Quiet Quitting? Transition to a career as a content writer
Updated: Oct 3, 2022
Before I was a real estate writer, I was an English teacher for almost 20 years. I understand what it is to be in a place where you know that your current job has run its course, yet you don't have a new job to step into.
Nobody wants to talk about the burnout that happens in education, because there's such a mythos that surrounds the self-sacrificing teacher. This mythos is necessary in order to continue to pay teachers criminally low wages while also requiring them to work incredibly long hours, requiring them to have a Master's degree just to get a foot in the door, and requiring them to maintain a saintly demeanor while being abused by their students, the parents, and the administrators.
My version of quiet quitting — which, in retrospect, is what I did, but which did not have a name at that time — was to only care about what went on in my classroom and to stop caring about what the administrators or the other teachers in the workroom thought about me. No more departmental politics. No more stupid meetings.
During one of my last administrator evaluations, the principal at the school (who, I'm sorry, looked just like a toad frog with a moustache) said, "The other teachers say you don't really have much to say to them. You're not very friendly." I said, "What do the students say?"
"Oh, the students love you. They're crazy about you."
"Then what are we talking about?" I asked. To me, that was the only thing that mattered anymore, the only thing I had the time or the patience for any longer.
At the same time, I wasn't really in a position to just chuck it all and quit my job. My then-husband was unhappy in his job as well, plus all of the insurance for our family was tied up in my job.
In the words of my late mother, the only thing I'm good at is reading and writing, so that's all I had to build a career with. On a whim, I went online and created an account on a freelancer platform as a copywriter and copyeditor and the rest is history.
Writing and the myth of specialness
When I first graduated from college, I worked for a newspaper for a year as an editor and columnist. I got a lot of great experience. Why didn't I continue to pursue a career in journalism? In a word: Money.
Making a living wage in journalism at the time when I was starting out was difficult, especially if you were on your own and trying to pay your own bills. The only reason I was able to hang on for a year was that I was living in a very small town with very affordable rent. Making the leap to a city where I could advance my career felt impossible financially.
Now, however, there are so many opportunities for solid writers to maintain side gigs as content writers; a good writer can supplement their income significantly. If you have skills as a back-end editor in Hubspot, Wordpress and other platforms, you can make a good living.
I don't think a lot of young people are encouraged to pursue writing as a career, however, even now, even when there is so much more availability. And that is because of what I call the myth of specialness.
As an English teacher, I did a lot to contribute to this myth. I bought into it and it kept me teaching English when I could have been writing for those two decades. It kept me from encouraging a lot of my students to find ways to pursue their interests in writing, and for that I have my own regrets to deal with.
The myth of specialness says that writers are rarified creatures like Hemingway and Austen. They aren't like you and me. They are born different, elevated, wiser.
There's an episode of The Golden Girls where Blanche decides to be "a Great Southern Writer." Her reason? She thought it would make her special.
We believe that art, whether it's writing or visual arts or acting or music, requires genius. Are there genius writers and artists? Of course. Do you need to be Jane Austen to write property descriptions or blog posts about pop culture or the cannabis industry or bitcoin? No.
When I look back at the students I taught, there were so many who were so interested in writing and we offered them no place to put that passion other than being a novelist or a schoolteacher. Those were the only two places we knew for a talent in writing to live.
Here's what I write for clients:
social media copy
quotes for articles
totally random things that just come up and need to be written
People need people who know how to spell and put words together. If you also have expertise in some other field — in my case, I had gotten my real estate license along with my best friend so that we could sell a few homes a year on the side — you can market yourself toward a specific niche and your service becomes exponentially more valuable.
Transitioning into a career in content writing
If you are in a job that you hate and you are currently quiet quitting, and you think that writing might be for you, spend some of your time creating an exit strategy around content writing.
Here are my 10 best tips for creating a path into a content writing career.
Understand the financial and legal ins and outs of self-employment. This will be the biggest difference for you in regard to taxes and the logistics of the way you'll work. Talk to a lawyer and a financial advisor upfront about how to structure your company (LLC, S-Corp, etc.) and put aside at least 25 percent of everything you earn (30 percent is better) as a writer so that you are always ahead on your tax burden).
