Welcome, Rebecca Alwine, a freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. Today she shares with us how she has turned her passion for storytelling into a full-time job!
When people ask me what I do as I work from home, they are often surprised when I respond with, “I’m a freelance writer.” The next questions are usually about what I write, where I’ve been published, and when my next book is coming out. Then they ask me if I make any money.
Five years ago, I would have had the same questions. How could anyone have a good job working from home writing for other people? But, after dabbling in the writing world while holding down a part-time and then full-time job, I was intrigued by those who could.
And, one day, I went for it.
I enjoyed writing, and I liked telling the stories of other people. There was a thrill when a magazine arrived at my house with one of my articles in it. It was nice when people recognized my name as the author of a piece.
But it has been hard work, too. Going from writing a few pieces for one publication a month to making a full-time salary took me quite a bit of time. And hard work. And stress, and it was full of doubts.
So, how did I do it? Let me share some of this with you.
I committed to working hard.
Almost three years ago, I quit my full-time job. I was done working in an office, barely seeing my kids, barely making enough in the summer months to cover childcare for two kids. It just wasn’t fun. At that point, I was going to try to write some more, make some extra money for our family, and enjoy the time I had at home with my kids.
At this point, I was making about $450 a month. Which was just fine! It gave us some extra money to do some fun things, to afford a trip here or there, or to save. But then I realized that wasn’t enough for me. If this was going to be a career, a full-time job, it needed to be treated as such.
I stepped out of my comfort zone.
Even though I got my start within the military community, it was quickly made clear to me that it would never be enough to be my career. Unless you moved to be a magazine editor or a news reporter for a military publication, there was not enough work here to keep me interested or paid. So, I started branching out with my writing, moving from military spouse publications into some parenting publications.
I looked towards parenting publications and was able to start writing regularly for a website that focused on Solo Moms. I still told military family stories, but I learned that non-military publications and audiences wanted to hear them too. And they paid better! In 2016, I wrote 118 pieces and made about $950 a month. I worked about 10-15 hours a week doing this. It was a part-time job with part-time pay.
I tried anything. And everything.
And then I started to dabble in other things. Could I make a full-time career writing? Probably. But did I need to? No. So opportunities that arose, I jumped on. I started ghostwriting, and I started writing newsletters for other people. I did some data entry. I did some research. I did anything that someone would pay me to do.
I subscribed to email newsletters that listed publications who were open to pitches. I did pitch challenges, where I would send off 25 pitches in a week. I heard “no” quite a bit, but I also heard yes. I landed some obscure publications, like Outside Bozeman and The Northwest Dentist by networking and pitching. Adding additional publications and topics to my portfolio made me more desirable to editors. Now they knew I could write and that I could match their publication’s tone.
I figured out my value.
One of the biggest lessons I learned was how much I was worth. And to stick to it. I will admit, I still struggle with this. But I’ve realized over the past few years, that there is more to an assignment than the money. When pitching a new publication, I weigh the paycheck against the prestige of the publication, and how strongly I feel about getting the story published. There are a few places I write where the job is easy. I write, they edit, they publish, they pay me. Boom, done. Those, to me, are worth taking a smaller fee.
Of course, I still prefer the big number pieces, but those I also weigh against how much time they will take me. Making $1000 on an article would be awesome, but not if it took up 15 hours of my week. In those 15 hours, I could write 10-15 pieces valued at $125. So it is a true balancing act, still!
I learned to say no.
This is the hardest thing, saying no. I’ve gotten better at it, but it’s still hard. It’s the culmination of all of the other lessons I learned. While I put myself out there, apply for all the cool jobs that I see, and know my bottom line, I still have a hard time saying no. But, it’s probably the most important.
As a writer, people know me by where and what I write. So if writing a piece for a specific publication could have negative implications on my professional image, I have to turn it down. If working on a cool project for less money than I make, limits the time I can spend with my regular clients, then I have to weigh that as well. Saying no has allowed me to say yes when the job is a perfect fit.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned so much about the writing community, and have grown an extensive network of writers, editors, and clients. My work now consists of a variety of things, most of which are not directly publishing new pieces. I work as a Social Media Director, I work as a ghostwriter, I work as a researcher and copywriting contractor. But the relationships I’ve established and the reputation I’ve built allow me to publish a piece when I feel passionate about it. It also allows me to graciously say to a long-time editor, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that this month,” and not risk the relationship.
2017 was my breakout year.
I had set a goal to make $20,000 that year, working part-time hours and being home with my children. I knew we’d have a move that year and I knew I wanted to take some time off during the summer to be with my kids. (The whole reason I left the office job.) I also wanted to get more clients that were consistent. Meaning I didn’t have to spend hours pitching new articles each week. I was able to accomplish both of those things. And more.
In 2017, I wrote over 150 pieces for almost 30 publications. I also wrote a top piece that had over 147,000 views. I ended the year with three regular clients and a few new options for the next year. And, the kicker, I made over $45,000. Within a year, I was able to take my passion for writing to a full-time income. Now my family can live off of one income and save the other for extras. We don’t have to worry when the government shutdown. We can afford a slightly bigger rental house. We can go on vacation.
What will 2018 bring for me?
I’m not sure. We moved, again. Instead of a baby, I have a toddler. I have different goals this year, but I continue to move forward and enjoy the work I’m doing.
Pursuing your dreams is important. Is writing my forever job? I don’t know. But right now, with this transient lifestyle we lead, I’m super excited to have a fulfilling career that compliments my military spouse lifestyle, provides extras for my family and allows me to do what I love most.
Rebecca Alwine is a freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. Over the past 10 years, she’s discovered she enjoys coffee, lifting weights, and most of the menial tasks of motherhood. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found hiding behind the sewing machine or with her nose in a book.
Her writing experience includes military family topics, research pieces, guest blogging, and much more. She’s a contributing writer for ARMY Magazine, a regular contributor for several publications including PCSGrades, Military OneClick, and ESME, and has also been published in Ms. Magazine and The Atlantic’s City Lab.