When Full-Time Freelance Writing Is No Longer Viable

I’ve worked as a full-time freelance writer since September, 2009. Over the past seven years, I’ve experienced some pretty euphoric highs, a few bouts of blinding anger, particularly when one client pulled a $6,000 job out from under me for a very minor spelling error (I believe it was actually because they decided they didn’t want to pay me that much after all), and some near-suicidal lows. Those three phases can be somewhat typical for a person who freelances at anything – not just writing.

The keys to freelancing full-time at anything are drive and persistence. You have to be willing to hustle 24/7, and in most cases, you always have to have your eye out for the next job. Things tend to go haywire when you allow yourself a few seconds of complacency; that’s when your biggest client tells you they no longer require your services, and your remaining jobs won’t cover even a quarter of your monthly expenses. In hindsight, I believe it was that sort of stress that probably gave me cancer. I’m sure there were many other factors, but when you lie awake most nights not knowing where the money is going to come from for the rent, bills, and food, your stress level is bound to manifest itself in some sort of physical ailment.

I don’t mean to keep harping on cancer, but it was after I recovered sufficiently from treatment to start working again that I realized this freelance writing thing was no longer viable. I’d lost the majority of my income while I was undergoing chemotherapy, and all the feelers I put out after I felt better came up empty. I must have answered about 100 Craigslist ads for writing jobs in my region and never got a response from anyone. I even tried to hook myself up with a literary agent in an attempt market a breast cancer memoir I wanted to write, and that was met with a less than tepid response. It was then that I realized the freelance writing market had become so saturated that there wasn’t anything respectable left to do. It was down to penny-a-word content mills, click bait listicles, and unpaid gigs. Even the once very lucrative legal blogging sector had dried up. I’d made a decent living at that for about four years, until Google got wise to all the keyword-manipulating, bullshit-slinging, ambulance-chasing personal injury law firms. It was fun while it lasted; my income from that paid the rent and the bills, with a little cabbage left over for some actual fun.

The past year has  been quite a struggle financially. My boyfriend has a good job, but there is no way we can survive on his salary alone. Once again, we were in that depressing place where there was literally nothing left after the rent and bills were paid. Things like ordering Chinese take-out on a random weeknight were not feasible. Going out for dinner, or to a movie, was completely out of the question; we couldn’t even afford burgers at Red Robin, or pancakes at IHOP. The longer this went on, the more bitter and angry I became. I would seethe with anger and frustration as I read posts in a super-secret Facebook group I belong to, populated with full-time freelance female writers, who shared links to their published work that they claimed paid hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. And the kicker was that much of it was masturbatory shit.   I am an educated, talented woman. It shouldn’t be this hard to make a living. Well, yes, it is. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones who seemingly had literary contacts blowing out my ass like gas from too many servings of lentils and quinoa. Even the members of the group who claimed to be on the hunt for new voices never responded to my queries. I felt like a pariah, despite the fact that these connected women writers had no idea who I was.

Finally, with no pride or resources left to tap, I sucked it up and started answering ads in the admin/office section of the jobs listings on Craigslist. It has been over 17 years since I worked in a corporate setting, and from everything I’ve been told, the environment has gotten much more hostile and unforgiving. It was bad enough when I left in 1999, and I couldn’t imagine how horrible it would be if I managed to land a job in the present day open floor plan, hipster infested iteration of the modern workplace. I seriously thought about digging out the leftover Ativan I have hidden in my apartment in case of emergency, and choking them down with some cheap vodka. That was how much I did not want to admit failure and succumb to once again becoming a corporate lackey.

I answered one ad that I found somewhat appealing: a position to manage an office for a home-based business. I was pleasantly surprised when I received an e-mail response a few hours later, and subsequently had a conversation with the owner of the business – a certified arborist who owns and operates a tree service. I agreed to meet with him to discuss the position. Cutting to the chase, I am almost through my second week of working for this gentleman, who is around my age, has a wife, a 10-year-old son, and two large, slobbery, exceedingly affectionate dogs that keep me company all day. What more can I ask for? Uh, a regular paycheck, which will pay the bills, and when combined with my boyfriend’s income, will ensure that we are comfortable. Coincidentally. both of us have been sleeping a hell of a lot better since I started this job.

I’m not completely abandoning my writing. I have one loyal client who has stuck with me since almost the very beginning that I will continue to write for. I will continue to maintain this blog, and write for one other site that I have great affection for. I’m not ashamed to admit that the freelance grind wore me down. There does come a time when you have to say “uncle” and give it a rest.

Maybe this new job is a sign that there is abundant peace of mind ahead of me to make up for all the stress and anxiety that followed me through the last decade of my life.  I sure as hell can use it.

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