Sunday, January 11, 2009

Happy Anniversary to Me!

Today, January 11th, 2009, is my one year anniversary as a freelance writer. Though I had been working as a proofreader, writer, and editor since 2004, it was just one year ago that I had had enough of the "rat race" and became a full-time freelancer after turning over my letter of resignation to my former employer. Someone asked in the comments on my first post how I had gotten into the field. I thought there would be no better day to explain my path to freelance writing than today. And then ask if other writers reading this blog could briefly share their experiences.

I went to college at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and graduated with a BA in English in December 2003. In April 2004, I started working for a small telemarketing company as an assistant and one of my main jobs was proofreading the scripts that would be read at the call centers. In December 2005, that company was bought out and I was laid off.

I was determined to collect unemployment until I found a position that focused more on writing or editing and didn't have any sort of "assistant" duties. I didn't have to wait long as someone at John Ryan saw my short resume and interviewed me for a Junior Editor Position. They knew full well that the only experience I had was what I'd learned in high school, college, and my one post-college proofreading assistant position. They took a chance on me anyway, much to my surprise. I worked on FlashPlayer spots for their in-bank kiosks. This is a system of plasma screens which have been mounted in 500 bank branches that play content to entertain people while they stand in line. Every day, I peruse national headlines and local news in 25 major cities and reduce the stories to 200 characters so they can be played on the screens.

It’s a fun job and they paid me well, but it didn't take up the full 40 hours they had me working. I felt like I was wasting their money and my time. I wanted to learn and do more copy writing, but they had other, more experienced writers for that. Also, having had a group health plan and 401k at my previous job, I really wanted to be employed someplace, not a contractor. I renegotiated my contract down to part time, strictly working from home. I still do that for them as of today and for the foreseeable future.

In January 2007, I took a job that I thought would make me happy with its withholding of taxes, health plan, 401k, profit sharing program, and mere 10 minute commute. It was proofreading the names, dates, and locations that would be etched into stone, glass, or metal awards. Mind-numbingly boring. Needless to say, this was a short-lived period of employment and the first time I have ever been fired. It was just too obvious that I wasn't a good fit.

Still working for John Ryan, I was able to support myself. Wiser that benefits won't make me any happier, I broadened my search. I took a position with a tiny advertising company that promised me all the copy writing I could handle. It really ended up being a glorified executive personal assistant position with the occasional written blurb. But working as an assistant to the principal, I had a better idea of how the advertising and marketing industry worked than before. Because I was so unhappy answering phones and composing e-mails, I quit, but with the knowledge that I wouldn't be seeking a new job. I even gave them a copy of the rates I would be charging for my services, and they became one of my clients (still are!).

I had already been writing short web content pieces for one of my favorite clients, Barker & Hedges. After they knew I had quit my job, they increased how much work I did for them. As I picked up more and more clients, I had more work to show to others who may be considering my services. They also talked to other people, and soon I was picking up local small business clients just on word of mouth. I gained confidence and started sending my resume and samples to newspapers and other marketing companies. Those that responded have become regular clients of mine.

Over the last year, I've had a lot of time to think about "How did I get here?" I've been asked more than once how I got into writing or became a writer, and I can't point to anything I did specifically. My part of getting to where I am now has been not being satisfied with a job that provides a paycheck and realizing that the group health plan and 401k aren't the grail. Even when I was comfortable, I wasn't happy and life is too short for that.

The real catalyst to my career path has been a handful of people and organizations that took a chance on someone with an unproven writing record but with a lot of enthusiasm for the written word. Seriously, when I went to John Ryan to interview for the job, I brought them college English papers and a copy of the high school student-run magazine I co-edited. I did not expect to leave that meeting with a job, but I did.

Now that business appears to be stable, I’m trying to branch out into more specific areas of writing that I want to pursue, specifically news and historical research articles. I only have a few under my belt, but I’m working on that. I’m also working on using photography to enhance my work. For the newspaper articles I’ve written, I’ve also been my own photographer!

Anyways, this is long enough. I thought it would be more easily explained, but every job I’ve had since I graduated has been a stone in the path to where I am at now. It has been a process, for sure, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love what I’m doing so much it almost doesn’t feel like work, which was the whole reason why I picked English as my major in the first year of college. As long as I can continue to seek new challenges and pursue new assignments, I will never tire of this.

So… Are there other writers that would like to share how they got to where they are? You can leave your response in the comments or if this inspired you at all (or your path is long, like mine), write a post about it in your blog and share the link here. I would love to hear from you and others who are trying to get into the field may as well.

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