I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #4.
You don’t have to publish a certain amount of articles per week/month/year to call yourself a writer.
I used to think writers had to publish a certain number of times per week or month or year to be considered legitimate. I would look at writers’ personal websites, a long list of glowing publication credentials in their portfolios, and I would wonder what I was doing wrong. After all, even if I got an editor to take notice of me long enough to write one article, I could hardly ever get him or her to care enough again. How did I become a repeat contributor to certain publications? What’s more, how did they?
This year I realized that writing doesn’t have to be a numbers game, and indeed probably shouldn’t be. If a writer has written dozens of articles in a very short amount of time, take a closer look: those articles probably consist of clickbait, top ten lists, and lots of topics that will win the website a lot of hits but probably didn’t earn the writer a lot of money. I write for some of those now, and I’m fine with them because they’re fun, easy, offer an outlet for my playful side without involving lots of time and multiple rounds of edits, and pay just enough that they seem worth it.
The key to being a writer—and indeed any kind of freelancer—is having a steady flow of work, sure, but equally crucial is being discerning, picky, and above all else, patient. If you have steady gigs that pay the bills, whether they are at all creative or journalistic or just plain corporate, you can afford to focus more on your ideas and the publications that might take them, regardless of how well those pay (and let’s face it: most of them pay pretty badly). You can also afford to take some time off once in a while, and as you’ll see further ahead, that’s also on our list.
I know that not everyone can operate this way, and I’m very lucky that I can. Over the past two years I’ve built up relationships and very often self-made positions with local clients here in Berlin that pay me enough to sustain a lifestyle some would consider luxurious in what remains one of Europe’s cheapest cities. I couldn’t afford New York on the money I make, but I can afford to live nicely here in the German Hauptstadt.
I also know that not every writer can thrive in these exact parameters: some writers really are spewing out new ideas a mile a minute; enough to pitch fifty new outlets a month and get positive responses from ten of them, enough to keep churning out the clickbait and watching those small amounts of money trickle in to add up to larger ones. For me, and I suspect for a lot of writers, the smart decision is not to rely on open-ended pitches to faceless editors with slow response times on the other side of a computer screen to pay the bills. You should spend as much time building up the boring work that will finance the work you really want to be doing.