Tips for Managing Your Writing Expectations

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As creative writers, it’s easy to fall prey to unrealistic expectations. Writers must strike a balance between expectations that are too low or goals that are set too high. If expectations are too low, they may be a product of fears and self-doubt that our writing is not good enough. If expectations are too high, they may reveal an overly optimistic view of talents and skills that haven’t been mastered.

Developing a healthy balance between the two can provide a more realistic vision of your writing. The more realistic your expectations are, the more easily you’ll be able to achieve your writing goals. Here’s how you can manage your expectations as a writer.

1. Assess your skill set. Make a list of all your skills. What are you especially good at doing? Are there certain skills that you need to learn? For example, do you need to learn how to edit yourself? Or do you need to develop a better ear for dialogue? When you assess your skill set, you gain a clear understanding of your strengths and limitations.

2. Assess your writing goals. Think about the types of writing you want to do. Do you want to write fiction or screenplays, or are you happy writing for businesses?  Do you want to be a published author, or do you prefer to write as a hobby? Do you want to be paid for your writing? If so, research places like Writer’s Market for information about paid writing markets. What time frame do you want to achieve these goals? Some can be achieved within a year while others may take several years. Still others may never be realized. You may need to prioritize these goals and set milestones for achieving the larger ones.

3. Check in with yourself periodically. Goals and expectations can change over time. Set aside time every quarter (ideally) or at least every six months to review your writing goals to determine if you are still on track. When you reassess your plan every few months, you can make adjustments along the way so you stay on track.

4. Seek a second opinion. If you feel stuck and you’re not sure where to go next with your writing, it might help to get the perspective of a friend or two. It may be that you aimed too high with your writing or your expectations are too low. They can provide valuable insights into your approach. For example, if you lack self-confidence, they might point out some of your strengths that you can capitalize on. Or if you are painting an overly rosy picture of your writing life, like writing an 800-page novel in the next six months, they can provide needed perspective so you can see if that is a realistic goal.

5. Challenge your inner critic. Writers are naturally born with an inner critic, a voice that tells them their writing stinks. When you notice that voice in your head, stop for a moment and challenge those thoughts. Who is really thinking them – you or someone else? Counter with a positive affirmation in return. For example, if the voice keeps telling you that no one will like your story, counter it by pointing out all the times when someone DID like your story. Keep countering that critic with success stories of your own until that voice is silenced for good.

Or put a sign on your wall: “Inner critics not allowed while creative genius is at work.” Or something similar. The sign serves as a constant reminder that what matters most is your opinion, not someone else’s.

6. Expect rejection. No matter what kind of writing you do, rejection is bound to happen. Someone somewhere will be reviewing your work, and not everyone will like what you write. Rejection is a natural part of the writing process. Rejection can help you reassess your writing project to see if it still works. It can help you look at other avenues for publishing that you might not have considered. If two editors didn’t like your piece about making your own food for cats, then maybe a third editor will. Rejection can be disarming at first, but it can also fuel your motivation to keep trying.

7. Let go of the need to be perfect. When you first begin writing, you might envision what your final piece will look like. Then as you begin writing, you realize that your piece is nothing at all like you imagined. Perhaps you write a dozen or so drafts before finally giving up. First drafts are supposed to be crap, says essayist Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird. Know this and accept it. First drafts help you unload the ideas from your head to the paper before you can craft them into a story. If you try to be perfect as you write, you will never accomplish much. All you will have to show for your effort is a waste basket filled with crumpled sheets of paper.

Unrealistic expectations are often the result of feelings of inferiority or idealized visions of writing success. Neither of them are satisfactory. Keep your expectations realistic by periodically assessing your skills and emotional mindset.

How Writers Can Turn Envy Into Motivation

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Have you ever listened to someone read from their recently published debut novel and think, “Gosh, I wish I could have my novel published.” Or maybe you read someone else’s work in your writing class and thought, “I wish I could write like that!”

If so, you’ve just been attacked by a little green monster named Envy.

Envy shows up in your life when you perceive others having what you don’t have: talent, power, prestige, money, popularity.

Envy is usually tied to some other hidden emotion. It may be a sign of competitiveness or insecurity, for example. You want what others have because you fear you don’t have enough of it yourself. Or that you’re not a good enough writer to ever be published like your friends and colleagues. You subconsciously compare yourself to others and fall short. Envy steps in to fill the void.

