Yesterday a cringe-inducing spammy email promoting a lavish freelance copywriter lifestyle landed with a thud in my Inbox. It was parceled as a ‘partner promotion’ by a writing network that I signed up to years ago. From my point of view, the network in question was dependable and so I chose to read it from start to finish.
In my somewhat naive mind, I thought that attempts to sell get rich quick schemes died a death around 2012. The email proved me wrong. Amongst its wilder claims I found:
- Promises of a six-figure income in exchange for working for four hours a day
- Said promises escalated to a six-figure income in exchange for 15 minutes of work a day
- Guarantees that I would eventually earn $15,000 per similarly spammy email
- The promise of taking days or weeks off whenever I fancied, because ya know, all freelance copywriters can absolutely do that
After reading the email I let myself enter a cycle of considering my own expectations prior to wading into the world of freelance writing. I began my life as a copywriter in Wales around eight years ago, with relatively humble expectations. As time has unfolded, I’ve made a few discoveries about the benefits and challenges that this lifestyle conveys.
Here are five of them:
Achieving flexibility as a freelance copywriter is harder than you think
Yes, you get to work whenever you like, in a location of your choosing. But, there are some limits and striking the balance between achieving flexibility and thriving as a freelance copywriter is tricky until you find your feet.
Several factors influence your ability to remain flexible:
- Your clients, how much work they need, and when they need it by
- Revision requests, which are usually urgent
- How much work you’ve produced recently and how much you need to write to meet all of your upcoming expenses
- External factors, such as illnesses, childcare, family members insisting that they need to visit you
To guarantee flexibility, you need to execute great time management skills. I was two years into my life as a freelance copywriter before I realised that I needed to sit down every Sunday evening, look at the week ahead, and plan my work accordingly.
Although flexibility is tricky, it is within your reach. But, if you’re going to continue sailing through the world of freelancing with the same degree of enthusiasm that pushed you into it, you need to moderate your expectations. Okay, maybe one day you will find yourself spending one-hour each morning typing away on a topic of your choice before spending the remainder of your working hours baking on crisp white sands in Jamaica. But, it’s going to take a lot of effort to get there and that destination probably isn’t your starting point.
Your friends and family may ask when you’re going to get a real job
Let’s face it, when you’re working your way through the swarm of relatives at your next reunion and you tell them with absolute delight that you’re a writer, they may not take you seriously. They’ll probably assume that you’re trying to emulate the existence of quirky artists from days gone by such as Toulouse-Lautrec, complete with your own dingy apartment in an obscure corner of Paris.
No matter how many times you explain that words (partially) make the (web-based) world go round, the majority will just nod and agree with a faux knowing smile. Don’t take it personally. In my experience, few people will grill you about the ins and outs of your business. Those who do probably have a genuine fascination for how it works.
On the odd occasion, they might express concerns regarding a potential lack of consistency. Whether working as a freelance copywriter is inconsistent or not is down to you. Arguably, you’re in a position where you are in almost complete control of how much work you receive. If you market and develop yourself in the right way, work will continue to come your way. It’s also worth noting that working in a ‘real’ setting isn’t exactly a guarantee of security. Even the biggest of businesses fold, which means the person in control of your financial security, isn’t you.
Occasionally you’ll encounter the dreaded writer’s block
For the most part, I love the variety that comes with working as a freelance copywriter. It means I can hold my head up with pride and confidently state that I once wrote 9000 words on excavators. And, I now know more about the physics behind double glazing than I did eight years ago.
From time-to-time, your enthusiasm will wane. There’s an official term for this in the writing world: writer’s block. One day you’ll roll out of bed, hop onto your sofa, flick the lid of your Mac upwards…and then you’ll realise you’re lost for words.
Literally, lost for words.
Let me assure you that every industry has its own version of writer’s block. My friends who work in medicine occasionally hate all people and find they’re short on sympathy reserves. When I reconnect with old aviation buddies, they’re tired of plush hotel beds and mindblowing South African steak. In other words, no matter how fulfilling or interesting your career is, it’ll still slip into the ‘too much of a good thing’ category every so often.
Writer’s block isn’t always easy to overcome, but I usually find the following techniques work:
- Writing about something I love
- Switching to a new task
- Playing with a headline generator
- Trawling through bizarre news articles
- Reading a book to pump up my vocabulary
Trust me when I say it doesn’t last forever. The world will start turning once more and you’ll resume your life as a freelance copywriter again.
The urge to write something bizarre and publish it will burst out of you
Trailing behind me in a hidden KDP account I dedicate to my guilty pleasures is a litany of self-published books. All of them are non-fiction. None of them sell more than a few copies a month. Each month I am still surprised that a few dollars trickle their way into my account, only to get pushed to the bottom of my bank statement with my regular Hotel Chocolat spending sprees.
I find self-publishing sort of cathartic. It’s possibly a combination of taking on a hefty project and executing it without any interference from anyone anywhere. Although I’m far from being a dedicated hermit, I do love having something to really call my own. Secretly, I hope that my self-publishing urges will eventually give way to wanting to write a book and wow a high-end publishing house. I’m in my 30s, so there’s time for the gumption to arise just yet.
If you have an urge to write a book dishing out advice on picking the perfect shade of green for your next tutu, managing the dysfunctional world of online dating, outlining the history of fish egg consumption, or whatever crazy topic crosses your mind, do it. Should you subsequently feel that your freshly penned book is fit for a rubbish bin, either revamp it until you want to run into the world screaming with it or try the sense of warmth I get when I send mine into the KDP world. I don’t feel as though any of my bizarre books are truly horrendous and sometimes they’re even useful. So, I feel it’s okay to invite someone to agree or disagree with me once they’ve bypassed the gatekeeper that is my self-penned blurb.
You may take life as a freelance writer for granted
Last year when I was riding the waves of an emotional slump, I chose to pick my spirits up by listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, in the form of an audiobook. I’ve since fallen in love with Audible (okay, I’ve fallen hard) and I now use it to listen to Stephen Fry narrate Harry Potter.
After that digression, here’s my point about Big Magic: Without being overly cheesy, I do think Elizabeth Gilbert is right when she says we need to embrace the journey of creativity that’s within us (or words to that effect, I’m not really going ad-verbatim here). As a copywriter, I’m not usually writing something I feel passionate about. Sure, I love excavator hire services, but they don’t exactly send shivers through my soul.
(I may have lied about loving them as well. I’ll file that one under white lies. It was innocent enough).
Listening to Big Magic made me aware that if I don’t harness my skills as a writer and use them to create something I love, something that’s mine, I’ll soon start taking my talent for granted. I’m not unrealistic enough to feel as though I should open my laptop and feel the same rush of excitement and love that I used to get when I stepped onto a plane. But, I do want to start my working day with something I care about. It sort of drums up all those warm and fuzzy feelings, setting me on a far more positive path for the less interesting projects as the day unfolds.
If I don’t develop that sense of interest, and if you don’t, it’s easy to take your life as a freelance copywriter for granted. No, I am not writing from the crisp sands of Kingston, rolling in a six-figure income with minimal effort, or penning letters to the tune of $15,000 a piece. But, experience and a newly-developed foresight have allowed me to achieve flexibility, squeeze in more work when I want to buy something expensive, and create a business that delivers variety. Life as a copywriter in Wales has seen me through some financially challenging times. It’s been there for me when everything else has seemed a bit bleak, acting as an invisible safety net, no matter what happens.