Going Full-time Once Again: Lessons from my Past for my Future
The year 2012 looms in front of me as a year of change. Next year, after close to 30 years of teaching, I'm retiring. It's a whole jumble of emotions. In some ways, it will be a great relief because the California Community College system is undergoing a great deal of change at the state administrative level. Not all of it is good in my opinion. My health isn't what it used to be either and I can use a slower pace. On the other hand, I love to teach and it has been my life for the past three decades. I figure years on an August to May calendar rather than January to December.
So, what does this have to do with writing, books and being an author. Well, it takes me back to a place I was before I started teaching full-time, which would be about 22 years ago. Back then I was writing full-time. As I enter retirement I'm going to be returning to those roots, but I'm going to be better prepared.
Back then I had been “forced” into it by a recession (sound familiar) that cost me my job in advertising. Back then I had little time to prepare, and honestly I had a lot of irrational and romantic ideas about the work of a full-time freelance writer.
You know the image. The writer blasts through a novel in a few weeks, which is instantly picked up by a major publisher and the next thing you know you have a six-figure advance and a date on the Tonight Show. Okay, maybe I was a touch more realistic than that, but I did figure most of my writing would be for magazines and book publishers. The reality was much different.
First, because I started freelancing without anything more than the two-weeks severance pay in my purse, the two main considerations when choosing a writing project were: (1) How long will it take? And (2) How much will it pay? My first concern was always paying the bills.
Anyone going into full-time freelancing should have six months to a year's expenses covered. That gives you enough time to do a few of the projects you want to do and get a few income streams going before you have pay all your bills from your pen. Fortunately, retirement gives me enough money to cover the basics. Not much more, but I don't have to make that sale to buy groceries. I also have some savings for the extra expenses that come up including those for marketing. There is only so much you can do with social media marketing.
The second big “surprise” for me was that most of my work was NOT for publishers. Being moderately well known in the area for my marketing skills and advertising copywriting, my first, and most lucrative, projects were advertising pieces such as radio commercials, brochures, newspaper ads and a bunch of other business writing. I could get paid $25 to write a one-paragraph blurb about a Bed and Breakfast Inn for inclusion in a travel directory. I got paid up to $400 for some radio ads. Compared to being “paid in copies” for short fiction writing, it was a no-brainer economically, but hardly the most satisfying writing to do. Among my many projects I wrote catalog copy, video documentary scripts, commercials for both radio and TV, resumes, cover letters, press releases, brochures. I even designed bookmarks and business cards.
Fortunately, I can enter my second round of full-time freelancing being more selective. I don't actually mind some of the advertising and marketing work I did. Certainly, writing press releases and designing brochures can be fun. It would be even more fun with today's desktop publishing programs that can take the heavy lifting out of design projects. However, I know that diversification is the key to writing success. Sure, if you are Stephen King or Nora Roberts, you can keep doing the same type of writing and make a good income. However, most of us have to build multiple income streams. That means writing for a local market doing business writing or writing for a local newspaper or magazine, writing short pieces for national publications and longer pieces as well. Most freelancers do not have the luxury of being too specialized.
Finally, I discovered that, for me, writing and teaching went together. I am at the bottom of my soul always a teacher. Much of my nonfiction writing had a seed of education for the reader buried within it. But writing also led me back into teaching. Being fairly successful as a writer in my small town, I was able to propose some writing classes to the local college, which eventually led to part-time employment there as a teacher and public information assistant. That laid the foundation for me to apply for the job I have now.
It seems that writing led me to teaching which leads me back to writing. Oh, and also to teaching. I'm starting up my own online school for people who just want to learn things without having to matriculate at a college or pay an exorbitant fee to a major for-profit entity. And, you got it, My first class – Novel Writing and next year Magazine Article Writing. Now, that's the best of all possible worlds: Writing lessons teaching people how to write. It doesn't get any better than that!
Terri Main is an instructor at Reedley College, in Reedley, California where she lives with her five cats. She has been published in more than 50 national magazines and is the author of Dark Side of the Moon, Parmenter's Wager and A Question of Defense published by Muse It Up Publishers. She is also the author of Creative Calisthenics: The Ultimate Workout for the Writer's Imagination. Her new online learning space is Education Wants to be Free (http://www.educationwantstobefree.com/classroom) New classes are starting in February in Novel Writing, Computer Mediated Communication for Writers and Magazine Writing.