Envy also shows up when you compare your sense of self with your ideal self, writes Mary Lamia, Ph.D., in Psychology Today. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to project that ideal on someone else. If your personal ideals are exaggerated and unreachable, you will always feel that you are never good enough.

David Ludden, Ph.D., also writes in Psychology Today that envy has a dark and light side. On the dark side, we may harbor ill will toward someone who appears to have more of what we want. Benign envy – the lighter side – can be converted to motivation to improve ourselves. We can use envy to learn from others and observe how or why they have become successful. For example, maybe they got published because they took the time to research the publication and figured out how to pitch their story to the editor. Maybe that other writers gladly accepts feedback from an editor while you are reluctant to accept their critique.

When envy shows up in your life, there are several ways to deal with it. For starters, you need to be aware of when it shows up. What prompted its entrance? Most important, what can you learn from it? Here are three ways writers can deal with envy.

1. Embrace the emotion. Accept the fact that it’s normal to feel envious of others sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just a signal that you might be feeling insecure in your own abilities. Accept the fact that it will show up on occasion. As author Elizabeth Sims suggests in The Writer, envy loses its power over us when we tell ourselves that it’s okay to be envious.

2. Keep a journal. Ask yourself probing questions, then write down the answers, says writer Amy Torres at The Writing Cooperative. For example, ask yourself “Whose talent do I wish I had?” “What does this person have that I don’t?” and “I wish I could write as well as [fill in the blank].” As you ponder the answers to these questions, note what emotions rise to the surface. Then embrace those emotions. Allow yourself to really feel them. Then write about what you feel in your journal.

3. Be the best writer you know how to be. Show a confident front, says Sims. Even if you don’t feel secure, put on a brave smile. Fake it until you make it, as they say. Then go out and be the best writer you know how to be. Don’t worry about what the other writers are doing with their work. Focus on your own craft. Smile and keep working.

Envy and its ugly cousin jealousy are bound to show up in your writing life. That’s normal. When they do, recognize them for what they are – signs that it’s time to refocus your energy on improving your own writing practice. Observe what the object of your envy is doing. Maybe you can learn from their example. Then use the benign energy of envy to motivate yourself to work differently.

Once you embrace envy as part of the writing process, those periods of envy will shrink so you don’t notice them anymore.

 

 

 

 

Why Writers Are Bigger Risk Takers Than Most Non-Writers

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How much of a risk taker are you? Not just in your life, but in your writing?

At first glance, it would seem that writers are not big risk takers. Writers are frequently perceived as thoughtful, introspective and cautious. That may not be true necessarily, but the cerebral nature of writing gives writers those qualities.

The reality is that writers are bigger risk takers than most average folks. Think about all the ways you’ve taken risks with your own writing.

* Writers risk putting their thoughts down on paper. The very act of doing that shows a certain level of commitment to the writing process. Putting words down on paper (or typed onto a computer screen) feels more permanent. It makes the stories, even in their most primitive forms, seem more real than if they were left alone in their brains.

* Writers risk exposing their emotional lives. Some feelings are so deeply hidden and so deeply felt that it is only by writing about them and with them that writers can truly embrace them. Writers take ownership of those emotions. Writing helps them process those feelings and give them life on the page that is both socially acceptable and healing.

* Writers risk looking ignorant or foolish. There may be times when writers express an unpopular opinion. The way around that is to do plenty of research to help support that opinion. Back up those opinions with factual data and studies or interviews with experts. There will always be people who disagree with you or who don’t like what you write. That is par for the course. That is the risk of being a writer. Writers will never please everyone, which is probably why they focus on pleasing themselves.

* Writers risk criticism of their work. Let’s face it – the world can be a sour, cruel place. Not everyone plays nicely in the sandbox of life. People won’t think twice about tearing down all your hard work, whether because of their own jealousy, fear or insecurity. Writers will need to develop thick skins to ward off those blows. But the satisfaction of doing work that they love is worth the brief moment of pain that harsh criticism can bring.

