I had a little laugh as I chose the featured image for this article. A photo of a type writer – the glamorous idea of what it means to be a writer. When actually, it’s hours at your laptop drinking copious amounts of coffee often late into the night trying to meet deadlines. Nope, no glamour here.
So why do we do it? Why do we work in this field? For the love of words! I don’t know any writers who haven’t always loved writing. Who haven’t always had the words to add meaning to what everyone is feeling. I’ve known since I was a teenager that writing was my passion.
I would be lying if I said it’s always fun and always the best career, there are shitty things to deal with too – like clients who don’t know what they want and expect you to mind read – but for the most part, writing is everything to me. When Amelia said she’d like to participate in this series, I thought it would be interesting to show you what being a content writer is all about in the words of someone who has been doing this for a decade already!There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. ― Ernest Hemingway Click To Tweet
What is your job / what field are you in?
I’m a writer. I do a lot of online content (especially tourism and wildlife websites), but I also edit and proofread novels and coffee table books. I’ve written features for magazines like Longevity, and newspapers like The Herald. I can’t pick a favourite – I really love the variety in my job. It suits my goldfish attention span.
Do you need a qualification for it? If yes, what and how long does it take?
Not necessarily, although it helps. I have an English degree from UCT (three years), and a postgrad in business management (one additional year). The English obviously goes a long way in the technical quality of the writing and the business management is helpful for freelancing. Still, writing is about more than black-on-white pass marks. It is creative and dynamic. There’s a certain element of natural inclination to it. And I know this because even clients that really, really want to write a book just can’t. They’ve got the great ideas and the plot, but writing it is just a mountain they can’t climb. I’m the climber.
How did you get into it?
After studying with the aim of getting into script-writing, I moved back to PE. But, there wasn’t much scope for it there back then. After a few jobs that really only served to pay the bills (which taught me that I am absolutely not ever going to be a successful recruitment agent), I started working for a media agency. I wrote all of their copy and gained some experience and confidence. Then, when I was 27, I went on my own. Slowly, I got some awesome, loyal clients.
How long have you been doing this?
I went on my own 10 years ago! This is the only job that I’ve ever enjoyed enough to do for that long. Waitressing comes a close second.
Do you remember when you first started? Tell us a bit about that.
I knew absolutely nothing about business, apart from what I’d learnt in my business management course. And, to be fair, that technical stuff just isn’t the same in practice. So, I made a lot of mistakes, the biggest of which was under-charging. And this is the mistake that took me the longest to overcome. In those first few years, I really needed the work. I was so afraid of chasing clients away with a fair fee that I worked for a very long time for way too little. I’m not sorry – I learnt so much. But, I’ve grown a lot since then.
What’s an average day like for you at work?
Considering that I work for myself, it’s surprisingly social. I start at about 9am, after a Banting breakfast with my self-employed husband (how much detail do you want here, haha). Then, I go to my survival kit, which is a spreadsheet on Google Docs. This has all of the pieces that are outstanding, or in the process of being edited. I do a quick priority recon and then get started. Technically, I only work until 14h00, when I fetch my daughter from school. But, while she’s busy with homework, I usually open up my laptop and get a few things done in-between. We live in Knysna, so I like to get out for a walk or a trip to the beach when homework is done, if we can.
What has been the most memorable moment for you in your career?
I got a request for quote from an American company for a huge project. I kind of worked out a quote based on my usual measly rate. My husband stepped in, and told me to multiply it by about four. I was shocked. I argued. I resisted. And then I caved in. They replied in about 15 minutes with a go-ahead. What?! And that’s the story of how I got a new car.
What moment would you like to forget?
I had a rough year in 2014 – an unexpected divorce, and then I was diagnosed with cancer. Instead of putting on my big-girl pants, I caved. I got no work done for months and suffered for ages, trying to recover my finances. Lesson learnt.
If you could live your life over, would you still do this?
Hell yes. Sooner.
What are some of the biggest challenges about this field?
Convincing people that professionally written content is worth the cost. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a big part of my writing, and is integral to successful online content. But, to try and get companies to understand this need and the costs involved is a challenge. I often get people replying that they’d rather just write their website content themselves to save costs. And it shows.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to get into this field?
Quality, quality, quality. Getting good marks in creative writing at school or having some lovely ideas isn’t enough for this industry. You have to keep working, keep growing, and keep learning.