How Writing for Money Makes You Forget Why You are Writing to Begin With

When I first started writing, I, like probably so many other people, did so because there was a love of the word. I did it because I thought I had something to say, something to share, and I thought somebody else might want to know about it.

I held this dream of being a freelance writer. My closest friends can tell you I dreamt this dream for almost ten years before I found a way I could make it work. I’d write poetry, essays, short stories; none of it was really that good. Hell I even had a website up on the free pages of Tripod.com for years. I wonder if that site is still there? I thought that if I wrote it, somebody would find it and say “hey look at this guy over here!”. Yeah, the thoughts of a beginning writer.

Anyhow, fast forward about a few years; I find out about getting paid for writing content for Internet sites. And a lightbulb goes off! I’m a writer, I can do this. So I slowly get into content writing; and over the course of about a year I find out enough to realize there is the possibility of people making a living doing this. Now, mind you I still had a full time job while I was finding this out. I didn’t like my work, so I quit; but I wasn’t ready to go full time into writing yet because I didn’t think there was that much work out there for a writer. So I started a handyman business and thought I’d have my writing to do in the spare time. Well, that didn’t work out and the business folded. So now here I am back at another job I hate for about two and a half years. Finally I decided to go into writing as a way to make money.

Over the course of about six months I figure out I can write full time and earn as much as I did working for minimum wage at least. So I quit my day job and go into freelance writing full time. Now, I still had this idea that I’d just write for a few hours to get paid and spend the remainder of the day writing what I wanted. But by this time, I had been so long wanting to get into writing as a full time writer that I just jumped into anything which gave me money. There was my big mistake. You don’t go grabbing every straw or blade of grass hoping to find the four leaf clover.

While writing content for Internet sites sounds easy enough, it actually isn’t on the business end of things. When writing for money online, you will find the pay scale ranges so widely that you aren’t even sure where you stand some days. And, the people you write for will be just as varied in range; as will the assignments. I’ve written for an employment site, an online printer with a blog, forums, product affiliate sites, and travel sites. I’ve written for companies that own multiple websites and “one man show” sites. I’ve written for Europeans, Canadians and other Americans. I’ve seen what a mass generated “content factory” looks like where the writers churn out generic articles to specific keywords; and I’ve seen companies where even though you get a by-line, you still don’t own the rights to any part of the work you write. I’ve seen job sites where you “bid” for work, usually for such a small price you don’t know how people make any money writing there; and I’ve written for companies that pay a very good weekly rate depending on how many articles you can turn in. I’ve written for PPV or as I call it “page view pennies”. This is where you get say $1.50 per every 1,000 views your article has; and it takes awhile to get there. So the range for the type of work and the type of pay is huge.

And then there is the marketing. Yes, you have to go sell yourself so that you keep generating more work. This is the part I didn’t know about until after I started full time freelancing. Duh. No, the work doesn’t just come rolling in whenever you want it to. Craigslist is a great place to find work, but also a huge place where you can spend hours looking for what you want; kind of like looking for a sale at the Mall of America only in reverse. Oh, and then there are the bills which you need to keep paying even if the money sucks that week. You quickly figure out how much you need to make per hour to keep your ass fed and housed. You also figure out quickly that the electricity bill goes up because you’re on the computer all day; so does the heating bill in the winter.

Meanwhile, the reason you first got into writing…..remember that? Yeah, I forgot about that. I was too busy trying to generate income at the time. My dog reminded me of that the other day when he let me know that I was ignoring him too. Cats don’t care if you ignore them, but dogs do. I was too busy trying to make one or two gigs support my ass to remember that it takes more than that to make you a writer. Now I have to figure out how to regain the balance between life and work. Which is the other reason I left working full time for other people. Anyhow, time to walk the dog before making dinner.

Overrunning Yourself

Well, let’s see, it’s been about two months since I’ve been able to write anything here. And this is because I simply overran myself with writing. Actually I allowed myself to be overrun with writing.

One of the big things, a huge thing actually, when taking on new projects is to make sure you have the time to complete them all properly. And I have no idea how to tell everyone out there how it would work best for them. But I do know that what I was doing up until recently, wasn’t the best way for me. So I’ll just go from personal experience and you can take it from there.

The whole thing began with me wanting to write. I wanted to write for anybody so badly that I was applying for jobs, projects, forums and any other thing which looked like writing. I found one, then another, then five more; and then it just got really busy. Now, when you still have a part time job you’re working along the way (have to pay the rent somehow right?), and the scheduling between the job and the project deadlines are clashing – well, it isn’t fun time at the zoo basically. To put it simply, eight hour days and eight hour writing sessions leave very little room for much else, including sleep.

Here are a few lessons I learned over the past 60 days, which I hope will help anyone else out there who comes to this crossroad.