Find a professional platform where you can connect with clients. I started out with Upwork and it was a good choice for me. Some of the cheaper platforms like Fiverr may have some good options but they also attract people who are looking for "something for nothing." Balance your need to build your portfolio with your need to honor your time and energy with decent pay.
Once you've built a client base, create your own platform to run parallel. Don't give up the freelancer platform you're on and don't violate its terms and conditions, but create a way for people to find you directly. Make sure that you add plenty of content with the search terms that you think people will use to find you. For example, use [your niche] writer and [your niche] writing throughout.
Create your own content and seek out opportunities to showcase it. I write on my blog (though not as often as I should), for Inman, and for other platforms. I ask for a byline and, when possible, for a link back to my website. All of these things help to promote my business, juice my SEO, and drive new clients to my services.
Embrace the growth process. You will not create a brand at the very beginning that will be "the one" for you and your business. You'll evolve into the way your business will eventually look over time. Don't feel like you have to know what you want to do or write about or be right now. Allow the process to reveal itself to you and allow yourself to become the writer you want to be over time as you gain experience and expertise.
You will never feel ready to quit your job. This is one of the hardest realities, especially if you have a family to support. When the day comes to truly turn in your letter of resignation, you will still be scared to do so. You will be convinced that you won't ever get a client again. I have had many times when I felt absolutely terrified that I would not be able to pay my bills. That is the nature of being self-employed. It has always worked out for me, but the fear is always there. If you are not able to handle that ambiguity, you may want to transition into part-time freelance work and part-time hourly W-2 employment to give yourself a greater sense of stability.
Sometimes you'll need to fire a client. For a while, you'll feel lucky for every single client you get. You'll feel that they're doing you a favor by allowing you to write for them. While it's nice for you to keep that sense of enthusiasm for your career, you must get over that feeling that all clients have your best interest at heart or that the client is always right. Sometimes, people are critical because they are rude and shitty. Sometimes, they are critical because they want to get you to work for less money. If your clients are generally happy with your work and someone is suddenly always unhappy, it's probably a bad fit. Cut them loose.
Block out time to work on your own content. This is very difficult, especially if you are struggling financially, but remember part of how you keep your pipeline full and your SEO optimized is by creating new content. Make time on a consistent basis to add to your own blog or to create video content or to add to your favorite social media platform. It's not optional.
Make sure you have the discipline to do this before you start. Being a writer is not sitting up in a garret like Jo March and eating apples. It's long hours and coordination and repetition (especially if you become skilled in a particular niche) and a lot of client service. Be honest with yourself and make sure that you are self-motivated enough to be your own boss. I work literally every day of my life. Holidays, birthdays, sad days, sick days. There's no such thing as writer's block when you're writing to pay the bills.
Add ancillary services or develop a referral network. Think about the things that go along with the content you create: graphic design, SEO consultancy, website design and so on. If you don't have skills in these areas to monetize, develop a network of colleagues who do and refer clients to each other for a referral fee. In addition, you may find that there are opportunities for you to collaborate on projects and pitch larger projects that you wouldn't qualify for on your own.
The world needs your voice. The world needs what you have to offer. The world does not need you working in a job where you are not valued and where you are treated poorly. If you can make a living doing something you love, controlling your time and your energy, working the way you want, I want that for you.
If you are a parent or grandparent or a teacher or an auntie and you know a young person who loves writing, send this to them. Let them know that they don't have to be Hemingway or Austen to make a living as a writer. They don't have to choose between writing and something else. They can do both.
The world needs scientists but they also need people who can write well and understandably about science. The world needs economists but they need people who can write well and coherently about the economy.
And if you are stuck in a shitty job, don't give up. Don't feel hopeless. You can have the life you want. It will take some time but you can make it happen. My mother used to say, "You should be a writer. You're not good at anything but reading and writing."
And I would say, "Oh my God, Mother. You can't just BE a WRITER."
Turns out, she was right and I was wrong, as usual.