* Writers risk sharing too much of themselves. Especially in memoir writing, writers expose so much of their personal lives on the page that would make most non-writing people cringe. It takes courage to share stories of trauma, pain, anxiety and disappointment. It’s much easier to share stories of joy and triumph.  It takes courage to reveal the darkest sides of our souls. But it is a necessary evil if those revelations help heal others who experience a similar pain.

* Writers risk anonymity. They risk the possibility that no one will ever read their work. Writers can toil for weeks, months, or even years on one literary masterpiece only to see it never published. Or if it does get published, it gathers dust on the bookshelf. But like the risk of criticism, most writers probably won’t mind the risk of anonymity because it’s the writing process that gives them the most pleasure, not the outcome.

* Writers risk their pride. Many writers I know are not afraid to show their work to others when the story is still in its rawest form. It takes courage to ask others for assistance. Others, like myself, prefer to wait until the piece is nearly 100 percent finished before asking people to review it. Somehow it does not seem fair to ask people to review work that is still in progress. That’s like asking someone to view a partially finished jigsaw puzzle. You only see part of the picture, not the entire piece. Many writers are willing to set aside their pride to welcome suggestions for improvement along the way.

If you feel you don’t put enough risk into your writing, there may be ways around it. For starters, try something new and different that you would normally not consider doing, says Kellie McGann a contributor at The Write Practice blog. For example, if you’ve never been a big fan of poetry, sign up for a poetry class. Because the creative process for writing poetry is different than for other types of writing, you can learn a different approach to putting words and phrases together to tell a story.

It’s important to push yourself to try different things, McGann writes. “If you always write about what you know, you’ll never be a better writer,” McGann says. Which flies in the face of a long-held belief that we need to write what we know.

The next time you feel stuck in your writing or you just want to experiment with a different writing technique, do something different. Take a class or do something that is out of your comfort zone. Taking risks are necessary to open the flow of ideas. Or as McGann writes, “When we take risks, we step into the unknown. That’s where ideas begin to flow.”

Of course, not all risks go well. In fact, some fail miserably. There’s no worse feeling that taking a leap of faith and falling flat on your face.

So what can writers do when that happens? Grieve, suggests author Annie Neugebauer at Writer Unboxed. Give yourself a few days, or even a week to process the disappointment. Give yourself permission to mourn the loss, the failure. Set a time limit too so the grieving process does not go on indefinitely. Then when that week is up, roll up your sleeves and get back to work.

The writing process is filled with risk. Embrace the adventurous, risk-taking part of your soul. It may just help you become a better writer.

Why Creative Ruts Happen and What You Can Do About Them

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Falling into a creative rut can feel like the end of the world, like you’re stuck in a dense forest with no sign of water, food or life. When they happen, you can do one of two things: fight them to the death, or embrace them.

Ruts are not a bad thing, says author and freelance journalist Kristin Wong. They serve a useful purpose, prompting you to question your life goals and career aspirations. Ruts, she says, reminds you that you are human after all, not a machine.

Other creative types see ruts differently. Author Jane Porter suggests that it’s not a rut you are experiencing at all, but impatience. You want to see results right away. You want to see progress quickly, just the way you sketched it out ahead of time. You want to see proof that your hard work is paying off. But, Porter says, efficiency is not the same as creativity.

Do a Google search and you’ll find hundreds of articles with suggestions for dealing with ruts. But not many of them address why they happen in the first place. Wong says when she falls into ruts, they usually happen for one of three reasons:

* Information overload. The Internet provides a lot of information. Some good, others not so good. It’s easy to get lost in the world of information, and it’s even more fun to learn new ideas from people. It’s also easy to get distracted with non-essential ideas that don’t fit in with your own aspirations. When you feel lost, it’s easy to seek guidance from other people and forget that you even have a voice. You need to block out the distractions so you can hear your own voice and follow your own path.

* Burnout. Creative professionals often work on the same project for months or even years. But after looking at the same pages all the time, you can become bored. You begin to feel stagnant, and run out of ideas of how to fix your writing or artwork. Burnout is natural when you stare at a project for too long, says Wong. To counter burn out, it’s important to take breaks – lots of them. Self-care is as much a part of the creative process as the work you do. During those breaks, learn to do nothing, even if it’s just staring out the window. Breaks give you stamina and energy so you can keep going toward your goals.

