I used to love writing. People told me to follow my interests so I majored in journalism and after graduation was hired as a copy writer. Like most wide-eyed grads, I was thrilled to land my first real big-boy job and get paid to do what I enjoyed. But that feeling didn’t last long.
After 3 long weeks on the job, I realized that writing for a living wasn’t anything like I expected it to be. After 3 soul-crushing months passed, I was desperate to find a way out of my “dream job” as fast as possible. Based on my own experience, copy writing was demanding, unfulfilling, and didn’t pay well either. It was incredible how after only a few months, my passion for writing turned into a nightmare I couldn’t wait to escape from.
In this article, I’ll outline the dark side of writing for other people full-time based my experience as a professional writer. The intent of this article is not to discourage you, but to raise awareness about the potential downsides of pursuing a career in writing so you’ve got a better perspective of what you’re getting yourself into.
How I Got Into Writing
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, I used to really enjoy writing. The first-person writing you usually read in magazines like RollingStone or Esquire was the style of writing that got me hooked in the first place. I loved reading interviews written by guys like Chuck Klosterman and thought that writing for a magazine would be my ticket to being creative and well-paid throughout my career.
Since I had a clear vision of what I wanted, I began to throw myself into every writing opportunity I could find. I wrote for the student paper and part-time at the sports section of the city paper. I was also writing essays for class and even a handful of writing contests to earn a little extra scholarship money. One of the elements that I loved about this was the diversity of writing. I could cover stories about local news events and interview Senators one day, while writing about high-school sports the next. It was hard work, but it was fulfilling too.
But all that positivity changed shortly after graduation as I was introduced to the harsh realities of a professional writer.
My Introduction to the Real World
Reality Check #1: Most writers are poorly compensated. If making a lot of money is important to you, consider a different career path.
A few months before graduation, I started sending out applications for entry level writing positions. I was applying mostly to small newspapers that would consider an applicant fresh out of school. After about a dozen or so applications and a couple interviews, I was offered my first job writing news for a small-town paper. The compensation? A disappointing $10 an hour.
I was already making more than $10 an hour working part-time waiting tables when I came to the realization that it would be almost impossible to pay my rent, student loans, car insurance, and other monthly expenses while working that job. So I decided to pass on the first job offer due to the extremely low pay.
I learned quickly that being writer does not pay well. Of course, had I ever taken the time to understand how poorly most writers are compensated I may have chosen a different major altogether. At the time of writing, according to Indeed.com the average new reporter salary is a mere $32,000 per year. If you’re just beginning your career, you should expect to get paid a lot less.
Reality Check #2: There’s little room for creativity with most writing gigs. If creativity is important, writing for someone else probably isn’t for you.
One of the key elements that attracted me to writing in the first place was the ability to write about important issues that impact a community and tell interesting stories. After getting hired for my first copy writing job, I quickly realized that I would not writing about topics that interested me nor would I have the opportunity to explore my creative side. Instead, my writing was merely a commodity to be written as quickly as possible.
I was pumping out dozens of 500 word articles on topics like rain gutters and database software. Those were the more interesting topics. When you are paid to write for someone else, you’ve got to write about the topics and in the style your employer needs regardless of your personal preference
Reality Check #3: If you like to take your time becoming a professional writer may not be for you.
When I was in college I had the time to invest in researching articles, editing papers, and getting the content as close to perfect as possible. After landing my first job that available time disappeared.
When you start writing for someone else, you will have little time to conduct research or spend reflecting on the perfect structure of a particular sentence. I know I didn’t. The quality of any piece of content was secondary to the fact that I needed to bang out at least 15 articles per day on top of editing other people’s writing. If this isn’t a formula for burnout I don’t know what is.
There Is Hope.
Admittedly, this post is major downer thus far for those of you considering a career in writing. But there is hope for those determined to pursue this career in this field yet. If you want to separate yourself from the starving writers, you need to learn about marketing. It’s the only way you’ll be able to thrive as a writer and separate yourself from the thousands of others write for little money on topics they’re not interested in.
Now marketing is a pretty big topic and something you will continue to improve on for the rest of your life. With that being said, here are a few good places you can learning to apply marketing to enhance the business side of your writing services:
The Missing Piece – Is it really possible to make a living writing? Bamidele Onibalusi shares what you must do to make it happen.
How to Make Money Online Through Blogging and Writing – In this post published by Kristi Heinz outlines some basic ways you can start making extra money on the side by blogging for yourself or other blogs.
The 3 Simple Principles Behind Growing Your Freelance Writing Business – Lanre Solarin shows you how to get more value from each client in this post.
Freelance Writing: How to Find Your First Job – Tom Ewer from LeavingWorkBehind.com shows you how to land that elusive first client. It always starts with one.
I encourage you to read each of the articles referenced above for a crash course in writer marketing. They won’t make a difference in your net income overnight, but they will set you on the right course to becoming a better paid and more fulfilled professional writer long term.