What It Means to Be a Freelance Writer

Inspired by my friend Claire’s #freelanceanonymous post, I decided to do my own soul searching about what it means for me to be a freelance writer at this point in my life.

For starters, there’s this:


That’s a photo of me editing by the pool. Mostly, my freelance clients include healthcare companies who need help making educational healthcare content accessible to the masses. What does that mean? Basically, I work with nurses from Vanderbilt and medical specialists from Healthways to make sure that their content is medically accurate and easily understood by people like you and me. I’m good at it, because I take complicated copy and I rewrite it as if I were explaining it to my mom, or my best friend, or…you. You’d be surprised just how difficult this concept is for most organizations to understand.

And that’s how I make money. Most publications don’t pay money–at least not the kind of money that will cover a mortgage payment or put gas in your car for a month. Even when I write for USA Today Travel websites, the impact on my bottom line ain’t much. But the rush of seeing my byline on a major travel site? Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that it gives me an adrenaline boost and a sense of confidence that healthcare work never will.

That’s how you end up addicted to this profession. It’s the rush. Every time I get invited on a press trip, or hear positive feedback from people I love to work with, or come up with a story idea that I know is going to be awesome, I can’t sleep. I lie awake more nights than I’d like to admit, rewording pitches and scheming ways to get in front of new editors.

And here’s the truth: If you’re pitching national outlets, 90 percent of the time it doesn’t work. But that 10 percent? That’s what keeps me from signing up for a decently-paying office job at a corporation. Plus, I rarely wear pants while I’m working. So, that’s part of the appeal, too.

And here’s another sad truth about freelancing: My best work has paid nothing. I have had the pleasure of reporting the lack of shelter options for transgender people in Nashville for our city’s homeless newspaper–a serious, well-researched, extensively-interviewed cover story that got picked up by a wire service and was never read by anyone who knows me (except for my sweet husband). I didn’t get paid a dime for writing this heartfelt essay about losing my beloved golden retriever–but my inbox flooded with emails from readers, and more than 1,000 people “liked” the Instagram post from this story. I got paid 10 cents a word to write a really fun lifestyle story about the rise of home canning in East Nashville for our city’s lifestyle magazine. It was a 1,000-word feature. I took that $100 and it didn’t even cover my electric bill.

In the last few months, I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from pitching. And you know what? I don’t feel like myself. I don’t often admit that I’m a great editor, but I am. I’m a great curator, and a great editor. But my passion lies in telling stories. Not lists of restaurants or places to visit, but real stories about real people and life events that matter.

So, in my #freelanceanonymous post, I’d like to announce (mostly for my own benefit) that I’m getting back on the horse. I want to write about how awesome it is to be married to a divorcee because he has already learned the hardest lessons about how marriages fail–and he works really hard to avoid repeating them. I want to write about how the new housing and commercial developments in Nashville are overlooking our city’s middle class. I want to write about the disappearing middle class and the people who don’t have a voice. And there’s a good chance that I’m going to fail. But I know that I’ll feel better failing to get these stories picked up than I’ll feel successfully writing the next SEO-driven listicle.

Let’s do this thing.