  1. Don’t take on so many assignments to where it becomes a chore that has to get done. You will start to loose the “want” of writing and it becomes a need other than your own.
  2. Don’t ever think problems won’t show up. Schedule changes, rewrites, and computer issues do happen – and usually without notice. Always, and this becomes very apparent very quickly, always give your deadlines a padding of at least two extra days in case of problems.
  3. Don’t get frustrated over little things. The fact that you over estimated yourself is a little thing. The fact that the cat keeps wanting to say hello in the middle of a deadline rush, is also a little thing. If the computer crashes, or you lose the internet on the day of the deadline, that could be a problem.
  4. Stay in communication with everybody. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told by people on the other end of the email that they appreciated my efforts to at least acknowledge their emails. And people do understand if you email them ahead of deadline to let them know of any delays. Silence will hurt more than a missed deadline.
  5. Don’t kill yourself getting things done. If you like a busy schedule, that’s one thing; but if you find yourself continuously looking at 2AM trying to push through a deadline, there’s a problem.
  6. If the writing isn’t fun anymore – it’s time to stop. No, not stop writing, I mean stop and take a look at why it isn’t enjoyable anymore. If you find yourself writing just to meet deadlines, or just to make money for the week, then it’s time to either re-evaluate the projects you are taking on or the amount of work you are taking on. You’re either working too many low paying projects, or you are just taking anything that comes along.
  7. Keep the freebie work. I know it doesn’t pay money, but I’m guessing the writing didn’t start out being about the money. The free by-lines help keep up the enjoyment of writing, and can be good self promotional stuff as well.

So anyhow, that’s just some of what I’ve picked up along the last few weeks. I realized all this when things started crashing down around me over the past few days. I not only missed deadlines, but dropped one project and had another client ask why he thought he was always at the bottom of my “to-do” list. This is when I discovered I had to sit back and re-evaluate what I was doing. Then I realized that my blogs, and the by-line work that I loved doing had been put away and almost forgotten. The writing had become more work than writing, and this is never a good thing.

Ideas Come From Staring Out The Diner Window

Sometime last Wednesday I decided to treat myself to lunch.  I grabbed my notebook and a pen to go with me just in case any ideas wanted to come along.  Its a small notebook, the kind that fits in a pocket.  I hiked the 15 minutes up to Kmart where they still have a restaraunt for lunch.  Yes, our Kmart still has one of those old family diners attached to it.  And while it has come to look more generic and cookie cutter over the years, I hope they never close it either.

Anyhow, back on topic.  While I was sitting at my booth, after ordering a Reuben and fries, I started looking around like I usually do.  I remebered as a child the old dining rooms of Woolworth’s and Kmarts predecessor S.S. Kressge.  They’ve only been gone for about 20 years.  This brought my attention to the ketsup bottle on the table.  Heinz 57 Varieties to be precise.  Now what the heck does that mean?  57 varieties.  This made me think of writing about it; which in turn makes me get out my notebook and find a blank page.  I write down the topic “What’s behind the 57 in Heinz ketsup?”  Then I conclude that this is some odd thing that people think up when sitting in diners.  This thought leads me to wondering about how Kmart came up with the old diners in their stores and how many are left.  This gives me another topic to write about.  So I write that down.  Now I’m sitting there staring out the window wondering about these two ideas, when another topic pops up…clouds.  I’m looking at the clouds outside and think, “what the heck is a cloud really?  And why are they there?”  I’m not a weather person.  But this gives me a third idea to research.  And so it goes. 

By the time lunch arrives I’m up to 15 topic ideas.  While eating I continue to think and look out the window.  This has now become a fun game for me and ideas just keep wondering along.  I add another ten topics to the list, as well as about five ideas for this blog.  As I’m finishing up lunch, I’m also thinking about where all these topics can eventually go.  There seem to be a few places. 

After lunch I go out and wander Kmart to see if I could use anything.  I did need pet food.  Looking around the store makes me wonder how big stores like this seem so stocked with stuff, yet don’t really have much of anything I want.  Another topic!  It just keeps going. 

Now I take my notebook with me everywhere.  You never know where the next idea is hiding at, or what other ideas it may bring along?

People keep wondering how topics and ideas are created.  Others simply tell you that they just are created.  I’ll give you my words on it too.   Just get out of bed and look around you.  Go outside and let the world hit you with information.  They’re out there, topics everywhere.        

The habit of daily publication

It’s been about a week since I’ve started this practice.  I’m trying to get into the habit of sitting down each morning and working on two published items.  This could be a blog entry, or a piece that I am doing copywriting for, or something I am putting out under my own name.  It doesn’t matter what the combination is, as long as two pieces of work get put out there each day. 

The idea behind all this originally was that, if you are going to be a writer, you have to write.  And if you are going to do writing, you have to practice at it each day like any other artform.  This was my big downfall.  While I always told myself I was a “writer”, it was always something I’d “find real time for someday” or “get back to again”.   I’d get all fired up about it, and I’d write a bunch of pages for a short story or a group of poems.  Then I’d stall out and “get back to it again”.  I’d go onto freelance writing job boards and pick up a job or two.  While those were fine at the time, I never managed to follow through and go back for more.  And I’d keep going at it like this for years.  Well, then I figured out that I’m not really a writer if I don’t actually sit and write; and finding sites like Helium and Associated Content helped, along with getting a few good posts onto my one blog at MySpace. 

