07 January 2011

Diary of a Freelance Writer: Week One

by Carrie Bailey

This month I decided to commit more of my time to paid writing work. Unless the embassy of New Zealand thwarts my plans to begin graduate school next month at Victoria University of Wellington by losing my passport or coming up with a sorry excuse not to issue me a student visa (like I forgot to dot the "i" on my signature), I have nothing better to do than to attempt to freelance my.

I want to earn $500 during the month of January. This is my goal.

I currently write for two publications that pay me. One is a travel writing publication that focuses on mobility related needs. This one limits me to a predetermined format and pays $30 per article with a maximum of five submissions per month. However, I enjoy a number of media related benefits i.e. free tickets. The other is a book seller's publication that I at times supply with articles on book collecting, which is my hobby and passion. While they pay only $10 per article, I have complete freedom on the topic and find writing the articles to be effortless and highly enjoyable. And I love being considered an expert on the subject of dry old books... Each of these publications I found last summer online and applied to them directly. My work experience as a librarian and English instructor did not matter as much as the writing examples I supplied.

It seems unbelievable to me that people who want to write for a living often do not take advantage of publications that will accept their work without pay. It's not extortion...it's a foot in the door. I promise. I had been fortunate enough to have a few online publications accept my work last year so I had links to provide to people willing to pay me to write that a) demonstrated my writing and b) demonstrated that other people weren't ashamed of my work and even published it themselves. However, even with the two clients I have sold my writing to for the last six months, I will not meet my goal of $500. But they will assure that I make it half way.

Why am I writing about this? Because I want to document how a freelance writer's career might begin and convince some excellent writers I know that they can quit their day job....

I realize $500 is not enough for one person to support themselves in any English speaking country I am familiar with, but it is a goal I don't think I can lose at. Mothers who work from the home, people who are disabled, people who have retired, recent graduates, people between jobs, and people who need to supplement their work income can appreciate that $500 is more than $0, too. So, here we go:

Saturday January 1: I intended to finish an article about Corvallis, Oregon for the travel publication, but instead made very good cookies and tried to design a new banner for Peevish Penman. I love Peevish Penman. Why can't I just pay myself to run it? Because not enough people click on those obnoxious Google Ads...

Nothing achieved. Cookies gone. Calculated that I need to average $16 per day in order to reach my goal of earning $500 in a month.

Daily total: $0                          Hours worked: 0                   Cost of Coffee: $1.79

Sunday January 2: I submitted an article to the book seller's publication on small press authors and snickered inwardly about the fact that I had just published The Handbook of the Writer Secret Society and was now both a small press author and the owner of a small press.  Then, I laughed as I remembered my professor said it was difficult to break into the publishing industry. He was right, but his discouragement only delayed the inevitable for seven years...

Couldn't find my notes to construct the travel writing article I had planned. I wrote one article for a service that pays $15 per how-to articles. It was rejected due to a faulty reference. I must have spent four or five hours learning to write articles that I wasn't proud of, but finally when I resubmitted it, the article was rejected permanently. I stewed for a few moments, sent a few moan-y tweets on twitter, and tried again. In an hour, I had submitted another article, which was accepted. Applied to a service for writers wanting articles on personal finance.

Daily total: $25                          Hours worked: 5                   Cost of Coffee: $2.09

That's right. I earned what was the equivalent of minimum wage from the year I first obtained my work permit...you know, back when gasoline cost a dollar...and coffee was fifty cents.

Monday January 3: Opened up a copy of The Street-Smart Writer: Self-Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Writing World by Jenna Glatzer aka @GhostwriterJG and came to the conclusion that she is awesome! Jenna had sent me the copy during the summer when I first toyed with the idea of working as a freelance author full-time. I liked the coffee drinking aspect of being a writer. I could write and drink coffee all day, but I feared isolation... I have always done library work, because believe it or not, it's a very social occupation (plus, you're surrounded by books).

Having read into the night, I woke up late and wrote two articles for the service that paid $15 per article. I couldn't find my notes for the travel writing article I had started. Drank coffee. Later, I wrote one more article for the $15 service. Read more of Jenna Glatzer's book. Started the article for the travel writing in vain, because I lacked all the information I needed. Banged head on laptop. Started working on a profile on the Elance website. Felt bored. Noticed that my writing started to sound like the many how-to articles I had been writing. Started to loathe how-to articles. Drank more coffee.

Daily total: $45                          Hours worked: 5                   Cost of Coffee: $3.58

Tuesday January 4: I wrote two articles for the service that pays $15 per article. I had to run some errands otherwise I might have completed more. Now, if I drank five pots of coffee...could I reach my goal in one week just by writing for this one service? Logged into the service..."database down" message pops up on screen. Errr...

