You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
About a year and a half ago, after a 6 month temp job ended, I made a decision.
After being unemployed (with the exception of the temp job) for a year and a half, I needed to do something – anything – to keep myself busy while looking for that ever-elusive permanent and full-time job offer. The unemployment checks weren’t cutting it (and were eventually going end), and a new job didn’t seem to be anywhere on the horizon. I had to do something.
I have loved writing since the day I could hold a pencil in my hand. English classes were always easy for me, and I actually enjoyed learning the rules of grammar. I looked forward to spelling and vocabulary days. For as long as I can remember, my answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was always “A writer.” Writing is, and always has been, a big part of who I am. And yet, none of my previous jobs qualified me for a position as a “real writer” anywhere. My short stint in college as a journalism major and editor in chief at the school paper helped a little, but I never graduated, so it was fluff, at best. Getting paid to write seemed impossible. It was impossible. I needed experience and education I didn’t have. Considering the crumbling economy, and the ridiculously high unemployment rate, even getting someone to glance at my resume was a joke. I couldn’t go back to school without clearing up my defaulted student loans, and unemployment checks didn’t put me in a position to make payments. I couldn’t just create experience I didn’t actually have, either (could I?).
It looked pretty hopeless, but I don’t generally take well to being told I can’t do something, so I set out to change my circumstances. Or at least give it a damned good try.
So, I decided I would dip my toes into the waters of freelance writing. I knew I wouldn’t make a lot of money doing it, at least at first, but money wasn’t really my first priority. More than anything, I wanted experience. Real, tangible experience that I could put on my resume and show to employers. When I first started out, the vast majority of my time was spent searching for work, and very, very little of it was spent doing any actual writing. I spent hours upon hours, every single day, applying to sites looking to hire writers. I sent in writing samples, revised my resume to highlight all of the writing work I had done at my previous jobs in various offices. I applied for a spot at just about every content mill and job board out there, and disregarded the snide comments from experienced freelancers who tuned up their noses at the idea of writing for so little money. I sent off letters of interest to people looking to hire writers for small, one-time projects. I put myself out there, full force, into the freelance world.
After a while, acceptance letters and offers started coming in. I got the approval to write for several well-known writing sites that paid better than the .01 cent per word content mill writing I had done before. I landed a gig writing about electronic cigarettes that paid me, on average, about $50 per week. Another gig for a site that paid $15 per published article. Then two more that paid $8 to $10 per article, and it just went on from there. When I wasn’t pumping out various, random articles during the day, I was researching and studying Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and internet marketing. Devouring information on how to increase search engine rankings, drive traffic to websites, and get customers to stay on the site longer. My business, Mod Content, was eventually born, which landed me a few higher-paying gigs. Shortly after that, I realized that many businesses would benefit from a writing/website-setup combo service, so I set out to become an expert in manipulating WordPress (I already had a lot of experience in that area, so it wasn’t a big leap). Eventually, I expanded Mod Content to include website setup and maintenance, in addition to various writing services, and more work came in. I took any and all writing work I could get my hands on. I networked like crazy, and eventually found myself published on the front page of the Seattle Gay News 2011 Pride Guide.
As great as it was to have bits and pieces of work flowing in, however, it wasn’t nearly enough to make a living out of it. In a month, I may have earned a couple hundred dollars, at best. What it did, though, is give me something solid to put on my resume. I now had tangible (and hard-earned) experience to show prospective employers. Writing experience. Marketing experience. Website experience. I had educated myself, sometimes through frustrating trial and error, on the latest trends and technical aspects of online writing. Experience that many seasoned writers still don’t possess. I had, somewhat accidentally, created a perfect cocktail of experience in both writing and technology, a blend that, though I didn’t know it at the time, is a valuable commodity to many employers.
At a time when so many companies were refusing to hire unemployed workers, I now had a current “job” I could confidently list on my resume. I finally had enough real, hands-on experience to get employers to take a serious look at my resume, something that never would have happened before. And after that, I started getting calls for interviews. Real, live interviews for writing positions at companies who were possibly interested in paying me to sit at a desk and write all day long. My dream.
Yes, I worked for pennies. Yes, I was undervalued and underpaid and probably under-appreciated. Yes, I spent hours upon hours of my own time researching, learning, and building my skills to match the current trends in writing, when I could have been working at some office somewhere as an office manager and earning a living wage. And, when this all started, there were plenty of people who would tell me I was wasting my time. I was barely getting by (sometimes not getting by), financially speaking. I sold stuff, including my car, accepted money from friends and family, and went without a lot of things, just to keep from going under. No doubt, it was a rough and brutal journey. But, you know what? I did exactly what I set out to do. I created experience where there was none, through late nights and endless searches for dozens of little gigs that eventually added up to a lot of skill and experience. I like to think of it as a self-created (very low-paid) internship. Because, when you look at it, that’s exactly what it was.
Yesterday, I was offered a job as a full-time writer at a local internet marketing company, one of several companies I interviewed with over the past few weeks. They want to pay me to sit at a desk, 40 hours per week, and do writer-type things. They even want to give me insurance and a gym membership and paid time off. It’s a real job. And when they called to offer me the position, they mentioned how impressed they were with my experience, and how excited they are to have someone with my skills join their team. Of course, I accepted.
Honestly, though, it took me a full 10 minutes to return their call. I listened to the voice mail, and then played it three more times. I was absolutely shaking, in shock and total disbelief. I cried and then I laughed and then I cried again. I just kept saying “My god. I did it. I finally did it.”
I made my dream a reality. And right now, sitting here writing this blog and reflecting back over the past year and a half, I am damned proud of myself.
As I should be.