* Uncertainty about your path. Sometimes you can be so engulfed in the process of creating that you lose sight of your overall vision. It can translate as boredom on the job. When you continue to do a job out of routine, and you’re unclear what the overall vision is for that job, it can throw you into a rut.

So now that you have a better understanding why ruts happen, what can you do about them? Ask any creative person and they will tell you how they deal with them. But their ways of dealing with ruts are as different as they are. Check out this Huffington Post article about how 29 artists break out of ruts. It’s important to find what works best for you. Here are a few ideas:

1. Take a break. Most creative people will tell you that frequent breaks are necessary for clearing your head. Go for a walk, take a weekend getaway, play with your pet, or take a nap. When you return to your desk, you may notice a solution you hadn’t seen before.

2. Work with your hands. Try gardening, playing in the sand, mold clay, juggle, or anything that requires you to use your hands rather than your head. Playing with something tangible like dirt, water or clay can be therapeutic and gives your brain a rest.

3. Take a bath or shower. Ever have an eureka moment while showering? There’s something about immersing yourself in water that releases creative energy. In astrology, water is often associated with creativity and artistry, so any activity involving water may help “flush out” new innovative ideas.

4. Try something different. Do something you’ve never done before, says Christine Mason Miller, author of Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World in a recent Psyche Central article. Sign up for a cooking class, visit a nearby town you’ve never been to before, or go horseback riding if you’ve never done it. The key is to open your mind up to doing something different. If you experience something out of the ordinary, that new experience can spawn new creative ideas.

5. Make small changes. Sometimes making small changes to your environment can help you look at the world differently. Miller says whenever she falls into a creative rut, she will repaint a room, rearrange the furniture, or buy new pillows. Bringing something new into your environment can spark creative ideas.

6. Allow yourself to be bored. Author Jane Porter says our brains are too occupied with information, data, news and other stuff. Our brains are too busy, and all that busyness can kill creativity. It’s okay to be bored every so often. Think of it as part of the creative process.

7. Surround yourself with beautiful things. Visit a museum, listen to classical music or read poetry. Enjoy the sources of beauty and creativity that surround you. Seeing it in nature or seeing it in the works of other creative types can inspire you.

8. Embrace your creative rut. Realize that feeling stuck is part of the creative process. Once you understand this, you can embrace it for what it truly is – a reason to keep creating.

Creative ruts are inevitable. They’re a natural part of the creative process. They’re red flags alerting you that something is out of sync. When you fall into one, don’t fret. Recognize it for what it is – a chance to recharge your creative spirit so you can produce your best work.

What Freelance Writers Can Learn about Referrals from Real Estate Pros

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I used to work at a real estate association (two, in fact). One thing I learned by working with real estate professionals was their drive to succeed. Their success depended on making clients happy. If their clients were happy, the agents got referrals.

At first glance, it would seem that writers don’t have a lot in common with real estate agents. But the two share more in common than one would think. Both are self-employed as independent contractors. Both take pride in providing timely and efficient service to their clients. Both thrive on referral and repeat business from clients. But while real estate professionals understand the importance of asking for referrals, many freelance writers are not as versed on this practice.

As any sales person can tell you, the simplest, most straight forward strategy for getting referrals — and often the most overlooked – is to ask for them. Many people either forget to ask or are uncomfortable about asking. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to appear desperate, or they’re too shy and overly modest, or they fear they will be rejected.

One real estate professional I once interviewed for a magazine article said he often shied away from asking for referrals, despite being in the business for 15 years. But a follow up phone call to a former client changed that for good. After inviting his former client to attend one of his sponsored events, he asked if she knew anyone who needed a real estate agent. His timing was perfect. She referred him to a friend who listed his home with him, a home that was worth a significant sum of money.

You never know what kind of business you’ll get if you don’t ask.

If you want to build a repeat and referral-based writing business, you need to be proactive. You need to ask for referrals. You’d be surprised at how much business can come your way simply because you had the courage to ask.

Here are a few tips for asking for referrals.

1. Spread the word. Word of mouth communication is still the most reliable and effective way to ask for referrals because you can usually get an immediate response from the client. But timing is important too. Real estate experts suggest asking for referrals at three critical points in your relationship – a model that writers can follow for their own business.

* At the end of the project. The client naturally feels good about the project you’ve just completed for them. An opportune time to ask for a referral is when the client is in a positive frame of mind.