Wrote an article on books and mailed it in for $10. Asked site owner about the limit for articles per month and he responded that it was four. I had two more I could submit. Wrote two more articles for the $15 per article service.

Visited my bank and got a cup of coffee for free! :D. Found my notes for travel writing articles! You know, all my black notebooks look the same....

Revised a story for the Chicken Soup for the Soul Collection. Thought about an email I sent about the personal finance writing work. I included my "F-word and the Nine Parts of Speech" article as an example of my humor writing...and remembered that not everyone has a sense of humor... (what was I thinking?) Spent hours and hours trying to bid for my first job on Elance, then discovered that I had not verified my telephone number in my profile. Submitted travel article for $30. Placed first bid on Elance.

Decided that I would start a profile on Guru tomorrow. Checked the book sales of The Handbook of the Writer Secret Society and nope...not able to retire from freelance writing yet. Wrote one more $15 article on Reading French... c'est la vie, no?

Daily total: $115                         Hours worked: 7                   Cost of Coffee: $0

Wednesday January 5: Got encouraging email from the NZ Consulate in LA that they were processing visas by date of departure. Spent the day running errands. Wrote another article for the $15 service. Called Quantas and New Zealand Air to ask about media rates for my travel. Even though I will be going to school, I will still be writing about the mobility related issues for the travel site...because I love them.

Could not post to my blog for five hours. Wrote one more $15 article.

Daily total: $30                         Hours worked: 3                   Cost of Coffee: $2.09

Thursday January 6: Started the day with a rewrite of one of the $15 articles, very simple change, just one sentence needed to be added. I got an email from the travel writing job and the coordinator is pregnant. So happy for her, but explains why she's preoccupied and won't be processing everything quickly or perfectly...at least she has a reason. Made a note to self: freelance writers need very large emergency savings to support a minimal peace of mind. I realize it just would not be safe or possible to freelance full time if I depended on every publication's timely payment in order meet basic needs. So far, no one seems to do too well at that part... While this would work for people on disability who do not want to loose their benefits, new college graduates would need to keep a day job until they had adequate savings AND clients...

Wrote two drafts for articles for the travel site at $30 each, but will let them sit overnight before editing them and sending them in. Finished one article started the previous night for the $15 service and wrote one more. Starting to think that if I really wanted to make a living as a freelance writer, I would have to keep a schedule and stop getting distracted, but how?

Bid for another job on Elance. I came to the conclusion that I would really enjoy writing medical articles... But also designing book covers... And why not finance? And more travel? And...

Daily total: $75                         Hours worked: 5                   Cost of Coffee: $2.09

Friday January 7: Started the day with a quick rewrite of one article; one sentence in total. Then wrote another article for the $15 service in 40 minutes. So far, I'm having to balance quality with quantity... Got some excellent advice about getting freelance jobs from Shirley Thomas aka @SmurfGalak about getting straight to the information people want when writing a proposal. Credentials and extraneous information is not as important as rates and terms...I'm going to try that on my next few bids after I finish one of the travel writing articles for $30.

For some reason, I feel like I could almost reach my $500 goal this week, but I'm also feeling a little burnt out, partially because this is my first week writing strictly for pay and I've had to learn a number of new systems. Then, I went and spent all the money I'd earned so far on clothes for my son's first high school formal...well, close to it anyway.

Daily total: $45                         Hours worked: 2                   Cost of Coffee: $2.09

That was my first week. I earned $330 dollars for 27 hours, which came out to slightly more than $12 dollars per hour. My goal to earn $500 with my writing during the month of January is clearly within my reach. I had two clients to start with and approval with an article writing service, however I had never actually worked for the service and had written less than ten articles for the other two clients.

The time I worked included learning the systems I was working with online and the time I was actively creating and updating profiles and searching for jobs. What I'm going to try next week:
  • Set a timer while writing articles
  • Set a schedule including breaks
  • Bid on fifty or more new jobs
Anyway, I hope this inspires a few people to challenge themselves, too. I've heard back from the New Zealand consolate that they're sending my medical forms back to have the signatures re-done. I'm not kidding, seriously, I wrote this article as the week progressed and there I predicted it...my visa application was returned over a matter of signatures, more complicated that "i" dotting, but signatures none the less. Fortunately, this writing work is an excellent distraction...


  1. You have really inspired me. One day I'm going to stop procrastinating and take that leap into freelance writing. An extra $500 a month would do me good. Good luck with school.

  2. Thanks Susie! You know what I like about this is that I can do it whenever I want. Even if I earn more with other types of work, freelancing gives so much control over your time.