Then I had to make a choice: Do I want to continue on with the PhD program or follow my writing dream?
I chose the dream, started cranking out queries, and slowly cut down on the hours I was working in a small office as I got more writing work.
I was able to do this because Eric and I kept our expenses low: We had no car, no mortgage, and no kids. We had paid off our credit card debt in full, slowly and painfully, and vowed not to let the balance creep up again.
When we had six months of living expenses in the bank I made the leap into full-time freelancing.
Eric and I moved into a cheap apartment situated across from a Dunkin’ Donuts where a motorcycle gang hung out all night, revving their engines. We bought a used Renault for $500 from the Rent-A-Wreck. The doors didn’t lock, the fabric was hanging in great swags from the ceiling, and the upholstery was so filthy that it stained your clothes if you sat on it on a hot day. We learned to wear dark clothing and cover the seats with a towel in the summer.
Air conditioning? CD player? Surely you joke.
Whenever I got sick, I took the train to a low-income clinic in Boston, because we didn’t have health insurance.
But there was one thing I DID spend money on: The tools of a writer. Envelopes, stamps (LOTS of stamps), professionally printed stationery, a computer, a tape recorder, office supplies, a fax machine, a separate phone line for the fax, Internet service, a nice set of clothes (for meeting copywriting clients), and more. If I thought it would help me in my new career, I bought it.
I also worked my ass off. Whenever I wasn’t working on an assignment, I was writing queries, compiling a mailing list (at the library — by hand!) for my copywriting, doing direct mail campaigns, visiting prospects, and tweaking my website (which I built myself after learning HTML from a book I found left in a phone booth).
That first year, I earned $30,000 from my writing — more than I’d ever made at any of the 26 other jobs I’d held since the age of 15.
Two things I learned:
1. The importance of investing in your career.
Not only did I buy office equipment and supplies…in the years since then, I’ve invested thousands (and thousands) of dollars improving at the craft and business of writing.
I’ve hired life coaches, joined classes, paid for subscriptions, and more. Just recently when I decided I want to do more teaching and mentoring, I:
- Took an online class on how to teach an e-course.
- Paid a writing coach to help me make the shift.
- Completed a 13-week coaching course, which was a major investment of time and money.
I know that every cent I put into my career will come back to me, and then some. You can’t start and succeed at any career without an investment of money, energy, and time, and freelancing is no different.
2. The value of butt-in-seat hard work.
When you’re first starting out as a writer, your most valuable asset is time. If you use it well, you’ll thrive.
New writers always ask me how many queries I sent out when I was first starting, because they think if they do the same, they’ll be guaranteed the same results.
I don’t know how many queries I sent out. I never counted. I just know that all of my time, when not completing assignments, was spent marketing. I must have marketed 40 hours a week at the beginning.
Freelancing is a numbers game, and it’s not for the faint of heart. You need to produce, produce, produce. You do NOT need to let rejection, fear, lack of confidence, depression, or anxiety keep you from going after your goal. All you need to do is write, and keep writing, and market, and keep marketing.
So: I’ve been freelancing full time for 16 years now, and have invested time and money every time I decided to take a new direction, such as working fewer hours but maintaining the same income, becoming a mentor, and teaching e-courses. I don’t have to market as much anymore so I can rest on my laurels a bit — until I change direction, in which case I need to market my rear end off all over again.
And I’m proud to say that I now have health insurance, a car with clean seats, and a house that’s nowhere near a fast food joint.
How about you: What’s YOUR broke-to-riches story, and what did you learn from it? Let us know in the Comments below!
Stick figure by Lorraine Reguly. Thanks, Lorraine!