* During a follow-up call. In the real estate business, it is customary for agents to follow up with clients two to four weeks after closing on the home. During the follow up call, they ask how the client’s move went and if there is anything they can do for them. Then they ask for a referral.

Likewise, writers can follow up with clients several weeks after the project ends and ask if there is anything else you can do for them. Most important, ask “If you are pleased with my work, do you know anyone else who needs a freelance writer?” Another good time to ask for a referral is when the article you wrote is finally published.

* After you have received a referral. When you get a referral, thank the person who gave it to you and keep them updated on the progress of the project. “I really appreciate your referring Joe Client to me. I’m just about to finish the project for them. Do you know anyone else who needs a writer?”

2. Ask for referrals via marketing materials. Real estate agents often add a request for referrals on all their marketing materials. Remember to ask for referrals on all your print and web materials, such as business cards, emails and website. For example, at the bottom of all your emails, you might write: “The highest compliment my clients give me is a recommendation to someone else. I appreciate your referrals!”

3. Ask for testimonials. Another way clients can express satisfaction with your service is with testimonials. Some real estate agents invite clients to prepare a testimonial in the form of a written letter, a video, or a comment on their LinkedIn profile page. Testimonials can sometimes be more persuasive than other types of communication because they come from someone who has direct experience of your services.

4. Act like a pro. Real estate pros get rewarded with referrals when they’ve done a good job for a client. Writers can get rewarded the same way. Do good work, write great articles and meet your deadlines, says freelance writer Linda Formichelli in her eBook The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Your Freelance Writing. When you work with integrity, the editor will be impressed. After you know the editor better or you’ve worked with them for some time, ask them to introduce you to other editors they may know.

Building a referral-based business takes time, persistence and self-discipline, and you may not see results right away. The hardest part of the process is simply getting started. Formichelli says it can take up to a year before a referral pays off. That means you need to be consistent and persistent with your communications, without being a pest. Following up with clients every couple of months is okay. Following up with them every day – not so much.

Hopefully implementing these basic strategies can position you for long-term success and help you achieve your freelancing goals.

Why Freelancing Appeals to Older Workers

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It may seem that the gig economy is dominated by millennials, but that may be only partly true. Perhaps their desire for independence and the necessity to make ends meet and pay down student debt necessitated their move toward project work. But increasingly, older adults over age 55 are easing into retirement by taking on short-term gigs and freelancing.

The Economic Policy Institute analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, comparing statistics for independent contractors and freelancers for 2005 and 2017. Older workers over age 55 accounted for 37 percent of all independent contractors in 2017. For those in the 55-64 age group, 22.97 percent were independent contractors, up from 18.8 percent in 2005. For those over age 65, the numbers were similar. The share was 14.1 percent in 2017, up from 8.5 percent in 2005.

Over the same period, the number of total workers employed as freelancers and independent contractors fell slightly – 10.9 percent in 2005 versus 10.1 percent in 2017. So while the pool of independent workers got smaller, the over 55 workers made up a larger percentage of it. And the folks at EPI expect this trend to continue.

So why are older workers gravitating toward freelancing? According to a recent Forbes article, there are several reasons.

1. The barriers to entry is fairly low. That makes it easier to enter the gig economy. Digital platforms like Freelancers Union, Upwork and Flexjobs have made it easy for anyone to tout their skills compared to traditional word-of-mouth methods. All they have to do is complete their profile, talk up their skills then wait to be connected.

However, as simple as all this sounds, there is no guarantee that there will be a suitable connection between the older worker and an opportunity. It’s a passive approach and there’s a lot of competition. It’s easy for their profile and resume to get lost in the pile of applicants.

2. There’s no apparent cap on what they can earn. As a freelancer, older workers can negotiate their rate more readily than if they were hired. This arrangement can appeal to older workers who may be frustrated by age discrimination that they might have faced in the job market.

3. Older workers’ expertise is more valued as freelancer. When companies hire freelancers, they search for the most qualified candidate. They WANT someone that has experience. They don’t want to train a new person or risk possible mistakes. Experience counts, which is why freelancing may appeal to older workers.

