Mini Monets and Mommies: On Becoming a Freelance Writer

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

On Becoming a Freelance Writer

I rarely write about writing. Actually I never do. I’ve thought about doing it. For a day or so I actually toyed with the idea of starting a whole other blog dedicated to it. But, then I realized two blogs, freelancing, being a mom and having a life is just way too much for me right now. Plus, there are so many absolutely fabulous blogs about writing/the freelance world already out there – why add another one?

Writing Career
That said, I’ve been getting paid to write since 2009, and wanted to share some of my insights. I know, I know – who really cares? Everyone on the Internet is an expert about something or another, and they all think that what they have to say is the most important thing ever. I don’t. So, why am I writing this? The other day I was reading a post on places to start out as a freelance writer. I rarely comment on articles, but this time I felt the need to. My little addition to the post in the comments section started to take on a life of its own, so I thought, “Why not just write my own post?”

Then came the ideas. There’s a scene in the movie “Baby Mama” where Tina Fey is talking to Greg Kinnear about her somewhat-genius-/somewhat-crazy/mostly-moronic ideas that strike her in the middle of the night. When she wakes up she has little notes stashed near her bed that she’s written things such as, “electric toilet” and “make everybody be twins.” I don’t go as far as writing them down (I probably should), but I do tend to have these types of ideas in plenty. Sometimes I actually act on them (like the time when I bought a super-fancy photo printer from amazon when I had the idea that everyone I knew could send me their digital baby photos and I’d make personalized scrap books – yeah, I have lots of nice photos of my child and the dogs hanging around the house now, but no scrap books) and sometimes they just stay in my brain (like the time I decided that my dogs should have their own blog). So, when I imagined what writing about writing looked like, it took on a life of its own.

This brought me to one question, “Where to start?” I suppose the beginning would be the logical place.

Why did I start writing? I actually started writing for money when I had a brief, but amazingly interesting, job helping to organize a research project for the Child Life department in a children’s hospital. That writing couldn’t be more different from what I do now. It was all academic, totally not relatable and very journal-y. The grant for that job ended, and I was working as a museum-based art teacher. So much fun, but not much money. I, like just about every other mom, wanted to put some balance back in my life (and have enough money to afford the fancy shampoo, after paying for diapers, wipes and a zillion little baby socks) by working from home. I kept my museum job, but looked into writing for money too. I started a blog. It lasted for all of one day before I deleted it. I found a revenue share site. That lasted for years.

If you’re wondering what a revenue share site is—it’s a website that allows you to contribute content, and then get paid by splitting the ad revenue. At the time (these were the pre-Panda days) SEO seemed simple and with some targeted keywords I was off and making a few hundred dollars a month just by writing down my lesson plans and sharing what I knew about early childhood arts education. Some of top writers at this site made full-time incomes (mind you, this was a very few). Then Panda came, and Google effectively killed my (and many other revenue share writer’s) income. That’s ok. At this point I was still learning how to write online, and the community message boards on this site were what I really needed to get a grip on what I was doing.

What next? Armed with my ‘published’ articles, I headed off to one of the biggest content mills out there. If you don’t know what a content mill is – it’s a website that ‘hires’ (you’re never a real employee, so they have no obligation to give you any work) writers to create lots and lots of content for typically very little money. They want everything to be uniform, so there are usually truckloads of rules, editorial guidelines galore and various ways to make you into a crazed lunatic while making what amounts to less than minimum wage. For quite some time I made a very nice living off of a content mill. Then I was basically fired (technically they couldn’t fire me, as I wasn’t a real employee). I don’t really blame them. What I wrote for them sucked. The titles were ridiculously inane and my heart just wasn’t into it. Seriously, I wrote articles with titles such as “Places to Put Your Purse” and “Is that a Beaver in My Backyard?” Guess what? No one should ever, ever, ever google “Where can I put my purse?” If you can’t figure out where to put your purse without Internet instructions, there’s a bigger problem than not knowing where your bag goes. I spent months churning out sometimes as many as 10 600 word articles a day while watching the Real Housewives of somewhere or another. If you’re considering applying for a ‘job’ at a content mill, go ahead. You’ll make easy money, get paid possibly two times a week and build up a resume. While I have less-than-great things to say about the mill where I worked, it did pay the bills and in many ways it jump-started my career.

Working Writer
 
Now what? I’ve got to say that I’m not a fan of the uber-lengthy article. I usually lose interest, so I don’t blame you if that’s what you’re doing about right now. With that in mind, you’ll have to wait until my next installment to see what happens next. Ok, so it’s not exactly a cliff hanger (no I did not pretend to be pregnant with the content mill’s baby just to win back my place, nor did my evil identical twin start writing under my name – yes, I watch way too much Days of Our Lives). But, it may help you out a bit if you’re a beginning freelance writer.

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