The Freelance Writing Trenches: It's A Business

Monday, January 7, 2013
typewriter It's been a ripe old time since I've penned a post for The Freelance Writing Trenches series and, true confession, the very start of this post has been hanging out in draft form on the Blogger service since 5/29/2012. High time to dust it off and publish it already, don't you think?

I took a lot of great classes in college. During my four years of undergraduate work, I enjoyed course such as British Literature and Reading in French. I opt for an extremely liberal arts heavy higher education, taking "Logic" for my analytical reasoning gen ed and "Great Ideas of Science" for my science gen ed. (And yes, in that latter course we just sat around and talked about string theory and the butterfly effect.) Oh, it was all fun and games until the recession hit.

Looking back at my college transcript, my class choices hint at an individual preparing to spend her professional life steeping in academia. Except when you fast forward six years from my college days, I'm here, hanging out in a cabin in the woods, running multiple businesses. If there's one glaring hole in my college transcript, it's the utter lack of any business education whatsoever.

Business woman

I run a business every single day. On the flip side, (as much as it pains me to admit it), I only use the knowledge I learned from "Theatre: Greek to Elizabethan" a handful of times a year, usually when playing Trivial Pursuit. Being brutally practical, I use next to nothing that I learned from my college course in my everyday work. What I do draw upon is what I learned as news editor for my college's student newspaper and the time I spent sticking my toe into the world of freelance writing (researching markets, writing queries, etc.) during summer breaks.

It's not my college's fault that I followed my heart when choosing courses and a major path. After all, my college time was spent pre-recession and the prevailing attitude was that even if I veered off the course of higher education, I could always translate my liberal art skills (aka writing skills) into a cushy corporate job. Freelancing really wasn't considered a viable career path yet and my English professors, who had all gone the masters, Ph.D, teach college route, didn't have much insight to offer on any non-academic career path.

Still, I wish, that at some point someone would have said, "Hey bozo, go take some business classes."  In fact, I'd argue that it's almost more important for every college graduate to enter the world with at least one business course under their belt than an analytical reasoning or science course. The days of spending your summer breaks interning at a business that will offer you a job upon graduation are rapidly disappearing. Instead, our higher education institutions need to figure out a way for college graduates to thrive without the shelter of a corporate wing. For many of us that means going into business for ourselves. Because here's a secret that it took way too long for me to figure out about the adult world: it's all a business.

Writers like to think we have too much artistic integrity to worry our little heads about horrible, bland business details, but we don't get very far if we aren't capable of churning out polished, marketable product, whether we write poems or magazine feature articles. No matter if we make beautiful pottery or write short stories or fix plumbing problems, we need to let people know that we have these skills and then we need to convince people that they should consume these products and services from us. We're always selling something, even if we don't think we are.

To be successful writers, we need to know how to market ourselves and find consistent work; we need to ask for the payment we deserve; and we must be open to editorial criticism. Most importantly, we need to stop shirking away from any internal heebie-jeebies we get when we think of running our own businesses.

Wherever you are in the writing life at the moment, this year I challenge you to start thinking of your writing as a business. After all, your writing should work for you, not the other way around.

Interested in how to transform your writing into a business? Check out the rest of the posts in the Freelance Writing Trenches series to spark some ideas.



  1. An excellent reminder for all of us writers. And excellent advice for college students and a must-read for those who teach/advise at colleges.

  2. I am in the same boat. I am an operations analyst and although I know how to express myself using words, I do not have the business tools to succeed. I am now pursuing a MBA degree to obtain the business knowledge I did not learn in college. I complain often because I would much rather write on Modern British Poetry than the ethical decisions of business.

  3. "Wherever you are in the writing life at the moment, this year I challenge you to start thinking of your writing as a business. After all, your writing should work for you, not the other way around."

    Challenge accepted! I essentially run Young Adult Money as a business. Yes, at the core of the business is the content, but there are about 100 other things I have on my to do list or things that I need to manage and whatnot. Freelance writing is a whole other beast that I haven't pursued too much, mainly because I don't think I have enough time to write more than five posts a week on top of everything else.

  4. Excellent advice, Ada, for writers and anyone. I also believe the future is owning ones own business. The days of joining a company, working there for 30 years all the while climbing the ladder, with benefits and retirement, are long gone.


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