I didn’t plan on leaving my job to become a freelance writer with next to no money and my 6-year-old laptop.
I had a 5-year goal to become a “real” writer, but my plans had to change. I was too tired and burned out with my career in addiction services — my stress level reached a point where it started affecting both my physical and mental health.
When I talked about quitting my job to write, people thought I was crazy. Maybe I was. I had less than $500 in my savings account, a house, a car payment, and three kids. My husband was a year into his business and barely turning a profit.
The time seemed anything but right, yet I made it work. My kids didn’t starve, my car wasn’t repossessed, and over a year later, I’m still writing full time.
Here are my tips on how to become a full-time freelance writer without a safety net:
Give yourself time
Once I decided to leave, I gave two months’ notice to my employer. This short timeframe actually worked better for me than the 5-year plan. Five years was too long to spur real action toward my goals.
Knowing I was only two months away from leaving my job forced me into serious planning mode. Procrastination wasn’t an option.
I was going to be out of work — and income — soon. I had to get ready.
Live on less
Since I expected a drop in income, I set out to cut expenses.
I cut satellite TV and switched to a lower-cost phone data plan. Grocery bills were cut with couponing and meal planning. I canned, preserved food, and made my own laundry detergent. Instead of department stores, I shopped at consignment shops. Barter reduced expenses, too — I traded writing services, eggs, whatever I could, to get the things I needed.
I cut my average monthly expenses by about $1,350, which helped us get by.
If you’re serious about starting a freelance career, but your checking account can’t seem to hit four digits, see what expenses you can cut. It’s amazing what you can live without.
Find hidden money
To help make those initial ends meet, I sold things on eBay, from an old iPod to my daughter’s outgrown clothes. I found old savings bonds and turned them in.
Still concerned about unpredictable income, I cashed out my 403(b) and tucked it in a savings account, creating a six-month cushion in case I needed it. I did end up using some of these funds, but not much. (I’m not saying this is the best choice for everyone, but for me, cashing in my retirement fund was the right fit.)
When you want to become a freelance writer and you’re short on cash, look for it in even the most unlikely places — make the things you don’t need work for you.
Go beyond your passions
Before I started freelancing full-time, I’d been writing on topics I was passionate about, and I was naive enough to believe it would continue. But it didn’t.
Instead, I wrote about employee surveys, tendonitis, and even how paint dries (not kidding!). While not the most exciting topics, these assignments paid the bills.
When I start freelancing, I quickly learned that you don’t have to write about your passion to be passionate about writing. Look for writing jobs beyond your immediate interests and a whole range of possibilities arise.
Market your butt off
I was writing for content mills when I quit my job, but I knew that wasn’t my goal.
On days I wasn’t writing, I was marketing. I’d spend six hours sending my best samples to companies I found on job boards. I handed out business cards to everyone I met at my small town’s business expo.
Within two weeks, I had three paying clients. Admittedly, I was only getting $20 an article, but it was better than the content mills were paying, and these jobs gave me the opportunity to gather clips and references, the exact thing I needed to break into better earning jobs.
Quitting your job to become a freelance writer isn’t easy, especially when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, but it is possible. I know, because I did it.
With a little planning and a lot of motivation, you can, too.
How did you make the leap to freelance writing? Tell us in the comments below.
Molly Carter is a freelance writer who specializes in health & wellness, medical, addiction & mental health, sex & relationships, outdoor recreation, and more.