How I Became a Freelance Writer After a Job Loss
I tried to hold my head high, walking through the downtown Minneapolis skyway alone, juggling a big white box in my arms. A kind stranger rushed over to help when the bottom of the box started busting at the seam. Why did I ignore the option to have my box mailed? For free?
When that mysterious private appointment showed up on my calendar that morning, I knew what it meant. After eight miserable years, I was losing my job at a major retailer. Rumors had been flying about major layoffs for months.
Truthfully, I wasn’t all that upset. I had meandered around the corporate world, trying to snag communication and marketing roles, looking for anything that would allow me to do some writing. Even after landing a gig in the training department I still wasn’t really writing. At least, not the writing I wanted to do. Wanting out of the corporate world for years, I finally got the kick in the pants I needed.
Don’t get me wrong – it was not an easy place to be in. I’m not driven by money, but let’s be real – we all need some money. I was given a severance, so I would be ok for a few months. But it felt strange to be so completely knocked out of my routine. I fretted over how I would keep in touch with all the people I had gotten to know over the years. My husband and I were having stressful money conversations. And after perusing communications positions, I discovered things had changed and I would need to know a lot more than writing. These days, it seems you are not only expected to be a good writer, but a marketer, a graphic designer, a social media guru, and a mystical fortune-telling beast as well.
Then, through a former co-worker, I met a writer. A freelance writer who makes money ghostwriting for businesses while also self-publishing her novels. I was inspired.
She invited me to join a fiction writing critique group. I was hooked. While I knew I couldn’t make money instantly as a novelist, it has helped me improve my writing. It has given me a sense of community, and an important creative outlet. I have written more in two years than I had in the past two decades. While I prefer writing short stories, with the encouragement of the group my idea may morph into a full novel (ok, maybe a novelette).
Later that year, I took marketing and social media classes provided through my severance deal. I also decided to try my hand at freelance writing. The State of Minnesota Dislocated Worker program provides training opportunities and resources through the Converting Layoffs into Minnesota Businesses (CLIMB) program and I have taken full advantage of this. CLIMB allows you to work toward building your business full-time while still collecting unemployment, eliminating the “regular” job search stress for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Another step forward was taking the six-month Guided Business Plan course through WomenVenture, a non-profit that helps female entrepreneurs learn how to run successful businesses. Slowly, I have built up a decent writing portfolio, gained a few clients, and learned more than I ever thought I could fill my head with. I have forged a working relationship and friendship with that freelance writer I mentioned.
I don’t have everything figured out yet. Not even close. It’s only been a year since I started my business. And I’m working at my writing business part-time while I hold a regular part-time job (where, luckily, I get to use my floral design skills AND my writing skills by helping the shop market their business). Sometimes I feel overloaded, and other times I wonder when in the world my next gig will come along. Money’s tight. But it will all get better with time.
Mostly, I am happier. Sure, I have a lot of stress. But it feels better. My corporate drone days feel miles behind me. Time flies when I write and edit. Writers and marketers are open and generous with their time and knowledge. Countless people have helped me on my new journey, including my supportive husband. Meeting with people who need my services feels natural, and doesn’t feel like “networking,” because I believe I am following the right path. A path far away from the robotic drudgery of my days in the skyways.
Jessica Staszak Abitz is a freelance writer in Minneapolis. She enjoys helping businesses communicate their story through the power of words, and has a particular passion for wellness brands. In her free time, you can find her working on her first spec fiction novel, cooking real food concoctions, and communing with nature whenever possible. Check out her website at www.fireitupfreelance.com. Jessica was also a student at a recent Loft class called Copywriting Intensive: Building Your Portfolio, taught by Mary Ringstad. This piece was collaboratively written for that class and The Writers' Block blog.