For most of my 30-year writing career I have been lucky. I was a full-time sportswriter for USA Today and an editor/writer for a Jewish newspaper before I mistakenly accepted a copy editing job. I hated the job and decided to do full time what I had been doing on the side while I was in Jewish journalism: freelance writing.
That was 1989. Unfortunately, I didn’t earn enough writing to pay my bills. Within a few months, the Chicago Tribune was giving me so many assignments that I no longer needed to work for a temp agency. In 1995, though, I started writing for large companies. The assignments were more lucrative than newspaper assignments, but far less frequent. A year later, I returned to journalism. By 2009, though, the newspaper business was so bad that I needed again to do non-writing work to pay my bills.
Here is what I learned in 1989, 1995 and 2009 about seeking non-writing work—and I’m not including writing-related work such as teaching writing:
- Changing your money budget is imperative: Buying inexpensive food at grocery stores was much easier than I imagined. I preferred dipping into savings and taking out cash advances to looking for a full-time job that would jeopardize my writing career. You shouldn’t do this if your prospects for writing income are so gloomy that you can’t get the money back.
- Changing your time budget is imperative: If you REALLY want to be a writer and pay your bills, you have to make tough decisions. Allocate at least 20 hours weekly to seeking writing assignments if you’re struggling. That means you now have to reduce time spent on pleasurable activities. I’m a news addict, but I had to spend way less time reading publications online and offline.
- Less money and time is often better: It’s tempting to work as much as possible when a sales company such as a telemarketer tells you that it will pay you $10 per hour for as long as you want to work plus commissions on your sales. One telemarketing company required me to work 40 hours per week. I left after a few weeks because I didn’t have time to pursue writing opportunities.
- Contacting lots of temp agencies is beneficial: In 1989, temp agencies usually offered Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. assignments. By 2009, more agencies offered temps more flexible schedules. Work on weekends and evenings will give you more time to seek writing assignments during the day. Contact as many agencies as possible because their assignments differ.
- Learning another skill is beneficial, too: OK, I really don’t have another skill because my bookkeeping skills are obsolete with today’s technology. Once, though, I was a cashier who worked next to a bartender. I didn’t earn much money, but he did. Learning a skill that you can use on evenings and weekends is a good idea, but you shouldn’t work so many hours that you will harm your writing career.
My final tip about seeking non-writing work is that you should explore many ways of earning money via writing first. That means you should consider writing for, among other things, a blog writing service, a copywriting service and a press release writing service.
Martin Z is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.