Becoming a Professional Writer

This week, I can call myself a professional writer. I have written an article and received $10 for it. I am not hitting the big time; I am working for a content mill.

Yet, strangely, it makes me happy.

For a long time, I avoided the content mills. I thought, “I have a $100,000 college education. Why would I do that?” Then my situation changed. The choice became planting my butt in a car seat for hours a day as an Uber driver or try to work from the comfort of my own home (with a small gray cat in my face). To be honest, the pay isn’t that different. For each, $20 an hour is a good day. But, as an Uber driver, I sometimes sit around waiting, hoping for a rider. As a content mill worker, I know I have my $50 worth of articles to write and I can do them as I please.

The fact that I’m having fun working at a content mill has been eye-opening. For one, I thought myself above researching fashion trends and moonshine regulations. I’m not. It’s actually quite fun to learn about a random assortment of items and try to compose a narrative article. I’ve looked at webpages that I never would have seen otherwise. What do I do with my new knowledge that Adidas has created bioengineered yarn for shoes that can be dissolved with a catalyst and water? I don’t know. But someone is paying me to look up weird things online and write about it.

Isn’t that kind of awesome? Doesn’t every millenial want a job like this?

Maybe not.

But it’s illuminating to see how happy I am. Because I am having more fun working for a content mill than I did reviewing safety requirements or collaborating with customers as an engineer. This makes me think that I am on the right track. As I wrote in my journal earlier this week, “…at this moment, the “right track” fucking sucks. But I’m finally there.”

Why does it suck? Well, even driving Uber for almost 30 hours a week and taking on every article I can find, rent is still an impossibly high number. I was surprised by $1100 in unexpected heating costs (thanks to the sunny cold days in Seattle and our oil heated house). My boyfriend and I talked about the heating costs earlier this week. I said that we needed to have another $500 in the joint account. He asked who should put the money into the account. I nominated him…because I didn’t have it. That’s a first for me. My savings are about gone.

With this lack of money plaguing my mind, I applied for 4-5 other content mills. Indeed has become my go-to site, and I applied for five other random writing jobs.

In some ways, this is awesome. I threw out my rules regarding how much I was “supposed to” make per hour. Now a whole new world of writing opportunities has opened up to me.

But getting rejected by a content mill because “we have too many writers and not enough projects” is sobering. I also received a phone call from a company that wanted to check that I was a native English speaker. These things remind me how precarious my situation is, and Uber is not the cure-all that I hoped it would be. Uber is like any freelance work; sometimes there is work and sometimes there isn’t (though getting a ride on a weekday morning at 8am is practically a given in West Seattle).

My new method is to gather these flexible freelance writing jobs. Once I have a handful of them, I can jump around, taking whatever work is available to me. $80 here, $60 here and $200 there eventually add up to the money I need for rent.

And, yes, technically, I can call myself a professional writer.

Dramatic Website Changes!

The blog still exists, but it now a smaller part of my personal website.

In fact, this blog is now a great example of how my understanding of what I want to do has changed over time. First, I began with side projects. (Then, I got consumed with work, so I quit and spent more time on projects). Now I feel like I finally have a good balance. I work 25 hours a week and this website (and some book ideas) are my new project.

Honestly, work has been a fun project too. I think that I may have found my niche, systems analysis. I discovered this by spending hours pouring through all the SaaS products that we have and how they interact. Now I know how our website is linked to email campaigns and the credit card charging system. I see how people flow through the site in Google Analytics. It’s like a whole ecosystem, and I’m trying to figure out all the rules. Once I know the rules, I can make improvements – automate this process, eliminate this old thing that is just wasting space. It’s a lot of fun. I like seeing how the changes that I make impact the whole system (for better or for worse).

This discovery is the source of the website changes. I want to do even more systems thinking! I want to expand to bigger systems and more understanding. For a while, this will probably be personal projects and part-time job. I have an idea for a book that is coalescing in my mind. These projects are fun and they are building up my portfolio. One day, I hope that people will hire me as a systems thinker.

It will hit upon all my favorite things to do:

  • Deeply delve into a system through research
  • Devise tests to see how the system reacts to changes (experiments)
  • Communicate how the system works in written and graphical format
  • Innovate ways to improve the system

To some people, this may sounds pretty boring. But me, ah, I can spend all day jumping from program to program trying to understand how they are connected. In my current job, it’s usually a person connecting the programs, so it’s especially neat to interact with other humans in the system. Other people are more surprising and exciting than software. I love seeing how people interact in systems.

In short, that is why the entire website is now drastically different.

What Happened to Time off?

I re-started writing this blog to showcase what I did while I was not working. Abruptly, I stopped writing. Guess what happened? — I got a job —

Generally, this is a good thing. It’s nice to have money and stability. But, to be honest, I fought being hired for quite some time. It took a very persuasive manager to get me back into an office. It was quite enjoyable being free to do my own thing, and I still had a couple of months of money left.

So how did he convince me?

Well, it’s another startup for one. I love startups. I enjoy being able to make a real impact by my presence. It makes me feel powerful when I see customers buy because of something I did.

He proposed a purpose – to help the company run more smoothly. I will admit that I was lacking a clear purpose during my time off. Suddenly having one dropped in my lap felt right. I like having a purpose. This purpose, in particular, intrigued me. I have spent a lot of my life trying to make processes smoother. I’m the one that invents new ways to drop cookies onto a cookie sheet faster  – I test multiple ways to complete tasks (especially boring ones) to see which is the most effective.

Aside: This habit often makes people that I am highly efficient. They don’t usually see all the experimentation time before I find an efficient way to do things. 

Also, my co-workers are pretty awesome. I feel appreciated and useful.

So, I am working again.

This leaves me with less time to do cool projects and post interesting things online. But it does give me the funds to go on trips, pay the bills, and take new classes.

Despite having 40 less hours per week, I do commit to doing interesting things and posting about them here. For example, the whole publishing a poetry anthology things deserves a post at least.

More to come…