That Year I Supported My Family with My Writing

Flash WriterMy wife has always been the breadwinner in my family. When we moved to Lawrence, KS so I could work on my PhD, she didn’t have a job, but, being the bright, talented woman that she is, she found one that paid pretty well, while I was working for slavation wages as a GTA at the University of Kansas. For the next nine years she got promotions and raises and I got proportional pittance increases from KU. When we left Lawrence and moved back to Denver, she got to keep her job and her salary and I started over at 0.

After a little while I got a private sector job, and the salary was about three times what I was making at KU, but still not what my wife made. By the time I had edged ahead in income, we realized that job was killing me and I quit to become a flancer (freelance writer). My first month, I made only $300. We were basically living off my wife’s salary again.

So when my wife lost her job at the end of 2013, needless to say I panicked. But the year since then has been a good one, and I’ve learned a lot.

Lesson #1: I Can Do It

Confidence has never really been my strong suit, even though, like a lot of guys with confidence issues, I can come across as an arrogant SOB at times. Just learning that I was capable of bringing home the bacon when I had to was a big deal. Of course, I had a lot of help from some great clients. Pro Impressions, Neon Rain, and Inflow are all outstanding design and optimization companies that gave me a lot of work. If you are looking for a company to handle your Internet marketing, you could do a lot worse than these guys, all of whom have their particular strengths.

But I also have to say that I could’ve done it without them. I learned early on that writing anonymously in content mills earned me as much as I made working for my named clients (more on this soon). The Internet runs on content, and anyone who’s willing to work will find work to do, at least for the foreseeable future.

And it’s not like my wife wasn’t making anything. She was an editorial flancer and brought in a good proportion of our income (and, it must be said, because of #2, she was often a more efficient earner).

Lesson #2: I Was Priced Well Below the Market

I started out pricing my services based on what I was making at my full-time gig compared to what I could do. I knew my employer was charging a boatload more for my services than I was being paid, but, still, I thought I started out with a fair price point. What I hadn’t counted on was all that was going to come with the writing. Clients expected me to do large amounts of research, perform administrative tasks, write longer pieces than I’d originally proposed in the pricing–and they all assumed this was included in the price.

Not only that, but when I compared the price I was charging my clients compared to what I could make writing for 2.5 cents a word in a content mill, I was making no more, and often less, because in the content mill I never felt obligated to spend an hour or two chasing down references to make sure everything was perfect.

About mid-year I found I was having to turn down higher-paying jobs I was being offered because I was full up with my lower-paying obligations. And around the end of the year, I found out another writer I know was getting paid substantially more for doing significantly less.

Lesson #3: Writing for Somebody Else Won’t Get You Anywhere

Growing up, I was a big fan of The Fall Guy, and now I know how he felt. Like Colt Seavers, I couldn’t really be a star. I don’t have the talent (or, frankly, the dickishness) to be a high-powered lawyer or dentist to the stars. But I make those guys look a lot better than they could writing for themselves (trust me, I’ve read their writing), and sometimes it galls to know that when one of my blogs brings in a case it pays them more than I made for all my blogs all year long (sometimes several times over).

There’s no way to get around it–most of the work available for writers is anonymous drudgery. I’ll do my share of drudgery in the coming year, too, to be sure, but I also will be putting more time into writing for myself here and elsewhere.

Lesson #4: I Don’t Regret My DecisionsBoober

When my wife lost her job, I had a brief pang of regret that I had left the highest-paying job I’d ever had to strike out on my own. But over the course of the year, I’ve become very happy with my decision, and I’ve really loved my work the last year. Yeah, I know I described it as drudgery, but as Boober Fraggle says, “Tedium and drudgery are good for the soul.” I love to write, and being able to do it for a living makes me feel very, very lucky.

I look forward to turning out words until I find my eternal peace, and hope only that some of them will bring joy and enlightenment to those who read them.