, I thought I’d hit freelance gold. She and her clients kept me in work regularly, and it was an exciting variety of work, too: website copy, e-mail newsletters, press releases, even ghostwriting the occasional ebook. I felt like I was building up a great portfolio.
By all measures, my freelance biz was taking off, and I was thrilled for the growth. But, secretly, I was beginning to suspect I didn’t really like the work itself all that much.
Writing To Live
It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but I finally came to the realization that for my own happiness and personal fulfillment, I needed to be more selective about the projects I take on.
If I loved blogging, for instance, why couldn’t I take the time I was spending on projects I didn’t care about and, instead, use that SAME time to try to build a blog-related freelance business?
Just the thought of this new approach excited me. So, I “re-branded” my Hire Me page, started promoting it, and crossed my fingers.
It was the best decision I’ve made so far in my freelance journey.
Why It’s O.k. (And Even Sensible) To Specialize In Writing That You Love
It think it’s okay (and even sensible) to specialize in the writing you love.
- You’re at your best when you’re in love. This isn’t to say that you can’t do different types of writing well. But there’s a certain something that gets into your writing when you’re really on fire about it. And people take notice of that.
- There’s no sense in having TWO jobs you don’t like. I didn’t hate my freelance work like I did my 9-5 day job, but I had certainly started to dislike it an awful lot. I found myself resenting the time spent on certain projects. My whole reason for going into freelancing wasn’t to replace my day job with just another job I didn’t like; it was to ultimately quit my day job for a job that I loved. A job I could look forward to going to every day. A job that utilizes my talents and makes me feel like I’m producing something truly worthwhile.
- A jack of all trades doesn’t stand out very much. In other words, being fairly good at a ton of different things doesn’t make you exceptional at any one thing. And freelance writers are, almost literally, a dime a dozen. Being exceptional at a specific type of writing can be your ticket to standing out in an incredibly crowded market—and can help you ask for the pay you truly deserve.
- Specializing means your work can dovetail with your “passion projects.” The things I truly love doing with no thought of getting payment for them (although getting paid for them would be nice!) are working on my blog, contributing regularly to other blogs, and connecting with other bloggers. And when all my time was spent chasing any freelance job that went by, these loves started falling by the wayside. But now that I’ve narrowed my focus to blog-specific services (paid blogging, ghost blogging, blog consulting), even the things I do for “free” ultimately contribute to my freelance biz. By working on my own blog, for instance, I’m demonstrating my ability to build a brand and to connect with an audience. It’s a win-win.
- Having a side hustle you love makes the day job a little easier to stomach. I’d rather get paid for writing I love (even if that pay is less frequent) than run a steady business doing projects solely for the money. Sure, I’ll probably have to stick it out in my current day job a little longer before my own business is steady enough to justify quitting, but having a side hustle I’m truly passionate about makes it easier for me to see my 9-5 as a means of supporting my dream. For me, the tradeoff is definitely worth it.
So… Which Is It Gonna Be?
So. Which is it gonna be? Are you going to continue to live to write, or you gonna start writing to live?
The choice is up to you.
Kelly Gurnett, a.k.a. “Cordelia,” runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and encourages others to do the same. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook or send her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you writing to live, or living to write? Do you agree with my approach to the writing life, or do you disagree? What approach are you taking? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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