After picking up another blog on the America Talks Back website, along with a few copywriting jobs, I thought it might be nice to see if I can do this more often.  Fast forward to about a week ago.  I now have three blogs, MySpace, America Talks Back, and here on WordPress.  I also write for Helium, Associated Content, and Triond which publishes on multiple sites.  There is also a forum I started posting on this morning, as well as a copywriting job which was just completed this morning.  While it may seem like alot of different places to write, I like to keep things fresh and changing.  This gives me the choice of writing something different each day; which makes it easier to keep going.   

In years past I’d subscribe to writing magazines like “The Writer”  or “Writer’s Magazine”  and call myself a writer because I read these mags.  All the theory in the world won’t help if you don’t practice the craft in the first place.  I loved calling myself a writer because it’s what I wanted to do.  Now I love to write because it’s just what I want to do.  And if you continually do something, especially daily, it becomes something that has to get done as part of the daily routine.  And I don’t mind at all that writing has now finally become part of the daily routine.  It’s about time actually.

Watch Where Your Words Go…

Last night I was setting up to publish a couple of articles on Triond.  Well, one of these articles got rejected.  Why? It seems it had already been published someplace else.  Now I thought “Gee, this is odd – since I haven’t tried to publish this article yet”.  But yet there it was, already published on Associated Content.  Triond checks all incoming submissions for being original and not published elsewhere.  If it is, they give you the link to where the content is published.  And this is actually a good thing if your stuff gets taken out from under you unknowingly. 

So, I bring up a new window in my browser, then copy and paste the link provided me.  Lo and behold, there is my article….but under someone else’s name.  I click on the headline to read the article, and find that – yes, this is my work word for word.  Not one thing was changed from the original which still sits on my computer hard drive.  The whole thing wouldn’t have been too bad if it had not been for the fact that I was commisioned to write that article by a “company” back in February of this year.  The article was never paid for; so I guessed that it was either rejected or the rights reverted back to me.  Either way, it was still my work.  I figured that I’d write the author and ask them how they came to possess the article in quesiton.  I also explained to the author about being commissioned for the piece, but never paid for it.  I also explained that I was not calling her a thief, nor the person who caused me not to recieve payment.

Anyway, I decided to look up the other articles “written” by this author since there was a partial list of her work, as well as the option to ‘View All’ of her work.  And then believe it or not, I find two more pieces I had written for the “company” back in February.    Now those two articles had been paid for; so in reality they were no longer mine.  But, the one thing I know about Associated Content is that they will not tolerate someone buying work and posting it as their own.  So I wondered if they knew about this.  I had decided that I would write AC and let them know about this.  Yes, I know some people would call it sour grapes and all.  But putting up content as your own, on a site that expressly forbids buying content and then posting it, after you bought it from somewhere……I’m sorry, that’s just plain wrong – and to me, extremely lazy.

So now I’m waiting to see what goes on here with that.

But anyhow, for those of you reading this – watch where your words go.  If you go onto a site where you bid on jobs, such as any of the freelancing sites out there,  there will be people out there looking to steal work away from it’s producers.

So, here’s a few things to watch for.

1. If you are contracted for an article – do not assume that it isn’t going under someone else’s name.

2. If you submit an article for payment – keep records of when and where it went to.

3. Keep all emails for those whom you write for; AND, keep those emails for a few months after you complete the assignment (especially if something goes wrong).

4. Keep track of all incoming payments – if one is missed politely inquire about it in a reasonable manner and time.  Don’t let it pass as a missed payment.

5. If an article goes unpaid, find out why.  Was it rejected?  Is payment simply late?  Watch if they seem to give you stock answers about how often payments are made and how they must wait for their clients.

6. If you can, sign up to Triond or one of the PPV sites like that.  Then submit any unpaid or rejected work for publication.  The reasoning for this is that the article should NOT show up as posted someplace else.  If it does, there’s your stolen work. 

7. Find a way to get Copyscape.  This is not only a good way to make sure your work is considered original, but it also will tell you if your work is out there under someone else.

8. Realize that your words, once they leave your hands, can land just about anywhere out there on the Internet today.  Be mindfull of the fact that you probably have no control over that.

9. If you are going to do any work for free, make sure you at least get credit for the piece. 

If you really want to keep most of the control over where and how your words are used.  Stick to the sites where you write under a bi-line or community setting (ie – Helium, Suite 101, Associated Content, Triond, etc.)  If you don’t care, or are into mostly SEO or copywriting work, get paid for it.  There are some people out there who form up a “company”, find work for hire, and then try to farm it out to writers either for free or next to free.  You will know these types when you get burned by one or two. 

Writing is not a bad thing.  Writing is not an extremely difficult thing.  But as with any service oriented endevor, there is unfortunately a business side to things.  And there are those who know how to manipulate the business side of writers; or at least think they can. 

Be proud to be a writer – but be careful of where your words will go.