My Freelance Writing Career Ended Before It Began

What I truly wanted grew in its place

I dreamed about being a freelance writer and editor for years before I took steps to make it happen. Part of me was convinced that freelancing wasn’t the life for me because I’m comforted by the illusion of stability as an employee. Once I got my current job, I didn’t need freelancing because I had everything I’d always wanted in a job, including a mission I’m passionate about, working 100% from home (even pre-pandemic), wonderful colleagues, lots of flexibility, and a future I was interested in moving towards.  

But the company is a startup, and I knew that if it didn’t survive the pandemic (knock on wood), I didn’t want to return to a regular job, commute (someday), noisy cubicle neighbors (someday), and everything else that comes with an in-person role. 

So in February of this year — while I still had the promise of a paycheck and the freedom to be choosy with clients — I did a ton of research about how to create a successful freelance business, then I took the plunge in June. I published a website, posted samples, and reached out to people about my new venture. By the time the pandemic was in full swing, my version of panic-buying was working an extra 20+ hours per week on my business. 

Exploring freelancing

My website focused on writing and editing, but I also added resume and cover letter editing because I thought that would be a good way to get new clients while I got my feet on the ground as a freelance writer. Then a few of my friends recommended that I consider becoming a coach based on my personality and skills, so I looked into that too. Life coaching seemed too broad, but I thought I could be a health, creativity, writing, or career coach based on my experience and interests. 

Once I started mentioning that in conversation, friends came back with interest, so I helped a couple with their resumes and cover letters. When one of them said he wanted to explore what his next steps were, it was the perfect opportunity to see what career coaching might be like. 

We had a couple conversations, and although the experience would’ve been different with proper training, I suspected that career coaching wasn’t right for me. About a week later, another friend mentioned she was interested in this kind of conversation, so I tried again with her. 

These interactions made me realize that 1) I didn’t want to work on resumes and cover letters all day, and 2) I didn’t want to be a career coach. I had only considered it because I followed such a long, winding journey to find what I wanted to do for work, but I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to talk to people about all day.

Of course, I’m glad to help out a friend, but it didn’t make me happy in the same way that writing does. 

And while I started the freelance venture for practical financial reasons, I also did it because I wanted to utilize my skills with language in a way that was fulfilling to me and beneficial for others. So I decided to remove the resume and cover letter editing from my services. 

After that, I continued to ruminate on other types of coaching while I focused more on writing and editing. Another friend asked me to edit an academic paper for him before he submitted it to a peer-reviewed journal. It was a time-consuming, challenging edit, so I was happy when he praised my work. He probably could have opened doors for my business in his academic community, but something about this didn’t sit right with me.

The more I continued in this venture, the more squirrelly I felt about it. Initially, I thought I was afraid of the unknown future and new territory, but as I progressed, I could tell the answer wasn’t that simple.

Pressing pause

I started feeling scattered, and worse, I felt like I was getting pulled further away from what I really wanted, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Because I didn’t want to spend more time, energy, or money on this venture if I wasn’t sure, I pressed pause on building my freelancing business to iron out my thoughts and feelings. 

I did a lot of soul searching and other things to tune into what’s really important to me, including a major declutter over the course of several months. 

During this time, I also focused my energy on my first chapbook (short collection of poetry) and, mostly by accident, I participated in a NaNoWriMo-esque challenge in November. 

It happened slowly, but I did get the clarity I was looking for. 

3 important truths

1I realized that if I wanted to do anything with either of these works, likely indie publishing, I had to be ready to market them when they were finished. To do that, I needed to take myself seriously and set up a website for myself as an author, not as a freelancer. That’s why I moved from my old website and rebranded.

Although this path may not provide the same financial benefits that freelancing could have, I know it’s the right direction. I’m still considering coaching or even freelance writing in the future, but for now, I’ll focus on my books.

2I realized why I felt so squirrelly about writing for hire. For me, building a freelance writing business felt like settling. Focusing on my own words seemed like an impossible, vain dream — so impossible that it didn’t even register as an option at the time — which is why I subconsciously compromised and decided to write for other people instead. But in reality, what I truly want is the freedom to write on my own terms. This desire is a bit skewed because writing at my job is disproportionately difficult for various reasons. That is, I could be happy writing for the right people on the right topics.

3After all the soul searching, decluttering, and NaNoWriMoing, I realized that I have a story to tell. Not just the one I wrote in November, either. I have lots of stories to tell, and my experience and words have value — and more importantly, so do I.

Photo by Damian Denis on Unsplash

Teena Merlan