Two years in: Reflections on full-time freelance life

February 12, 2020
Top down view of laptop keyboard, cup of coffee, and oatmeal M&M cookie
Working on the road at The Wired Robin in Hudson, Wisconsin

It's officially been two years since I quit my day job to pursue my writing career.  Last year, I wrote a post about my reflections one year in, so I wanted to check in with an update on my second year of full-time freelance life.

More of my writing work is shifting to copywriting.

Year one of full-time freelancing taught me that relying on journalistic work (writing for newspapers, magazines, and online publications) for the bulk of my income was not financially viable—I know that some people can make it work, but I'm not one of them.  While I love writing journalistic pieces, I've found that the compensation is low and decreasing as the traditional media landscape collapses.   

This year (especially the second half), I focused on copywriting work, including writing blog posts for convention and visitors bureaus, content for a cattle ranch's website, and articles for a large corporation's newsletter.  My long-term goal is to have a stable base of ongoing work with repeat copywriting clients, and I'm making good progress towards that.

Plate of gingerbread men with names written on them with icing
I got to be a gingerbread cookie at the law firm holiday party!

I love my paralegal gig.

For seven years, I worked as a paralegal specializing in patent prosecution (the process of obtaining a patent from the U.S. or a foreign government).  That's the career that I left to become a full-time freelance writer.  In last year's update, I briefly mentioned my paralegal gig, which at the time I had only had for a few weeks.  Over the past year, my remote contract position with a small law firm has become an important part of my professional identity.  The work is completely different from writing, which keeps me from getting burnt out creatively, and it's reassuring to have a steady gig when my writing work follows a feast-or-famine cycle.

Working full-time as a paralegal wasn't the right choice for me, but it's a perfect fit on a contract basis, when I get to work from home and set my own hours.  It's also nice to be a part of a workplace again—I didn't realize how much I missed things like the office holiday party.

Acai bowl topped with fresh berries sitting on a wooden table, Sparkman Wharf, Tampa
Acai bowl, Sparkman Wharf, Tampa

I'm doing a lot less work travel.

During my first year of full-time freelancing, I took advantage of my freedom from a nine-to-five schedule to take lots of hosted trips for my blog.  In 2018 I did several road trips through Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Dakota; flew to Winnipeg; and spoke at a blogging conference in New Orleans.

While I had many, many amazing experiences on those trips, traveling that much was detrimental to my mental health.  It also had a negative impact on my income, since hosted trips still involve some expenses, and time spent planning, traveling, and blogging about my hosted trips is time that I'm not spending on generating income.

This year I consciously dialed way back on hosted travel, with one-night stays in Bismarck and Fargo in conjunction with a blogging conference, a three-night trip to Iowa, and a two-night trip to Kansas City.  I also traveled to Tampa for a two-night press trip.  Traveling less has definitely been the right decision, both for my mental health and my balance sheet.

Top down view of latte, cup of coffee, and chocolate cookie on a marble table, Parallel, Minneapolis
Coffee for two at Parallel, Minneapolis

I got a coworker.

In August, my husband Mike left his position at the University of Minnesota for an opportunity with a San Francisco-based technology company.  While his new company maintains a small office in Minneapolis, Mike is classified as remote employee and can work from home full-time.  Typically, he goes into the office once a week (mostly for a free lunch and some camaraderie), and he works from home the other four days of the week.

Initially, I was concerned about sharing an office space with Mike.  Would we distract each other all day long?  Would he judge me if I took a break to recharge with an afternoon run?  Would I have to give up my habit of listening to podcasts for hours and hours each workday?

Six months in, I've discovered that having Mike as a coworker has been a very good development for us individually and as a couple.  As I mentioned in last year's update, being on my own from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. every weekday was isolating and difficult.  Working with Mike has been a huge improvement—it's nice to eat lunch or go to a coffee shop together, and just having him around is calming. 

From Mike's perspective, he loves not having to commute four days a week, and he enjoys the challenges of his new job.  We both appreciate having more time together, and I think we have a newfound respect for each other's work. 

Hand holding a pink cocktail, Bardo, Minneapolis
Cheers to the future at Bardo in Minneapolis

I'm on a more sustainable path—professionally and personally.

If I had to pick a word to sum up my first year of freelancing full-time, it would be "unstable".  Professionally, there was a lot of anxiety about where my next assignment would come from and how little money I was earning.  On the personal side, I was struggling.  Many aspects of my life were simply not sustainable long-term.

This year, things really started coming together professionally—largely because I had the economic privilege to stick it out through a very lean first year.  Personally, I'm in a much happier place thanks to a lot of emotional growth and making some much-needed changes.   

I don't know exactly what the next year of freelancing will bring, but that could be said about pretty much anything in life.  I do know that there will be writing and paralegal work.  There will be food and travel.  There will be aggravating moments and satisfying ones. 

Most importantly, I'll be facing whatever comes my way with some truly amazing people by my side.

Further reading:

One year in: Reflections on life as a full-time freelance writer