Taking the Plunge

Issue 62

Taking the Plunge: Becoming a Freelancer


Deborah J. Wunder

Copyright © 2011, Deborah Wunder, All Rights Reserved


It all started with a blog. Seriously. It wasn't even my blog. That was part of the process. Nor did it hurt that I knew I could write. (A bit over a decade ago I sold more than enough science fiction and fantasy short stories to qualify for Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) membership, and one had even sold a second time as a reprint.) I had also sold a couple of articles on journal-keeping, and even one on e-learning. However, knowing how to write and knowing how to get work writing are two entirely different skills.

I've learned a lot since then. The two biggest things that stick in my mind about writing, however, I learned back in those days. The first was Gordon R. Dickson's dictum about short story writing, which holds just as true for articles and blog posts: A fan and new writer is said to have asked Dickson what makes a short story work. His alleged response was, "The time bomb you have set to go off on the last page." The second were Robert Heinlein's five rules for writing(paraphrased):

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must never rewrite, except to the editor's/publisher's specs.
  4. You must submit what you write to a market.
  5. You must keep submitting it until it sells.

My heart was, however, not into writing science fiction or fantasy, so I shelved the idea of being a full-time writer and turned back to what I had always done: being a super-capable administrative assistant. Sadly, the unit of the corporation I was working for was disbanded via a corporate reorganization. After a year of job-hunting, I took the only thing I had been offered: school aide in an inner city high school. Interesting job, but not great pay-wise.

At this point, the next crucial incident happened. A friend of mine decided to clean up his finances. His decision, and his keeping a small circle of friends updated on his progress via LiveJournal got me moving. I started working on my financial mess, and to keep myself encouraged when the going got tough, I started reading personal finance blogs. And, again, I got lucky. The blogs I stumbled on are some of the top blogs in the niche. And reading them, I realized that there were some gaps, and that I could fill them with things I had learned. So in March I took the first plunge. I started my own blog.

Amazingly enough, I found that my writing heart lies in essay writing. I also met some amazing folks online and found some wonderful mentors . One of my mentors suggested that I start looking for opportunities to do guest posts. She also suggested submitting some posts to blog carnivals. Again, luck popped up…one of my favorite writers was going on vacation and put a call for guest posts on his blog. I emailed him and was accepted (even though I had honestly pointed out that I was just baby blogger). He liked my post and published it, and seconded the opinion that I should be applying to blog carnivals. Another mentor suggested that I become familiar with some of the social bookmarking and networking tools that are fast becoming one conduit for the kind of networking I needed to do to get my name out in the blogosphere. I started to learn a whole new skill set.

So I began to gain a reputation. My blog didn't always get scads of comments, but the ones I did get were about how my articles made people think, and were well-written. And the social thing began to pay off. I was talking with other freelancers, who were very willing to share how they got started, how they found work, how they organized themselves, balanced their writing with their families and day jobs, and just about any other question a beginner could come up with. When a co-worker asked me how I was spending my summer, I told her I would be concentrating on my blog and on getting some paying writing work. And luck reared its head again. Someone on one of my social networks was venting about something that had happened, and I offered to help out. It wasn't needed, thankfully, but when something did come up that was entry-level, I was given the opportunity to try it. So I took my biggest plunge to date.

While I am nowhere near the level it would take to support myself, I am starting to have small successes. More importantly, I'm having fun again. Even when a challenge is frustrating, it's great to be able to have something to pit my abilities against.

I am now about to take the biggest plunge of my life. There is – no question about it – still a lot I have to learn, both about the work and the business side of things. But, at the grand old age of 58, I am taking steps to reach one of my lifelong goals. It may not be happening the way I envisioned it back when I was a starry-eyed teenager, but It's the way that is right for me now. It's the light in my eyes when I get up in the morning and turn the computer on. It's how good I feel when I pull off a challenging assignment. It's feeling alive, even when I am dog-tired from pulling an all-niter to meet a deadline. And it is, without doubt, one of the best feelings in the world, and I intend to keep reaching for it.