Freelance Writing in a Pandemic: How I Found Passion in My Paycheck

Freelance writing has always been volatile. In the past five years, I’ve been ghosted by clients, gaslit by agency owners, and gouged by unstable outlets.

But when I was let go from both of my agency jobs in early 2020 — one of which I’d been working with for most of my career — I panicked. I’d kept these jobs as a safety net, believing they’d always have consistent work when my own clients fell off the radar. When the pandemic swept the nation and companies hit pause on marketing efforts, the work I’d relied on dried up in an instant.

Fear aside, I also felt something else expand inside my chest: relief. 

I’d never been fulfilled in these roles, which required me to ghostwrite sales-driven blog posts according to templates and formulas. There was neither creativity nor freedom of expression, and I was tired of the monotony. Most of all, I was sick of feeling so limited in my craft when I knew I was capable of writing edgy, investigative, and thought-provoking work.

When a job ends, it’s normal and healthy to sit in that darkness for a moment and drink in what that role (and it’s absence) means to you. But once the loss fades, an opportunity remains. It’s a chance to ask yourself: How will I fill this empty space in my life?

Since I’m self-employed, I’m constantly looking at new revenue streams I can pursue. It’s simply part of the job description. So when I’d finished mourning this loss — which was, more than anything, the loss of financial security — it was time to start fresh.

I’d long since figured out how to make a living as a writer, but in four years of full-time freelancing, I’d largely neglected the writing I really wanted to do. I’d dreamed of writing and publishing investigative journalism, cultural critiques, narrative nonfiction, and personal essays.

I had the sense I could get paid well to write what I was passionate about, but I wasn’t sure how.

The pandemic gave me time and mental clarity to learn. I told myself all I had to do was try. In truth, to pursue this dream was my defense against the sorrow that’d swept the world off its feet. It was also an act of resistance against the silencing I’d felt as a ghostwriter.

So I filled the empty space of my former jobs with learning how to pitch the stories I wanted to write. I researched editor databases, signed up for pitch call newsletters, and joined writer’s communities like Study Hall. 

I downloaded resources on pitching from other freelance writers. I took virtual creative writing classes at nonprofits like Lighthouse Writers Workshop and Literary Arts. I started a writing club online and hosted a write-a-thon.

Amidst all my attempts at pitching story ideas to publications, I got a lot of no’s. I still do. But somewhere in my research I also saw a tip from another writer which suggested counting successes by the number of no’s received, not the number of yeses. Racking up a long list of no’s meant you were trying, and it’s impossible to get anywhere in freelance journalism without a fierce commitment.

This helped me see the world of freelancing in a whole new way. No’s were normal — yeses were the anomaly. Now, I no longer take the no’s personally. I simply see them as part of the job.

And the yeses? I got those too. They resulted in getting my work published at outlets like Bitch, WELL+GOOD, Explore, Verywell, Healthline, CO+Yoga Life, The Daily Beast, and more. I got paid to write about things like women’s health advocacy, the plant-based revolution in the West, and the problems with new age spirituality.

This career pivot was prompted by negative events, but it taught me to find my voice. It showed me a paycheck can also have passion, and that sometimes passion is worth more than the security of a job which leaves me numb and uninspired.

Since the days of my girlhood, when I’d sprawl out on the floor reading National Geographic magazines late into the afternoon, I’ve known writing is my calling. The pandemic didn’t exactly give me a career lesson; it gave me a reminder.

I always held this dream somewhere deep inside — I just needed a reason to remember it.

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Michelle is freelance writer and creative storyteller. When she’s not busy creating content, you can find her riding her bike, whipping up a vegan dish or traveling the world.

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