Monday, August 27, 2012

2012 My Year of Writer Transformation Part 1

I can’t believe the summer is almost over; September is right around the corner. Where did the time go? 2012 really flew by! There’s something about the year 2012 that created a sense of anticipation and a lot of excitement for many people; despite the dour economy, I kept hearing 2012 is a great year for transformation, new beginnings and major life changes.

How has 2012 been for you and your writing life? I like to call 2012 “My Year of Writer Transformation.” I’ve been working as a web writer for five years this summer; however, 2012 brought a significant change in my approach to writing and how I think of myself as a freelance writer.

Blame it on the devastating effects of the Google search engine algorithm changes and decreased online earnings, but this year I experienced a radical shift in my writing life. First, I weathered the 2011 Google Panda updates that really hurt my residual income from writing sites. This perfect storm of search engine algorithm changes affected how articles showed up in search engines, and my earnings went on the decline (this process is still continuing with Google Panda and Penguin updates).

Five years ago, my strategy for making money as a freelance writer pretty much centered on writing online and building passive residual income working for writing sites. In the wake of updates like Google Panda, I’ve slowly revamped my approach to freelance writing, searching for new ways to make more money with my writing skills (in a future post, I’ll discuss ways writers can earn more money in 2012 through diversification of income streams).

So the first part of my writer transformation involved shifting my writing focus away from working for writing sites. 2012 also brought an epiphany about the kind of writer I want to be. I think it’s useful for every writer at some point to sit back and evaluate how the work is going, and are you where you want to be in your writing life, doing the kind of work you really want to do? If not, what changes can you make to fulfill yourself as a freelance writer?

I realized in 2012 that I’m more of a creative writer than exclusively a journalistic one. What does this mean exactly? Well, the publication of my first book, the memoir “Soul Tripper: A Journey of Awakening” showed me that my heart is really in creative non-fiction such as memoir writing and personal essays. I still like to write “journalistic” articles that are objective and don’t really involve my opinions and emotions. But I’ve discovered I have a true passion for more subjective and personal creative writing that examines my feelings and point of view on a variety of topics (especially spirituality, authenticity and holistic living).

This is where I get the best feedback about my writing and where I feel I stand out and shine as a writer, so I want to focus more of my writing efforts in the areas of personal essay and memoir. I’ve also discovered that I have a deep desire to write books and not as many shorter articles. I’m already starting to write my second book, a follow up to “Soul Tripper.”

Here are some lessons I’ve learned after 5 years as a freelance writer:

Write What YOU Want to Write

I’ll never forget the day about four years ago that I posted an article full of my political views on a writing site. It was right before the last election, and boy, did I walk right into the fire with my article! I confess as a newbie freelance writer I couldn’t take the heat of criticism for my political views, so I quickly pulled my article. Then I endured more heat when people who wished to comment on my work and add to the discussion couldn’t find the deleted article.

I felt uneasy and unsure of myself, until a veteran writer at this writing site sent me a kind message. He told me to stand my ground, post my opinions and I’ll never forget this phrase he added: “Write what YOU want to write.” It was so simple! But often so hard to follow when we are pressured by others to conform. My article went back up and the storm blew over, as my piece wasn’t offensive just opinionated. I’ve learned it helps to have a thick skin on the outside, while retaining your sensitive artist soul on the inside. This will help you get your work done without letting external stuff drag you down.

Don’t cave into pressure to censor your thoughts. Stand your ground and write the kinds of stories you wish to write, whatever’s in your heart and on your mind. Be open to constructive criticism, but trust that inner writer’s voice inside you, the voice of your soul. I believe that by writing your truth, and writing often, you can develop your writer’s voice. My mantra is “write what I want to write”!

Art vs. Commerce (or Editorial Versus Advertorial)

I’ve always viewed freelance writing as an art and a business (it’s always a balancing act!) Will you write for personal fulfillment, commercial gain or a combination of the two? When I was just starting as a freelance writer five years ago, in my naivete I thought I could write whatever I wanted, and the money would follow. I had this misconception that if I had enough articles published, I’d pay the bills. I always tried to do my best work writing web content, but my income has fluctuated a lot over the years.

Over time I realized that what I enjoy writing (like arts and culture articles) isn’t always well paying, so I branched out into writing things like product reviews. It occurred to me that I had reached a fork in the road: I’d have to start writing really commercial stuff in order to survive, OR consider a supportive day job, hopefully one that meshed with my writing life.

