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A Year Ago, I Earned $1500+ per Month Writing. Now I’m Back to Cleaning Toilets

by Denisa Feathers 9 months ago in goals
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I made 2 major mistakes every freelance writer should steer away from

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

I was on a roll.

I was earning $1500 per month from Newsbreak and an additional few hundred from Medium — for a 22-year-old student living in a foreign country, this was the biggest amount of money I’d ever made, let alone from doing what I actually loved.

Life was good. No, scratch that. Life was amazing. I constantly felt like I was on a high. Every time I remembered I actually wrote for a living, I felt waves of euphoria wash over me, a daft smile plastered on my face.

I would only climb upwards from there.

Except I didn’t. Not really. One year later, and here I am doing housekeeping again.

Why?

Two reasons.

How it all went down

Saying I’m grateful for Newsbreak and Medium is a massive understatement.

These platforms have literally made me believe in the power of my own words and have finally propelled me further on my writing journey. After finding my voice and getting paid for expressing it online, I know I will never go back to who I was before.

All those moments of hopelessness, all those thoughts about how “writing will never make you rich”, all those attempts to focus my attention elsewhere because the only way I could see myself writing was through landing a deal in traditional publishing…

Gone. Puff.

The incredible potential in writing online articles hit me in the face when I least expected it, and being able to pay my rent with my own words changed how I view my whole writing career — now, opportunities to make money doing what I love are everywhere.

There is limitless potential.

So why am I cleaning hotel rooms for guests instead of being one?

Well, you can blame many factors, actually:

  • The fact that Newsbreak stopped paying their writers a stable fee for each article, and so most people’s earnings reduced to effectively zero.
  • The change in Medium’s algorithm and its withdrawal of funds from my favourite publications to submit to, resulting in my slowly vanishing desire to consistently write on here and my massive drop in earnings.
  • University work taking up much more of my time than I’d like it to (working towards getting my degree is like waiting for Godot at this point, it’s taking years that feel like centuries).
  • Upwork being an uphill battle.

I’m sure there are a bambillion of other reasons I could give you, all of which would be kind of legit, yet absolutely unimportant in the end.

Because ultimately, this is my fault. I made a major mistake that every freelance writer should steer away from.

Well, really, I made two.

I expected to be able to predict the unpredictable

Yeah, that one was a bit of a fail.

When I joined Medium in 2020, I started earning money from writing for the very first time in my life. All the stories of successful Medium writers got me super motivated, and before I knew it, I was earning hundreds.

(Yes, I’m aware “hundreds” isn’t cool enough to be in italics. It was very cool to me at that point, though.)

In January 2021, I was shocked — I almost scored $2000 from Medium alone. Combined with my new contract at Newsbreak (who found me through Medium), I was giddy with happiness the moment I woke up for the whole upcoming month. Gratitude and motivation were soaring high, burning out every possible negative feeling.

Well, except for fear. I feared I would lose it all any second.

It’s quite funny. The moment you finally achieve what you’ve dreamed of, you start panicking it won’t last, which kind of makes you even more stressed than you were before.

I was determined to figure out how to write the best possible articles for both Medium and Newsbreak so that my income would stay the way it was. I tried time and again, and with each change in the algorithm or the contract, I adjusted to keep going.

We all know how that story ended. It’s 2022, and I didn’t write a single word yesterday — instead, I found old peanuts when hoovering behind a bed.

Writing on Medium is great. Writing for Newsbreak was really fun for a while, too. By relying on these two platforms to pay my rent, though, I made a big mistake.

The thing is, online platforms can change their algorithms and policies at any moment. They don’t really care about you as an individual and so they usually prove to be a really unstable source of income. Most months when I earned more than $500 from Medium were those where an article of mine had gone viral — something you can only influence to a certain degree.

So, lesson number one: don’t rely on online platforms to be the main source of your writing income. They are extremely unpredictable and can shake up the whole foundation you’ve been building at any moment.

I stopped looking for clients at a critical moment

After Medium and Newsbreak tanked, I switched to Upwork, which was (maybe surprisingly for some) going really well for about two months. I had interesting clients and I managed to earn enough to get me by, which I considered a success given my newbie status on Upwork.

The problem? The clients came and went. I didn’t manage to find anyone who would give me a lot of work for a very long amount of time. I didn’t mind searching for new clients regularly, but when university work got very busy, I just thought… why not take a break?

Sigh.

I shouldn’t have. It’s okay to take breaks, of course, but taking a 3-month long hiatus from writing probably wasn’t the best idea I’d ever come up with. When I returned to Upwork to search for new clients in January 2022, I found it extremely hard to get going again.

I gave myself a month to land jobs that would provide me with enough income. I failed. My bank balance dropped dangerously low.

Hence, the hoovering of peanuts.

Mind you, I did actually land an amazing freelance job writing for a great company that considers me one of their top writers — but as often happens with freelance writing, work dried up for the next month and I’m now waiting to receive new assignments.

My landlord won’t wait, though.

The lesson in all this?

Writing can be extremely unstable. If you want to earn a full-time living writing, either be an official salaried employed writer OR make sure to always have multiple streams of income. If one of them dries up, you can keep going without worrying about rent.

Also, don’t take a 3-month hiatus if you’re not loaded. I probably should have realised that before I did it. Uhm. To be clear, I could afford the break – I just couldn’t afford to still be looking for new clients 2 months after it ended.

Note to self: good clients are hard to find.

(Don’t tell me it was silly. I know it was silly. I’m suffering the consequences.)

The point is, freelance writing might always be a bit uncertain, and people usually need something stable to lean on. If you don’t live in a self-sufficient cabin in the woods, that is. (Would be kind of cool, wouldn’t it?)

There are two roads to take in terms of income: solidify, or diversify.

Or do both. That’d be perfect.

Don’t liquidise and then go chill for months, though. You might end up in pink gloves, saying words like “ew, what’s that?”

The silver lining — because there is always a silver lining, even when it actually looks grey

As a wise woman (me) once said:

“When you start cleaning toilets three days a week again, you become more determined to… stop doing it. Uhm. Go and write for your life!”

In other words, I took this job because I didn’t find new stable sources of writing income fast enough and I was getting tired of the never-ending chase, quite frankly.

Now that I do have a stable income, however, I can wholly focus on building multiple writing streams in the upcoming months. I can keep searching for more long-term clients, I can dip my toes into Amazon publishing, I can pitch to new publications.

I can try to write more regularly on Medium again. Now that the income from this platform doesn’t substitute a large portion of my income, what I write isn’t as stressful. It’s just fun.

So, you know. It all ends well in the end.

The main takeaway from the story

The journey to success isn’t linear.

You soar high, you fall down. You build up momentum, you lose a chunk of it. You turn into a super productive writing machine, you go and take a break for three months… no, no, don’t do that. Unless you can afford it. I’m serious.

On any journey, there will be bumps in the road. What matters is if they make you walk away, or if you run at them like a furious Viking fighting for glory. In our case, an angsty writer trying to turn their words into coins.

I’ll be making coins. While cleaning. And when I have enough coins from enough sources, I can forego the cleaning.

What’s your journey going to be?

goals

About the author

Denisa Feathers

Student of Literature & Languages. I write about relationships, self-improvement, lifestyle, writing and mental health. Contact me: [email protected]

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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    Writing reflected the title & theme

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    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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