The Freelance Writing Trenches: Business or Pleasure?

Friday, March 16, 2012
I had an epiphany early this week. As freelance job after freelance job snapped into place, I realized that if I had to, I could probably make this freelancing thing work on a full-time basis. It might not be pretty a lot of the time, but it would work . . . if it had to.

You see, at the end of last month, money was feeling a little tight. So I decided to stop letting that line on my weekly to-do list - "3 queries" - not go unchecked yet another week. I sent out three queries to publications I'd previously worked with and I got a thumbs up on all of three queries. Then, wonder of wonders, some of the articles that I'd gotten through those queries lead to more paying opportunities and suddenly I was riding a wave of freelance jobs and opportunities.

Obviously, things aren't always like this - for every lucrative writing month like this one, there'll be an equal, if not greater, dry spell when it comes to writing gigs.

That's okay.

I keep my day job to see me through those dry spells. But sometimes, it feels that I spent far too much time tangled up in the safety net that is my day job. Often I feel the day job holding me back rather than merely keeping me on my feet and I wonder what would happen if I simply left it behind me.

This week, I realized, things would probably be okay sans day job. I'm just not willing to sit around and let ends not meet. Over the last few weeks, I've proven than I can fairly easily step up my earning potential when needs be.

Which brings me to the point of this post. . . .


My writing has turned into a business. Sure, I write because, as Sylvia Plath said "there's a voice within me that will not be still." But sometimes, I think it's bills rather than artistic vision that keeps that voice within chattering away. I write to get paid. 

The farther down the freelance writing road I go, the more imperative it becomes that I get paid for my words. I hate to think I wouldn't write if I didn't get paid for it, but at this point in my life, I have limited amounts of time every day and I need to invest my time carefully for the best payout. Heck, even the blog's monetized a just enough to get it to pay for its annual domain renewal.

But as an English major, someone who raised to see writing as more of an art form than a livelihood, all this talk of monetizing feels, well, a little yucky. Shouldn't writers just be happy to be writing and creating? I truly enjoy the vast majority of freelance writing gigs I take, but there's also a thrill in knowing I'm being paid a certain word rate to research and write. Does that mean I've sold out? 

Case in point . . . . A couple years back, I started doing a bi-weekly commentary for the local radio station. (You can link to it up above "Of Woods and Words On Air".) At the time, I was just starting to seriously pursue freelance writing. I didn't have many paying gigs and I happily started writing and recording the commentary for free because it seems like good writing practice and great platform building.

But lately the commentary has become a pain in my B-U-T-T. Between writing and recording the commentary, I probably spend about 2.5 hours every two weeks on the commentary, not to mention the two-hour round trip to the studio to record it and the hassle of reserving a studio, etc. In the past year, the writing for the commentary's gone flat. I feel constantly at a loss for topics. It's easy to wonder if it's really worth it.

It seems to me I have two options with the commentary at this point, (well, three, if you consider sucking it up and continuing to record it on biweekly basis) each equally shallow:

Option 1) Ditch the commentary. Shallow because, really, I'm going to ditch an obligation because it doesn't pay me?  But, but, I'm also perceptually stuck for ideas and it seems like the writing gets worse and worse as the weeks go by.  Is it good business, even if I'm not getting paid, to stick my name on writing I'm not particularly proud of?

Option 2) Attempt to monetize the commentary. Continue to do the commentary for free for the local station, but either syndicate or find a paying market for each commentary. Shallow, obviously, since apparently the only way I find value in my writing is if I'm getting paid for it. On the other hand, getting paid for writing really  does increase the value of the writing to me, which in turn should mean that the writing in the commentaries would improve.


They say it always boils down to money and I suppose that's true, even for dreamy, impractical writers. But as much as I delight in my freelance writing business success, it's sad to watch writing for pleasure disappear from my life, at least for the time being.

Have you ever had a hobby turn into business? Any tips for maintaining a business while remaining artistically true to yourself?


  1. At the end of the day, every creative type needs to make money. Whether it's through their craft or a day job that they earn the means to get by, it's perfectly respectable. A lot of people (like you and I both) earn their living by a combination of those things. But in this case, if you want to make a living solely off writing, then yes-- I think you have to look at it practically, no matter how un-creative that may seem. Would you do any other job for free? Probably not, so why should writing be any different? I think it's important as a writer to keep a blog to have that creative outlet, but I don't think you should feel guilty or like you're selling out just because you're looking at every writing opportunity as a source of income. You should! So many people think writing (or graphic design, or any other creative job) should come for free-- when people ask me if I can write something for them for no pay, I just think, "really?" When you're getting paid for your work, you're increasing your worth, I think. And that was a ridiculously long comment.

  2. Sadly, I don't know if it's possible. I have friends who are professional musicians. And when we're out at festivals.. they don't want to play much because..well, that's what they do every day anyway, and why do it without getting paid. A guy in church can't promise to play or sing in the Sunday service just in case he would get job offers that weekend. I think it's sad. It's where the hobby ends and it isn't fun anymore.
    But, I have another friend who keeps playing for work separate from playing for fun. She happily jams at festivals, because then she plays different stuff than when she does it for pay. And, I really think you should keep - for example the blog- or whatever writing you decide to do because of the fun of it, separate from your paid writing. Keep writing for the fun of it, and KEEP IT FUN.

  3. Ahhh the challenge. The terribly frightening challenge.

    Someone else gave me some advice about working in a creative field:
    Only do a job if it fulfills 1 of the 3:
    1) Financially Rewarding
    2) Creatively Rewarding
    3) Professionally Rewarding

    Great jobs will hit 2 out of 3 and every once and awhile you will get lucky and hit the trifecta.

    Hope this helps!!

  4. You are at a crossroad. I say follow your dreams. It's only then that you will find out what level of satisfaction your writing will bring to you, whether it be for creative or monetary values. Many opportunities are mere stepping stones to the greater event. You won't know what that is until you step out of your comfort zone. If the commentary jig isn't doing it for you then maybe its time to move on. You have to love what you do if you are going to do it well. We won't always find success with our choices but we can certainly learn from them. I think you have learned what drives your writing and what doesn't. There's nothing wrong with doing what you love and getting paid for it. Best wishes on your path to successful writing career!

  5. Wow, the comments that were left here are all excellent. I agree with all of them :-) and don't have anything to add. Definitely do NOT feel guilty for wanting to get paid!

  6. I'm just starting to get my foot in the door with a few paying gigs, but I still don't think I'd feel safe and secure without a "job with benefits," and salaried monies. Maybe one day, but for now I'm still just exploring. I don't even really know which magazines or publications to submit to to make money or who would be interested in what I write. So for now its just here and there!

  7. New follower found you thru The Baby Bottom Line Hop, this is my link Have a great Sunday and I hope you figure this all out. As for me, I like to write for me and wether or not i'm getting paid for it. Hope you get inspiring ideas soon! :)

  8. I am very much with Michael Ann, Great advice, not lot to add and please do not please guilty. Professionally spoken I am a genius in organisation. Its art for me. Why should I not getting paid for the art work I am asked to create? Surely it isnt easy, but then life begins where the comfort zone ends.

  9. I couldn't clearly remember that saying, but it is similar to this: If you will not charge for your talent, then someone will prey on it. Give it away when necessary or as you desire, and don't feel guilty when you get paid for it. See those people in Hollywood? They use their talents and got millions in return. Just don't forget to give back. That's all that matters:)

    Thanks for visiting The Quiet Mom's blog ( Now following your GFC, twitter


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