What I Learned Writing 2 Million Words as a Freelancer
I’ve been a freelance writer since June 2014. That means in a few weeks (as of the date of publication), I’ll reach the five year anniversary of working for myself. In that time, I’ve written for a lot of clients and websites (some sex, some vanilla). Many were great to work with, some…less so. All of those clients, and all of those words, taught me a lot.
Hopefully, you’ll find something useful in these lessons, too.
About My Word Count
Yes, I track my word count for work I get paid to do: freelance writing clients and sponsored blog posts on my sites. No, two million isn’t an exact figure but it seems like a safe estimate. I didn’t begin using my spreadsheet tracking system until 2015, and I didn’t track my word count until 2016.
Here’s how it breaks down:
- 2014: unknown
- 2015: unknown
- 2016: 473,192
- 2017: 615,392
- 2018: 506, 927
- 2019 (so far): 118,219
Total Word Count: 1,713,720
Don’t Start with a Blank Page
Is there anything more intimidating than a blank page and blinking cursor? I don’t think so. Before I create any content — blog posts, video scripts, etc — I make notes. They include what the main point of the piece will be and supporting details or points. Once I have that, I can start writing. But I never, ever begin with a blank page and zero idea of what I plan to write.
There is No Inspiration, Only Habit
Unlike blogging, paid writing work can’t wait for inspiration. I believe your sex blog shouldn’t either, but I know a lot of bloggers want to be inspired. If I don’t figure out how to write even when I don’t feel like it, I have nothing to turn in. If I have nothing to turn in, I’m not making any money. Hard to make a living and grow your income if you’re sitting around waiting for a brilliant idea to strike. So even when I feel like I have zero words in my brain, I sit down at my laptop when it’s time to work and pound out something, even if it’s crap. The editing process will correct any mistakes. What matters is most is that I get some words on the screen.
There are No New Ideas
While everything I write is unique (and I use CopyScape — a plagiarism tool — to make sure of it) there are no new ideas. There are only new interpretations, spins, and points of view. I might be writing about the same topic as the next sex writer (What is a Dildo? How To Use a Vibrator) but I have my own way of explaining things and examples to use.
Professionalism Gets Me More Work Than Talent
I hope, after two million words, I’ve got some talent at writing, but I know for a fact that’s not what keeps getting me hired. Being a professional who communicates clearly, sets boundaries (easier said than done), meets deadlines, and follows through gets me more work than anything else. It’s why one client will recommend me to another or a new client comes back after the first piece of content.
You Don’t Have to Be the Best Creator
I use writing as the example, but it can be any kind of creative endeavor. The reality is the same — you don’t have to be the best at it to get hired. I know I’m a better (and faster) writer than I was five years ago. But I also know that being the “best” is subjective — I need to be good enough to deliver what the client wants. Ultimately, clients want someone they can depend on who can get the job done. That will always be more important than being the best.
You CAN Work Less For More Money
When I say “work less” I mean, fewer projects or jobs. Not that you can be lazy and still make a ton of money. But in looking at my word counts over the past few years, it’s clear to me. I write less (although I have other projects with clients) and make more money than ever. If I hit 300,000 words this year, I’ll be surprised, and my income (hopefully) won’t decrease from 2018.
Charge More Than You Think You Should
This one is tricky. Some people have an inflated ego and think they can charge hundreds of dollars for dozens of words. Uhhh, no. I’m talking to the rest of you…the creators who think you should take pennies for hours of work and consider yourself lucky. Nope. Bump up those prices. If you’ve put in the work with a client and brought them results, they should be willing to pay more. And if a new company approaches you, and you can show them what you’ve done in the past, charge what you want to make — your work can and should speak for itself.
Figure Out Systems to Be Productive
What works for me won’t work for everyone, but you’ve got to find the system that will keep you on track. My methods?
- Wake up at the same time every day.
- Take a shower and put on clothes (no pajamas)
- Don’t work in bed. If the only way you can function physically or mentally is to be in bed, no shame.
- Write everything down. I love a good to-do list.
- Use calendar blocking to plan the day/week. Assign a time for EVERYTHING.
- Ignore social media and email while you work
- Eat lunch!
- Remember to get up and walk around/go to the bathroom
Take Time Off
In 2016, I burned myself out completely and wrecked my mental and physical health. While it’s not the only reason, I know that my work schedule played a huge part. I worked hard not smart. I said yes when I should have said no, and I almost never took a break. Until my body decided I was going to stop whether I wanted to or not. It’s easy to convince yourself you’ll lose out if you take a break. In fact, it’s the only way you can keep going. For me, this means reducing social media use on weekends and (as often as possible) having set days off — weekends are preferred but I’ll take a day in the middle of the week off when I can.
Building Relationships Results in More Work
Two of my best paying clients are people I’ve worked with for years. One hired me in 2015 and the other in 2017. They keep coming back for a couple of reasons. I’m dependable, and I communicate. If the only thing they cared about were the words, they could go almost anywhere. But we’ve developed a relationship. They know I’m going to meet my deadlines and give them my best work. They also know I’m flexible and try to be easy to work with. We have mutual respect for each other and want each other to succeed.
Keep Learning and Trying to Improve
If you’ve paid attention to my smutlancer income reports, you know I’m doing well financially. I wish I’d kept better track of the money I made when I first began, but I assure you, this has been a five year process. With everything I’ve learned, word by word, day by day, year by year, I’ve used it to make smarter decisions about who I work with, how much I charge, and what kind of work I want to do. Everything (from bad clients to projects I should have said no to) has been a lesson for the future.
No matter where you’re at in your smutlancing life, that’s probably the biggest takeaway I hope you get from this. Everything you do is a lesson for the future and your goals are attainable. But you have to be willing to work for it and treat it like the career that it is.
To anyone else who considers their smutlancer work their career, what lessons would you add to this list? To those who are just starting out, what (if any) questions does this list create for you? Or (like I hope) does it give you more hope that you can achieve your smutlancing goals? Share in the comments below or talk to me on Twitter!
If you want to know more about lessons I’ve learned sex blogging, check out this post I wrote about what I learned after writing thousands of blog posts.