My first paid freelance writing assignment came to me by accident in about 1997. I suggested a surfboard shaper to Tracks magazine in Australia. In closing, I said, “If you don’t want to send someone up here, I’ll give it a shot.” The editor told me to “go for it,” so I interviewed Bill and they published the article. After our interview, Bill suggested doing another article about Mark Richards. He agreed to the interview and that led to more articles for the same publication.
Those assignments got me hooked on freelance writing. I wrote several more articles for other magazines, including one about the Gilis (islands) off Lombok that got printed in the Sydney Morning Herald. Another two-part article was published by Heritage, the in-flight magazine of Vietnam Airlines. Then there was a series of advertorials I wrote for an antique dealer I worked for.
In about 1999 I taught myself html, which was still the only way to write websites. My first website was a freebie for the Sydney Rock Climbing Club. I got paid for two more, but then programs became available that made html easy and the money was no longer very good. I did one more free website, but that was it.
Freelance writing was only an enjoyable side income for me until I ran out of money in Cambodia. I got my start by writing on bidding sites. The money was terrible, but the assignments were interesting. I wrote two ebooks about dating, a book about how the internet was affecting the economy and about 100 articles on other topics, including surfing, metaphysics and anything else that came my way.
When I look back at the invoices I sent for those articles, I’m a little shocked. I earned a pittance, but the money was better than I would have made as an ESL teacher in Cambodia. Schools paid $3.00 an hour and I could knock out a $10 article in less than an hour.
Why I Love Freelance Writing
Things have improved since then and I earn a decent living as a freelance writer. I still love the work. It’s not just because I earn better money. I learn something new on almost every assignment. Last week I wrote about transparent wood (link is not my article). I’d never heard of it before, but apparently it may replace glass for some applications in the future. They haven’t perfected the technology, but it’s just a matter of time.
I love freelance writing for three reasons:
- I’m always learning from my articles
- I work my own hours from home
- I make decent money now
It was an uphill battle and I couldn’t have made freelance writing my career if I lived in a more expensive country. I barely made enough to cover expenses in Cambodia during my first year. Things improved the second year, but it wasn’t until about 2013 that I made enough to cover my expenses and indulge a little more.
I’m 69 years old and have finally found a job I love. When I was more active, I found jobs I enjoyed, but none that I loved. I don’t need to drag myself to my computer to do my freelance writing assignments. I sit down and become totally absorbed in my work. Sometimes I work three days a week, but sometimes I get a lot of assignments and do a marathon of up to seven days a week.
The one drawback to freelance writing is that I have to write articles to a formula. I made up for that by writing my memoir, Serendipity Road. I chose a sort of magic realism style for my memoir and avoided making it self-serving. Originally it was going to be about my wife’s life in the jungle when she was a girl, but that only lasted for a chapter. My writing group here in Sihanoukville suggested adding more stories about my life and the book took on a life of its own.
I read William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days recently. It’s a great book about surfing and he got a Pulitzer Prize for it. His girlfriend worked for me in San Francisco. He was writing his first book then and she often said he spent more time surfing than writing. It got published, though, and I stumbled across a copy in a Sihanoukville bookshop.
I don’t expect to win a Pulitzer Prize or even sell more than a handful of copies of my book, but the process of writing was fulfilling and I want to publish it. I have freelance writing to thank for making writing it fairly easy. I tried writing a book before, but writing wasn’t a habit to me then. Now it is and writing Serendipity Road was a joy. I wasn’t looking forward to editing the book, but ended up enjoying that process, too.
I’ve hired someone to make a new cover for me. I decided I wanted a retro cover rather than the cover a friend kindly made for me. I tried making my own, but the result was terrible. I gave the designer a photograph of me in India in 1972. Neem Karoli Baba was the focus of the photo, but I’m standing in the background. I think it’s perfect for the book because that year in India changed my life. If I hadn’t taken up meditation or gone to India, I may have ended up working a boring job and never moved to Australia and Cambodia. Personally, I’m much happier working as a freelancer writer than I would be working for more money, but being caught in the 9-to-5 rut.