by Emma Christensen
I’ve been asking myself different versions of the same question for years: “Could I make money from my writing?” You know, write as a side gig?
Although I’m grateful for the modest sums I receive from my writing, I return to my day job to really pay the bills. Writing for (more) money remains a bit mythical, an idea that generates more questions than actual dollars.
For freelance writers Graham Strong and Bonnie Schiedel, writing isn’t just a side gig, it is their day job. At a NOWW workshop held at the Waverley Library on March 20, 2018, Strong and Schiedel shared their best advice on how to make money from freelance writing, answering some of those many questions in the process.
Although Strong and Schiedel both make their living from freelance work of various types, they’ve taken very different routes to get to that point, proving that there is no “one size fits all” solution to breaking into the industry.
Schiedel was introduced to the world of magazine writing while working for Chatelaine in Toronto. Her articles have appeared in many of the consumer magazines we think of as household staples – Reader’s Digest, Canadian Living, and Best Health. She adapted to a changing economy by writing content for corporations.
Strong’s career began locally by writing for a community newspaper and editing the Robin’s Donuts employee newsletter. Within a few years, with the rise of digital content and internet advertising, Strong had connected with clients all over the world who employed him to write everything from web content to television scripts. Variety is what makes his work interesting. “For me, freelancing is a perfect fit,” he said during the workshop.
As full-time freelancers, being generalists—offering a wide variety of services—has been successful for both Schiedel and Strong. Schiedel recommended specializing in an area of knowledge or interest for writers who are looking to freelance part time. “It’s easier to market yourself if you have an area of expertise,” she said.
Strong and Schiedel quickly confirmed my long-standing hunch that success as a freelance writer requires more than strong writing skills.
Schiedel emphasized accuracy, adaptability, and the importance of having an approachable writing style—one that is easily understood without sounding simplistic. She also cautioned that working freelance does not mean working in isolation. She’s made good use of her ability to work with a team and develop a rapport with interviewees, skills that obviously transferred to her role as a presenter.
Strong emphasized the value of professionalism and good communication. For him, these qualities are even more important than his skill as a writer. He takes deadlines seriously and underscores the need to be self-motivated and to gracefully accept criticism and feedback from clients.
Both presenters conveyed information in a casual and approachable manner, welcoming questions and dialogue with the audience. The fact that they are peers in our local writing community—rather than professionals from faraway cities – made the presentation even more effective. Humour and personal anecdotes added a new dimension to the content of the workshop and to potentially dry topics like negotiating rates and contracts. I was happy to leave with an extensive list of additional resources, not in the form of a stack of handouts, but as a slim business card that directed me online to nowwwriters.ca/workshops.
Strong and Schiedel engaged the audience further by presenting an “elevator pitch” exercise, challenging us to think critically about how we would introduce ourselves as freelance professionals if we had only 30 seconds to do so. For me, the exercise brought another set of questions to the surface – “How do I want to present myself?” and “What skills and areas of expertise should I emphasize?”
Ultimately, I walked away from “Side Gig” feeling that many of my questions about a career in freelance writing had been answered. What surprised me was that I valued the questions the workshop posed—bigger, more career-defining ones that only I have the answers to—even more than the information I’d received. Thanks to Strong and Schiedel, the process of writing for money seems a little less mythical and decidedly more tangible.
Emma Christensen contributes regularly to The Walleye and indulges her love of fiction through reading and writing. She’s currently working on the second draft of a novel. Emma lives with her husband in rural Thunder Bay, where hiking, cycling, kayaking and other outdoor hobbies continue to fuel her creativity.