– Me, November 15, 2010
Those words opened my first blog post. If ever a life had a turning point, for me it was then. That post kicked off a run of publishing a weekly blog post for a full three years. (Count ‘em – that’s 156 consecutive weeks, 156 posts. And they’re all still on here if you care to scroll back through time. 😉
Initially my posts were explorations of creative endeavors and next-career possibilities. It took a handful of months for me to realize the obvious – I should be writing for a living.
Born A Writer
It would probably not surprise you to learn that my childhood was full of little stories handwritten in pencil on wide-ruled notebook paper. Or that my standardized test scores in writing were always in the high percentiles. When I was 12, I wrote a poem about the Challenger space shuttle disaster that won a contest, and while a highschooler I dictated a couple of short essays over the phone for my sister away at college. (If you’re reading, Tiff, you know it’s true!)
You might say it was my dream to be a professional writer.
So, for three uninterrupted years beginning in November 2010, I sat down at my desk on Sunday afternoons to crank out whatever happened to be on my mind. Always I have used this space that way, to tell the stories that matter to me the most.
It was a labor of love as much as it was the result of my own self-discipline, which would prove invaluable over and over again.
For the first year+, my blog posts filled a creative place within me that had been abandoned. It also served as something that a writer of any credibility would need and that I lacked: A portfolio.
Dream to Reality
Within one year, I would be taking freelancing gigs writing for a community weekly published on the west side of the county, eventually writing two dozen human-interest stories for the newspaper. (You can read my favorites of those stories here, as you scroll down through my Literary Journalism portfolio page.) One of the stories, about a lady who sewed quilts to donate to an Adirondack retreat center, would set the stage for my first article published in a national magazine (you can read that here).
By the first weeks of the following new year, I would reach the monumental decision to quit the job I had at the time.
That first day of my new life as a full-time freelance writer began on February 25, 2012. Ten years ago, today.
It occurred to me only earlier this winter that I was coming up on a decade in business. Nearly one-fifth of my life! Do I “wake up each morning and feel overwhelming delight at the tasks that lie before me each day”? Hahaha, well, if I really think about it, I am delighted that the mundane tasks of checking emails and seeing to the day’s bookkeeping are for my benefit alone. For a business I built from scratch.
What does it take to reach a decade in business?
This is a ‘how I did it’ and not a how-to! I’m not that kind of expert and this isn’t that kind of blog.
I did it the way I do everything – I did my homework, every day, without fail. [See, self-discipline reference.]
I began by reading a stack of books on starting a business and on freelance writing (including a few about starting a freelance writing biz), dozens of web articles about the same, following a few inspirational bloggers, and took a six-week long class from SCORE Rochester on the basic framework for starting a business.
Side Gig and Spring Magic
I also had a side gig for the first three months, meeting my first-grader nephew’s afternoon school bus, which I wrote about as part of an ongoing series accounting babysitting my nephews. They are now teenagers, both towering over me. Ten years, man.
[My Adventures in Babysitting series of posts had quite a following.]
That spring was a harbinger of climate change when temperatures reached and sustained 60s and 70s March through May; if you lived in the northeastern U.S., you may recall the clouds of Red Admiral butterflies coaxed to life in part by the mild winter and warm spring temps. There were apparently a lot of variables, but conditions were just right in spring 2012 to fill lawns and meadows with dramatic black and orange fluttering wings. It was a magical way to experience the season that would change my life.
That summer 2012, when I finally went full-time in building my freelance writing business, work trickled in. I wrote more stories for the weekly newspaper, honing my interviewing skills by meeting a ton of fascinating people. A former colleague who ran her own freelance writing business in another city subcontracted a few projects to me after she broke her wrist. An attorney I met while networking paid me to proofread and complete data entry on legal reference volumes she was editing. That was a weird gig, but it filled time and my bank account.
Nothing happens when you’re starting out, then, suddenly, Things Happen.
It’s a trick of time, I think. You’re busy just doing what you need to do, then you look back and realize, Hey, people are paying me to do this.
Then more people. And more. They tell other people, who also pay you to write for them. That’s how this business was built, one person and one word at a time.
Farming vs. Hunting
As an avowed introvert, I had to push myself to attend networking events, which were often grueling evenings and often alongside mostly men my father’s age. (Ladies, I know you hear me on this one).
Over time I would learn just how valuable networking is for my specialized type of business. Rarely have I met someone while networking who has an immediate need for or interest in engaging a writer. So, I just had nice conversations, asked a lot of questions, and handed out my card.
[I was, and continue to be, BAD at that “Let’s have coffee!”-follow up. My reward for a lot of people-ing does not involve more people-ing!]
Then a funny thing happened. People began to reach out to me to find out about working with me. Sometimes it was someone I had met a while ago, sometimes it was someone unknown to me altogether. The most interesting connections where when the name they gave as who referred them to me was also unknown to me! It was like the Kevin Bacon Game, tracing back who-knew-who until the name of a person I remembered popped up. Crazy.
The pattern I discovered was that it took about 18 months for a casual networking meet to result in some type of business. Ever since that realization, I prioritize conversations when I meet people, hoping that a year or so down the road when someone they know offhandedly remarks that they need a writer, my name will come tumbling out of their memory.
To that point, I’ll never forget one woman speaking at a networking event about the concept of business development called ‘farming versus hunting.’ Meaning, if you simply cultivate relationships then people will want to work with you. I heard her say that and suddenly no longer felt guilty for never pursuing the hard sell or the cold call. Honestly, this is the foundation of how and why I work. And hunting just isn’t my style.
Treat Yo’ Self!
Suddenly, it’s been an entire decade gone by. No one is more surprised by this than I am.
We ‘solopreneurs’ do forget to give ourselves credit. For doing the work and being the person we hope we are. It’s easy to forget when YOU are the one who has to do EVERYTHING. I open the mail, balance the statements, troubleshoot the computer, onboard the new client, keep up the relationship with the existing great clients—oh, and do the writing.
It is just the day by day, doing what you have to do to get it done. It takes discipline (see: writing blog posts for 156 consecutive weeks) as well as dedication. To ourselves, really.
I did this.
I would love to throw a big party, like the one the I had for my birthday in 2012, one week after my Liberation Day. This thing, called Sudden Write Turn, deserves cake and toasts, too.
[Please enjoy this delightful “Treat Yo’ Self” Donna and Tom montage .]
Ten years. A lot happens in a decade. I built a business that weathered surviving cancer just two years in, 2+ years of a pandemic, and personal trials, including my mother dying and others I’ve not yet written about, but will, when the time feels right to tell those stories.
This blog post, like every other post I’ve written and all the work I do here, is just completely, honestly me. In bold.
Hopefully 2022 will be variant-free so I can safely have that party. Maybe you’ll be there. If you are, let’s share a toast and a few stories about the past decade. And think about what dreams we can make into realities in the decade to come.
P.S. Oh, and the name “Sudden Write Turn”? It just hit me like a bolt of lightning (like all my tattoo ideas) back at the beginning of all this when I was trying to think of a name for my blog. It pretty much sums up my decision to change my life. Don’t ya think?