Building and maintaining a fulfilling career is the ultimate professional writing goal, though it’s never a be-all end-all. It’s a moving target and what constitutes ‘fulfilling’ evolves and changes throughout a lifetime. If you can recognize the types and subjects of writing that you enjoy, look forward to and are passionate about you’re a step ahead of the game.
Market yourself to acquire more of this work. You might be drawn to writing product descriptions, non-profit grants, slogans, procedure manuals, digital content, poetry, menu item descriptions, courses, blog posts, magazine features, newspaper articles, or e-books. Maybe it’s a social or environmental cause or a niche subject that calls to you. That works, too.
But that’s not what this is about, though that awareness is the first step to intentionally building a fulfilling career. This is about the three areas of your career where you can add that type of work and build a resume that showcases your ability it do it damn well.
If you’re a self-employed writer and rely on your skills to make the mortgage payment, paid work is going to be a big part of your day. (Duh, I know, but I can only write so many hours a day before my brain sizzles…paid work takes time away from writing other pieces.) This is also the hardest category to control when it comes to the types of writing and subjects you’ll be working with, especially for new writers. Sometimes you just gotta pay the rent. You’ll use the other two categories of writing (we’ll get to them in a second) to build your hire-ability for the types of writing you enjoy, which will earn you more time doing fulfilling work…plus you’ll be paid for it!
First off, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Shit happens. Maybe a project that you were humming along on is put on pause or your editor suddenly stops returning your emails. Having multiple clients (or sources of income) will cushion the blow and buy you time to refill your roster. Knowing when to begin filling an availability (down to two clients, project wrapping up) can keep you from taking anything you can get (and doing work you don’t like) because your bank balance is looking scary.
Second, be picky about the positions you apply for. Again, this is hard in a financial crunch but pays off in daily satisfaction when you enjoy your paid work. When checking job boards and newsletters, look for stuff you’d really enjoy. Don’t just send a stock email to every posting on the board. Instead spend some time tailoring your emails to the positions that float your boat. The good news is that writers tend to be curious creatures and discovery and research can be rewarding in itself, so writing about a subject you wouldn’t have thought of as interesting can wind up being intriguing…even if you didn’t expect it.
Of course your paid work will help build your resume but I’ve found another way to gain experience and add impressive clients and publications to my roster: take on a limited amount of exposure work. Some of this may include paid guest posts, but many publications expect the exposure of writing for them to be payment enough.
I’m not a fan of working for free and I don’t agree with many of the content-driven companies that don’t pay writers for contributing to their ‘inventory’ but there’s no doubt that these big names are impressive and show editors and clients that you’re capable of running with the big dogs.
If you don’t specialize in content creation, this could mean taking a pro-bono job writing a grant proposal, doing some free marketing for a local business, editing and producing a literary magazine for a local school, or creating a newsletter or fliers for your church. This is your chance to drive your career toward the type of work you love by earning experience.
I use my gratis work to write about subjects I might not otherwise have the opportunity to work with in my paid writing…at least not yet. Doing this helps me gain clips in niches that I want to write about professionally. Then when I see a post for a wellness writer, I have a collection of relevant clips from big-name publications that fit the subject matter and can help me get that job.
Giving work away isn’t the only way to advance your career or break into a new field. You could take a course, research, practice, use your own blog, or offer to complete a sample piece on-spec. I constantly read books for professional development: link building, web copy, sales letters, you name it I’ve ordered it from Amazon. I also keep a list of publications (my bucket list) that will (someday) look damn fine in my clips and I work at pitching maybe two a month.
Picturing your ideal resume (or a list of clips) can help you decide where to invest your ‘freebie’ efforts.
Lots of writers choose to write only in this category, and that’s fine. I myself have been tempted to focus my efforts here and go back to manual labor to supplement my income (and get some time away from my desk). Passion projects can include your blog, poetry, that novel or memoir you’ve been working on, or the short stories you tell your children at bedtime. This is the writing you have a passion for: paid or not.
That’s not to say that these projects couldn’t someday earn you an income, many can, but they can help your career in other ways. Producing your own blog can not only make you an expert on your topic, but will also highlight your ability with WordPress. You can use it to hone your interview skills, share info-graphics you’ve created, and connect with influencers—but most of all, this is the writing that feeds your soul. It’s probably what drew you to writing in the first place. While there are ways to use this category to build your career, don’t lose that. It is important for you to have writing that is assigned to you by you for the sole purpose of personal fulfillment.
While I advise you to be mindful of ways to use your passion projects to grow your career (especially if you have a blog, or two) if this writing begins to feel like a chore, it’s time to take a step back. Maybe you need a break or are putting too much pressure on yourself. If you’ve ever seen Step Brothers, don’t lose your dinosaur.
Do you keep a certain amount of work in each category? Are you already writing in these categories and didn’t realize it? In what ways have these types of writing helped you land new and better work? What publications are on your writing bucket list?
Can’t wait to hear from you!