4. Attitudes about “idle capacity” are changing. Older workers don’t want to spend their later years doing nothing but gazing out their window and the world rushes by. They want to participate. They want to be productive members of society and do meaningful work. That’s why many older workers are staying in the workforce longer, and why many of them gravitate toward gig jobs and freelancing.

5. Older workers want to remain connected to the outside world. Without a part-time job or a freelance gig, many older workers would feel isolated. By working, they are more engaged with the world. They join groups and form friendships, which give their lives meaning.

If in doubt about the impact of older workers, consider this statistic by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By the year 2020 (next year), one-fourth of the U.S. workforce will be over the age of 55.

Older workers are not going away any time soon. They want to work. They want to share their knowledge and expertise. They want to remain relevant and provide meaningful service in our communities. Many of them are choosing contract work and freelancing as a way to do just that.

Freelance Writing as a Side Hustle

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So you want to begin writing more. But you already have a full-time job. A side gig seems like just the ticket to give you the writing experience you seek while earning steady income from your day job.

Side gigs are common these days. People use them to earn extra cash to pay down debt, build a portfolio, begin a career transition or simply do work that they love that they can’t do during their regular job.

It is possible to have the best of both worlds. For example, my former co-worker Debbie worked full-time as an editorial assistant in our organization while pursuing a freelance writing career on the side. (This was several decades ago before social media and cell phones existed.) She used her private email to conduct business, contact editors and set up interviews. Research was done on her personal time on her home computer. Debbie occasionally used the office phone for business, but it was rare and the calls were short and to the point. Debbie worked this way for a couple of years before deciding she had enough clients to go freelance full-time.

Making the transition from full-time employee to full-time freelancer is not easy and does not happen overnight. It helps to have a side hustle as a bridge between the two. Side hustles help you gain valuable experience, increase your contacts, and eventually line up a steady stream of work before jumping into freelancing full time.

Before starting your side gig as a writer, consider these important points.

1. Be discreet with your communications. With the advances of modern technology, starting a freelance writing business as a side hustle is much easier to achieve than it was a few decades ago when my friend Debbie started her side gig. All the same, be sure to use your own computer equipment and electronic devices to conduct research, set up interviews and make phone calls. And be sure to do all that on your personal time, not company time.

2. Make sure you aren’t violating any company policies. Some companies frown on outside gigs but most seem to accept it as long as the side gig does not compete for the same clients or promote a competing product or service. Still to be on the safe side, speak with your supervisor to make sure you are not violating any policies. Assure them that you are still committed to your job, but that your writing gig is also important to you.

3. Schedule your writing time. With a side gig, your schedule is likely to be stretched to the limit. That means being smart about how you use your time. Review your schedule and see where there are gaps in your schedule that you can use for writing. Then put it in your calendar. If you get an hour for lunch, can you set aside half of that hour for writing? If your company provides 15-minute breaks for its employees, can you use them for setting up interviews or jotting down notes for story ideas? With fifteen minutes or a half hour, you’d be amazed how much writing you can get done in a short amount of time.

4. Remember that the day job comes first. No matter how tempting it is to work on your side hustle,  stay focused on your job responsibilities. Even if you hate your day job, slacking off will not put you in good stead with your employer. When you eventually leave the comforts of your day job to begin freelancing, you want to leave on the best of terms.

5. Be grateful that you have a paid gig. Many people who start freelancing don’t have that luxury. Take advantage of the security it offers you for the time being. It’s a gift. It allows you to work on your passion on the side.

6. Be patient. Creating a freelance business does not happen overnight. There’s a lot of prep work you need to do in advance to build your portfolio and build your confidence.

Writing as a side gig can be fun and exciting. But it’s also hard work, and it’s not for everyone. If you are someone who likes steady work and a steady income or if you’re uncomfortable with uncertainty, freelancing may not be for you. Starting a side gig might be a smart idea so you can decide if this is a route you want to pursue full time. You may decide you don’t want to, and that’s okay. At least you’ve made an informed decision based on actual experience.

To make your writing side hustle work, you need to decide if you’re willing to sacrifice your personal time, family time, socializing and hobbies to work your side gig. Are you willing to make that commitment? For ideas on how to get started, check on the links below and read about other writers who have done it – with success.

What about you? Are you writing as a side gig? Do you hope to transition to full-time freelancing at some point? What has your experience been like as a side hustler?

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