How To Become a Full-Time Freelance Writer: From Daydream to Day Job
PIVOT is a series of interviews with inspiring individuals who made major career shifts and decided to start LIVING instead of just making a living. We’re talking to engineers who became comedians, lawyers who became entrepreneurs, and everyone in between. These career chameleons are proof that your wildest job aspirations are possible- and that there is never just one path that will take you there.
Suzannah Weiss triple majored in cognitive neuroscience, modern culture and media, and gender and sexuality studies and now works as a freelance writer and consultant, writing about many of the topics she studied in college. Her work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Bustle, Glamour, New York Magazine, and more. She is proof that a career as a full-time writer is 100% possible- and 100% rewarding.
Vienna: At what point did you know you had to pursue freelance writing full-time?
SW: When I started making money off it and lost my other job. I was actually doing it on the side while working full-time in tech marketing. I thought I’d find another full-time job when I was laid off, but my writing became successful enough that I didn’t have to. I’d always wanted to be a writer but was told it wasn’t financially feasible as a full-time thing.
Vienna: Did you receive any formal marketing and/or writing training?
SW: I took a few creative writing classes in college and a few essay-writing workshops when I first started as a writer. I received training in marketing when I started at that tech company as a marketing intern. I also took Coursera’s Intro to Marketing course.
Vienna: Why did you decide to make your career switch?
SW: I don’t view it as a switch. I didn’t study what I studied in college for a particular career — I think that’s backwards. Rather than deciding my career first and then making academic choices based on that decision (which didn’t feel possible because I didn’t have enough information about different fields), I wanted to explore what I loved in college and then make career choices based on what I discovered. I worked a lot during college — as a teaching assistant in biology and cognitive science, an editorial assistant for a feminist theory journal, and a research assistant for a social cognitive science lab — and that led to my first two jobs out of college, which were doing research for a robotics program and serving as an editor for a publication that translates academic research for mainstream audiences. Then they both helped me develop some skills for my future jobs in tech marketing and writing/editing. One thing leads to another, so for me it was never about following a plan — it was about chasing the next thing that excites me and seeing what other exciting doors that opens up. I also see my current career as setting the stage for another one. My next goal is to get a PhD, become a professor, and write books, largely on gender and sexuality (the topics I’ve focused on the past few years), but I also want to revisit my background in science, technology, critical theory, and philosophy and publish and teach on these topics. I’m also currently training as a psychic medium! I don’t know if that will become a side gig or whatever but it’s a cool skill to have for its own sake. Basically, my point is, life is a giant playground. Making education or career choices you don’t enjoy based on what you think will prepare you for some future plan that probably won’t happen anyway takes away from the fun of it all.
Vienna: What was your greatest fear when starting out?
SW: That I wouldn’t be able to make it work financially. The opposite was true. Going freelance has allowed me to make about quadruple the amount I made in tech and 5x what I made as a full-time editor. When you’re not stuck to one salary, you can get income from a variety of sources. Since I usually get paid per piece rather than per hour and I work very quickly, that comes out to a lot more money per time spent.
Vienna: What do you like about freelancing versus working for a publication?
SW: I’m a digital nomad (I travel nonstop) so I don’t want to be tied to one place. I like to set my own hours since I have a lot going on outside work, though realistically, not all freelancers set their own hours — I did a lot of shift work that sometimes tied me to a schedule for up to 15 hours a day when I was first starting out. I also like that I have something different to do each day and can drop and add clients as I choose.
Vienna: What advice do you have for others looking to make a major career change?
SW: If you’re afraid to quit your job, try keeping it and doing the thing you want to switch to on nights and weekends. That’s what I did for a while. I realized that when I wasn’t wasting my time on Tinder dates that didn’t go anywhere and Meetups that I was really just going to for the free pizza (LOL), I actually had enough time for a whole second job. If something excites you enough that it’s how you want to spend your nights and weekends, that’s a sign you should be doing it. It may take a while for you to crack the code and actually start making money off of it — it took me a few months — so don’t give up. And network! I used LinkedIn to find other alumni of my college and scheduled phone calls and coffees where I asked them for career advice, which also led to an internship offer. Taking some sort of small class can also help. I spent a lot of time reading different publications and hunting down their submission info. There’s really no substitute for doing lots of research and trying and failing and trying again.
Our favorite nugget of career wisdom:
Basically, my point is, life is a giant playground. Making education or career choices you don’t enjoy based on what you think will prepare you for some future plan that probably won’t happen anyway takes away from the fun of it all.