Wow, yesterday was a struggle just to sit myself down in front of this computer screen. I remembered I wanted to get a hair appointment, called, and was in her chair instead of this one until lunchtime. In the afternoon I worked on an article, then on more marketing. I tutor my Vietnamese student Tuesdays, so I had to put aside time to create some quizzes and exercises for her. She’s studying for her citizenship test, so at least we have a set goal to aim toward.

Today, much of the same. I’m working with a client currently in putting together a newsletter, so I have one call to make today, one tomorrow, and copy to hand in by Friday. I love deadlines. Keeps me from feeling stagnant.

Yesterday we talked about diversification. We also discussed former Demand Media writers and how they can build a solid career. However, as Devon wisely pointed out, there are plenty of DM writers who aren’t going to put the time or effort into a legitimate career. That begs the question: what’s considered legitimate? Try clips from reputable, edited sources that don’t allow for reworking of someone else’s copy. Try clients who hire you at your stated rate, not theirs. Try clients you’ve convinced to hire you, not ones you found on a job listings site (while there may be some golden clients there, most are fool’s gold, so to speak).

For plenty of former content farmers, there won’t be a second, more solid career. There will be more of the same – hunting down the next aggregator to pay a paltry fee for what they call writing. But the smart ones, the ones tired of mucking it out in the trenches, will decide to climb out and into more fruitful areas. It takes commitment in a few different ways:

Commitment to self. You have to want to do better. If you don’t, you’ll be the one on the sidelines bitching and moaning because 1) writers are looking down on you (in your head or in reality), 2) writers aren’t gift-wrapping your career for you and handing all their clients to you, 3) writers are saying you’re not motivated enough to build a good foundation, and 4) clients don’t want to hire you because of those lousy farm-made clips. Be the former, not the latter.

Commitment to quality. You have to desire quality writing over whatever pays the bills. We can all knock out low-paid articles based on nothing in particular. But we don’t. Why? Because we’ve decided what we present to clients will be our best work. As a result, we decide to choose better jobs.

Commitment to career. I’m not going to lie – a successful writing career takes work. You’re in charge of promoting yourself, inspiring yourself, challenging yourself, and teaching yourself. If you want to be successful, you’ll grab hold of the challenge.

Commitment to business. You’re more than an independent contractor; you’re a business owner. You’ll need to market, keep accounts, chase invoices, build work processes, network, partner, do the admin work, and handle all janitorial stuff (I’m not cleaning your desk for you).

Commitment to growth. You can stay at the $25-30K earnings level as long as you like, but you’ll find those clients will probably tend toward wanting bargains, expecting discounts, or watching the time clock so as not to overpay you. Instead, why not expect your business to grow and take steps to make it grow? Aim up the client food chain, raise your rates, negotiate with your own earnings needs in mind, and say no when it doesn’t fit or feel right.

Are you ready to make the commitment?

Writers, what was the toughest commitment you had to make? How did you do it?

About the author




  • Devon Ellington October 19, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    If you want to be a writer, chances are you have stories to tell. It's not just about churning out copy for others, it's about communicating what you're passionate about and getting paid a decent wage for it.

    The most important — and hardest — thing to do is ALWAYS PUT YOUR OWN WORK FIRST. Then, you build the contracted, deadlined work around it, the copy that's someone else's brainchild that you bring to life.

    But your OWN work, the stories YOU are driven to tell, must take the central place of importance, and occupy your strongest and most creative hours.

  • Kimberly Ben October 19, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Devon said: "The most important — and hardest — thing to do is ALWAYS PUT YOUR OWN WORK FIRST."

    I completely agree with this. I had to sit down and do some heavy re-evaluation regarding how I want my business to be. My projects now take priority. I wish I'd figured that out sooner, but better late than never I suppose.

    That said, my biggest challenge as of late has been balancing client work and personal writing projects. It's so easy to put my projects on the backburner in favor of client work (which obviously pays the bills…for now…), but if I don't commit to working on my stuff consistently, I'll never get anything accomplished. I'll just keep talking about what I'm GOING to do.

  • Lori October 19, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Devon, you echo what Lisa Gates teaches – to find life balance, you have to make YOU the priority. My problem is I don't dedicate the same amount of time to personal writing as I do to work. I'm working on that. I have one book nearly completed (the goal is the end of this month) and a novel in my head.

