“Why Don’t You Just Get Another Job?” How A Freelance Writer Makes A Living

Part of a series about how a freelance writer does money.

April 2014 stats:

Total earnings: $3,552.72*

Completed pieces (all types): 113

Essays published: in addition to my two Billfold pieces this month, I had a SF&F allegory titled Earth Children published on Yearbook Office

Current active clients: 5

I promised I would answer the question “why don’t I just get another job?” this month, so now I have to sit down and hash it out.

First: any discussion of you need to get another job has to start with the idea that you don’t get jobs. Instead, you are given jobs. You can pitch for jobs, or you can apply for jobs, but in the end, the decision about which job you get is rarely yours to make.

Right now I’m on target to earn $40,000 as a freelance writer this year. This means that to make this at least some kind of reasonable economic trade, I’d need to find someone to give me a $40,000/year job. (I know it’s a bit apples and oranges because of the tax thing and the health insurance thing, but you get the idea. If I’m trading my home office for a commute and a cube, I want at least $40K.)

The $40,000/year minimum eliminates a lot of jobs. The old “You’re an internet freelance writer and you write listicles and email campaigns? Go get a job at Starbucks!” line does not apply here.

I do have a background in office administration, and I could probably find a position in a small office as an administrative assistant or office manager. That’s my shadow self, right now; the person who looks a bit like Joan Holloway. I could be that person and earn around $40–50K and eventually train to become a human resources director. I’d be the person giving jobs to other people. It’s a logical and attainable career path.

If I told you that I wrote my first “book” when I was in kindergarten, and it was called Marijana’s Deram,** I would sound like the biggest cliche ever. But there’s a lot of that in my answer to the question “why don’t you just get another job.”

This isn’t “do what you love” in the presumptuous way. I like, but do not love, writing listicles and email campaigns. Instead, this work feeds my essay habit and fits my talents and abilities in a way no other job has. Writing is how my brain solves problems, and I can use that skill to solve other people’s problems.

There’s also a lot of what we’re going to discuss when we read Rich Dad Poor Dad in a few weeks: the idea that some people just want to be their own boss. I’m not precisely my own boss; my clients and I pass that responsibility back and forth like two people on a blind date sharing a creme brulee. But I am running my own business. We’ll see if it turns me into a Rich Dad.

Am I frustrated, sometimes, at the content mills and the gig economy and the assumption that I’ll be happy to work for three cents a word? Yes — but I know that’s not the only economy out there. I’ve seen what happens when you move up, even just a little bit, in your writing career. I’ve leveled up a lot this year — I’ve even leveled up this month. I can now afford to turn jobs down that don’t fit my interests and goals.

(That, in itself, feels like a significant accomplishment. Not just in my writing career, but in life.)

The “why don’t you just get another job” question only becomes relevant when I stop leveling up, or stop earning money. When none of the jobs clients give me fit my interests and goals. When there’s another job available that’s better than all the pitches I could ever send.

Next month: Advice to New Freelance Writers. If you have specific questions you’d like me to answer in next month’s piece, please drop them in the comments!

*I should flag, because this month it’s actually relevant: I generally earn occasional small amounts of money selling music, which get rolled up into my total earnings. This month I earned $220 from music/merch sales, which is included in the $3,552 figure. TRANSPARENCY, YO.

**There was a girl in my kindergarten named Marijana, and I thought it was a really pretty name. Also I didn’t know how to spell “dream.”

Nicole Dieker is a freelance writer and ghostwriter, and is the only member of the band Hello, The Future!

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