“Do You Love to Write?”
That, or something like it, was the headline on the blog post that got my attention. Not because I was necessarily intrigued by the question and wanted to learn more but because I was taken aback by the contents of the post it teased.
It was hardly the first such article I’d seen over 15 years, though there’s been a steady uptick in the volume in the last five. It was there to offer you some advice on how to create your own little side-hustle by being a freelance writer.
And all you had to do was love to write.
It’s not enough.
Putting aside the fallacy that “side-hustle” isn’t just New Economy-speak for “part-time job,” all of these articles and posts make it seem as though all you need to do is fire up the ol’ internet, send a few emails and voila, you have a part-time job writing in your spare time. That will help monetize all that time that’s you’re currently wasting, which is great, right?
Wrong. Here’s the reality.
You will be competing against thousands of other “freelance writers” of dubious provenance, most of whom are likely bots.
You will feel pressure to accept less than you’re worth. Those competitors are offering to write a 5,000 white paper or blog post for $40, which makes zero sense for you since that makes your hourly billing rate somewhere $.50.
The rest of your competitors have been doing this for years already and have developed networks of contacts they reliably turn to for new work. Every time you read about another news organization that’s shutting down or “pivoting to video” your heart will sink because that’s several more writers now on the market you’re vying against.
There will be times you don’t “love” to write. Sometimes writing is super-fun and the most freeing experience in the world, even if it is a client project and not something you feel passionately about. Other times the very sight of Word or Google Docs will make you violently ill.
You will feel pressure to always be “on.” If you’re not working, you need to be hustling to find more work. Doing your best to support yourself or your family is great, but it can’t come at the expense of downtime to recharge and relax a little bit.
This is hard. Even when you find some success, it’s hard.
One month you’ve got five clients and are staying busy and send invoices and the end of the month that, if you did that all year, would be stellar.
The next month you’ve got two clients – two of last months’ have said they’re going in another direction and the other has just not responded to you at all – and realize everyone is taking the full 90 days to pay you. You’re stressing out because all the freelance marketplaces you joined are showing the same 17 things you’ve already sent proposals for and begin to lose your temper at home, not able to enjoy a night off because what if you miss an opportunity?
It’s work. There are good months and rough months. A love of writing won’t get you through that. You have to work at it. You have to be willing to accept the struggle and adjust your life accordingly, hopefully with the blessings of those around you. You have to realize that the odds are stacked against you from the starting line but decide to do it anyway.
Write your novel for the love of it. Write a blog. Write a screenplay. Do something for you. Work is work. If you’re lucky, your chosen profession is something you’re good at and which comes naturally to you.
Love people. Do work.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.