I considered writing advertising copy and things like advertorials (advertising content that runs in magazines and looks a lot like a magazine article). I searched my soul and haven’t started taking assignments that are solely commercial, such as writing catalog copy. At this time, I’d prefer to do my creative writing and have a separate job that harmonizes with my creative work. Perhaps I’ll change my mind in the future, but that’s what feels right to me now.

I believe it’s a decision every writer must make: what kind of writer are you? Are you in the writing game for art or money, or the best of both worlds: a satisfying combination of the two? If the money isn’t rolling in from writing, will you write solely for commercial gain (toil away at writing work you might even HATE just for the bucks)? It helps in the writing game to know who you are as a writer, where you’ll draw the line for money.

Stay Up-to-Date and Sharpen Your Skill Set

As a freelance writer, you’re never done learning. If you are currently working at writing sites, take advantage of the writer training at sites like Yahoo Contributor Network. Check out books on all aspects of writing from your library and haunt your local bookstore to look for magazines that may be potential markets. Sign up for classes and join a writer’s group to flex your skills. Write every day if possible or as often as you can, and read a lot of varied material. I’ve often heard it said that writers develop their own voice through extensive, thoughtful reading.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to eat, sleep and breathe writing, always have it on the brain. Writers put words together, but run on ideas. Did I mention if you want to be a professional writer you should write a lot? Or as the old adage goes: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice!”

Find Your Niche (It Pays to Specialize!)

In the freelance world, it pays to be an “expert” in a certain field or topic. There is something to be said for the generalist who can produce articles on ANY topic; however, I believe the writing world favors the specialist who is an expert on a few “niche” topics.

Cultivating expertise in a few key topics and positioning yourself as an expert can definitely pay off in increased revenues. For example, I’ve decided one of my writing specialties is holistic living and how to live a more authentic life. I’ve written one book on the subject and am working on my second one, and if the books do well, I might gain attention as an “expert” in authentic, holistic living. This could open doors to write for magazines and websites that focus on spirituality and holistic topics, and I could also position myself as a speaker, or consultant on holistic lifestyles. My writings might even evolve into a recognizable “brand,” all because I have chosen to position myself as an expert in holistic living.

You could do the same with travel topics, or green living, or parenting or whatever your heart desires. The idea is to increase revenues by becoming the go-to writer in your niche area. It also helps to specialize in a much smaller niche where you won’t have tons of competition for writing jobs. The field of horse care is pretty saturated, but if you positioned yourself as an expert on holistic horse care or natural horse training, you could increase your writing opportunities.

Diversify Your Writing Income

If I’ve learned one key thing after five years as a freelance writer, it’s the importance of diversifying your writing income. In other words, I’d rather make one dollar at ten different websites than ten dollars at just one site. It helps to spread your writing revenues around and not rely on one or two clients for all your writing income. This something I wish I realized at the beginning of my writer journey.

In fact, the idea of income diversification for writers is so important that it deserves its own post! I’ll talk more on the importance of diversifying writing income in part 2 of this blog entry next month.

Enjoy the Journey

One of the most important things to remember as a writer is: enjoy the process, for it’s all about the journey. If you’ve been writing a while and not enjoying it, you need to ask yourself why. Is it the pressure of trying to earn income as a freelance writer, or are you stuck writing things you don’t like in order to pay the bills? I believe that the process of writing should be enjoyable, and if it’s not, you need to have a talk with yourself about how to get back on track, by turning away undesirable projects, or earning income in other ways that don’t depend on writing, or setting goals that excite you.

I like to set writing goals to keep me on track and have something to work toward. Getting my first article published five years ago was a huge thrill, as was the publication of my first book. It’s important to stretch and grow as a writer and always keep striving for your writing goals.

These are some thoughts I had to share after five years of online writing, and I hope they will prove useful for your writer journey. Wherever you are in your journey, I wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors! Above all, keep writing!


Blogger said...

Yup, your first one is definitely a big one that I've found too "write what you want to write." Writing something we don't like doesn't really pay the bills much better, and we lose the passion. It becomes too much like work, instead of something enjoyable. And isn't the fact that we enjoy it the reason we write in the first place? (Why else would we be crazy enough to put so much time and energy into something that's takes so long to make an income from?!)

Big Alaska said...

Great post! I think there are definitely seasons where you need to reevaluate how you want to write and what you want to write. You'll always be at your best when you're tackling something you're passionate about. Keep up the great work and I'm glad to see you blogging again!

Master Dayton said...

Great post! I think there are definitely seasons where you need to reevaluate how you want to write and what you want to write. You'll always be at your best when you're tackling something you're passionate about. Keep up the great work and I'm glad to see you blogging again!