I landed my first paid writing job in November of 2015. Having studied English in college, being a writer was, and still is, my dream job. Since I was a little girl writing book reports in my bedroom in my free time, I’ve always dreamed of adding that title to my resume. I found my current gig through LinkedIn when the company was looking for people to create content during the pre-launch phase of their website. The agreement was that the pre-launch work would be unpaid, you would generate what you could, and, if they liked it, you would get hired as a writer once they launched.
I write every single day in some shape or form, so I figured that I might as well give this a shot. The worst that could happen is that they wouldn’t hire me once launch rolled around. I knew that if I ever wanted to get my writing career started, I would have to start somewhere. It might as well be here.
The topics were all things that I was passionate about, and knowledgeable about to a certain extent. It just so happened to be a lot of material I would already be researching in my free time. I wrote what I could, and there was no real guideline about how much to write, so I generated about 15 articles in the first month and a half. Launch was set for February, and right around that time, the company offered most of us a writing spot on the contributing team. I was still enjoying the work, and was looking forward to getting paid for what I’d already been doing.
The pay wasn’t generous, but it was pay. As someone who’s never been paid for the massive amounts of writing she’s done, that in itself was huge. While each article didn’t bring in a large sum, together they did start to add up. It’s been almost a full year and I really enjoy it. However, content writing is definitely not all I expected it to be. Here are five things I’ve learned this first year, and tips to help those that may just be starting out with their writing career — or any creative career.
1. Understand The Work Isn’t Always Exciting
Coming from a little girl that chose writing book reports over playing outside, I expected to spend late nights digging through research and fretting over citations. Wrong. Most of the articles I write are about viral content and generated to be light-hearted and easy to read. I’m generated content with the goal to get as many people to click on my article as possible. Not as dreamy as my visions.
However, we have to pitch as many topics as we claim, and that is where I get my research fix. I try to create a balance for myself. Yes, I can create an article with 15 funny pictures, that takes some wit and writing skills, but I also want to learn something. I want to be able to research and grow as a writer. So I make sure that half of what I’m writing is a little more involved.
2. Be Aware Of Obstacles
Just because the content isn’t as difficult as I envisioned, that doesn’t mean there aren’t obstacles. For me, learning the formatting was a long process. Sometimes editors change the way they want something formatted, or how many links they want embedded. You have to learn to roll with it.
I’ve had to learn about formatting, Search Engine Optimization, properly attributing photos and links as well as photo editing software to create featured images for each article. I’ve learned a lot that I didn’t expect to when I started writing. And sometimes, I simply don’t know what to say about a 45 second video clip.
3. Scheduling Is Your Friend
I used to think I had all the time in the world. 12 articles a month; I can do that in my sleep. Guess what? 12 articles is plenty. I don’t always have time for 12 articles, but that’s my minimum and so I make time. On top of writing, I also work a full time job. It isn’t great when all 12 articles get submitted during the last week of the month. The writing isn’t great, and editors don’t love it.
Schedule time to write. I devote one night a week to writing. I put it in my calendar, and I make sure that time gets spent productively. As soon as I go home, I clear off the desk/working space in our apartment, and I turn my laptop on. I usually make tea because it helps me get in the zone to write. I give myself a break for dinner, but when I have that time specifically carved out, I’m more apt to get shit done. If I write something down in my calendar, it feels like an appointment or a meeting. You wouldn’t skip a meeting with your boss, and since, as a freelancer, you are your boss, you shouldn’t skip the time to write.
4. Understand Team Dynamics
Speaking of bosses, technically you are your own boss. You decide what to write, when to write, and how. In my case, the rest of the team is halfway across the country. We’ve never met, but we have phone conferences periodically. I chat with my editor on a weekly basis. I’ve learned it’s very important to ask questions, especially when your team isn’t right there in front of you. There are some things that get lost in translation. Some nitty-gritty details can get confusing, and it’s important, being so far away, to ask questions when the need arises. Make sure that your communication is open and honest.
5. Seek An Opportunity To Challenge Yourself
With viral content generation, it’s easy to get lost in the point of it all. There are days where I wake up and think, Why am I wasting my time writing this stuff? It’s important to find your “why,” and to take steps to challenge yourself as a writer.
My “why” is simple: I need to build my portfolio. In order to actually build a career in writing, I need to get experience doing it, and this is the means by which I’m starting that ball rolling. No, I’m not writing anything that could change anyone’s lives, but I’m at least writing about a topic that I love. That’s more than many aspiring writers can say!
I also recognize that there are ways I can fundamentally improve as a writer through writing these articles. It’s been a way to brush up on grammar and punctuation. Sometimes, finding 300 words about a video is challenging. Knowing that it can be challenging writing content about a very short video clip, I’ve taken on more of those articles. It has helped me learn to take a small, condensed amount of information and elaborate on it.
While writing content wasn’t the dreamy, romantic writing career I had in mind, and I don’t spend my nights sipping tea and feverishly scouring extensive research for my next novel, I do still enjoy writing. The paychecks don’t allow me to quit my full-time job and live on a yacht, but they do pay for my internet and my phone. They also allow me the freedom to put more towards retirement. Having that little bit of side income, on top of building my writing skills and my portfolio makes this leg of the journey worthwhile.
Samantha works full time at a private college in Vermont and is a content writer on the side. When she’s not working, she’s drinking copious amounts of coffee, making lists, reorganizing her apartment, or rescuing animals. She has a rescue Chihuahua named Sammy, that shares both her name and her pizza crusts. Follow her on Twitter here.
Image via Unsplash