    Kim, that's my challenge, as well. See above. I make time for over 2K a day, but I need to devote more stress-free time to it. I'm always looking toward the deadlines of clients and not toward my own.

  • Wade Finnegan October 19, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    I believe the reason I put my personal stuff off is because I'm not confident it will sell. Providing for my family is my number one priority and as I transition to full-time writer it's all about the money. I take comfort in knowing someone is paying me to sit at this computer. However, you're correct, a big part of me wants to write for myself and put out there what I want to say.

  • Jake P October 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    You forgot: "Commitment to asylum."


    I understand where Devon and Kimberly are coming from, but as someone who's largely committed to corporate copywriting and magazine articles, I simply don't place as much value on my for-me writing. I have a pair of books in progress, but when weighing the bird-in-hand of a $3000 project vs. bird-in-bush of, um, *undefined*, my business dictates that I lean toward the former. Which sounds similar to you and Wade.

    All that said, I do have a trademark deadline looming that dictates getting my act in gear. Sometimes for us self-diagnosed ADHDers it takes an outside commitment to drive an internal one. (Look, a squirrel!)

    Sidenote, thanks for the tweet on the Freelance Follies πŸ™‚

  • Paula October 19, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    I don't write fiction or poetry, mostly because I know I suck at plotting and 90% of the poems I wrote in high school and college were pretentious garbage. I know my limits. That makes it easier for me to put paying jobs ahead of any personal writing.

    Maybe it's because I was raised by a dad who was a child during the Depression, but as much as I understand and appreciate that one's personal writing should be a priority, I have to side with Wade in that paying the bills is my top prioroty. I'm lucky enough to be able to do that by writing full-time, but if I don't focus on paying gigs, I won't have the electricity needed to run the computer I use to write, or internet service I use to do research, etc… Fear of not being able to pay all the bills makes it hard for me to put non-paid writing ahead of paid writing. (It's also strong motivation to seek out new markets, something the DS-ers might soon learn.)

    That said, if I were a talented fiction writer like Devon, spending time on personal writing that people might actually want to read would be a wise investment, indeed.

  • Lori October 19, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Ooo! Squirrel!

    Wade, that's a good reason for putting off your personal writing. Sometimes it does take precedence. Still, I bet you could find 15 minutes a day for your personal writing, right? It's more about finding that time (elimnating distractions that suck up time, like me and the Facebook games), then committing to it.

    Jake, been there, playing with the gruel…. πŸ˜‰

    Right now I'm trying to commit to that personal writing time. I'm unsure where to put it, so for now it's hit-and-miss. I'd rather be putting it in front of my day than behind all the work when my energy is too low.

    You're welcome on the Follies. Fun stuff. πŸ™‚

  • Paula October 19, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Two days in a row? Blogger hates me.

  • Lori October 19, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Saved you again, Paula. πŸ™‚

  • Anne Wayman October 19, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    I'm like Wade in that I need to support myself – easier in someways now that the kids are grown.

    I'm like Jake because not every piece of writing I do is something I love… I'm a good hack.

    And I'm like Paula because plotting eludes me.

    And I'm like Lori because I've found even 10 minutes a day on a personal piece of writing gets it done over time… one of my kids has been urging me to "write the family story."

    Now there's a challenge, but this week I've worked on it three times. So there πŸ˜‰

  • Wendy October 20, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Lori, you write on your own blog 5 days a week. Sure, it's business, but no one tells you when to write it or what to write about. It's your voice and knowledge coming through, so I'd say, you do a pretty good job of writing your own stuff.

    I don't fare so well. I've got a couple of ideas milling about in my head, and I have some general notes written down in a notebook. That's as far as I can seem to get.

    Maybe the problem is committing to commit. LOL!

  • Lori October 20, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Anne, everyone's truth is different, huh? I just put down 1K this morning – fifteen minutes. It's something that I decided will be my new routine. If I say it out loud, I will obey my own words. πŸ™‚

    Can't wait to read your family story!

    Wendy, I do write the blog every day, but it's one of those "journaling" things. I have to get it out. It's my sanity, my community, my camaraderie with you guys. You're all my coworkers. πŸ™‚

    Can you give yourself ten minutes in the morning (or right after lunch) to put down just a few words?