Make Money Writing: One Writer’s Unusual Path to Six Figures

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The Six-Figure Path to Make Money Writing

Want to make money writing?

Not pocket change, a little extra cash, or just enough to cover expenses.

Real money. The six-figure freelancer kind of money.

There’s a lot of paths you can take to get there. And plenty of lucrative niches and great clients to go around.

So how do you find your way, move up, and earn more?

Three days after I graduated from Columbia University in journalism, I made up my mind to make money writing as a freelancer.

Only I didn’t really have a plan, other than working as a staff writer for 10 or 15 years. And then think about full-time freelancing.

But that’s not usually how things work out. Life happened. Plans changed.

Not long after leaving Columbia, I found myself on the path to full-time freelancing a lot sooner than I expected.

And it was bad (I’ll tell you more about that in just a sec.). After some unusual twists and turns trying to make money writing, I found my path to be a six-figure freelancer.

And so can you. Here’s what I learned along the way…

Meet six-figure freelance writer Casey Morris

Make Money Writing: Casey Morris

Casey Morris

Casey Morris is a fin-tech freelancer and copywriter based in North Carolina. She’s written for Entrepreneur, Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, and a long list of fin-tech brands.

But it wasn’t always that way.

After Columbia, Casey started an internship in Washington D.C., hoping that would turn into a full time job.

But two years later, she moved to Thailand, and started writing for content mills (a dead-end path to make money writing).

“I supplemented my writing income with other gigs,” says Casey. “Writing a documentary script, editing novels for way too little pay, tutoring schoolchildren and even dabbling in voice acting.”

And it wasn’t really working…

  • She pulled lots of all-nighters trying to make money writing.
  • She was constantly worried about money, rent, food, finding more work
  • The scarcity mentality drove her to accept whatever assignments she could find, even if it didn’t pay well
  • Even after writing for some big-name publications, moving back to the U.S. strained her finances.

“I was as broke as I’d ever been,” says Casey. “I signed up for food stamps to get by, but I was ashamed to need assistance.

To be clear, I fully support welfare programs and believe they should be there for people who need them. I vowed that my food stamp application would be a one-time situation.

When the initial six-month period ended, I was determined to not need to renew my claim, and I made good on that promise.”

The missing piece to make money writing

Ever wonder what you’re missing to make money writing?

For a lot of freelancers, English majors, and former journalists, it’s not writings skills. It’s something else. Things like…

  • Business sense to make connections, hire people or mentors to help you, manage your money, and land clients.
  • Marketing savvy to leverage your connections, reach editors and marketing directors, and showcase your best work.
  • Confidence to raise your rates, pitch your dream clients, and land high-paying contracts.
  • Consistency in marketing, self-care, booking work with only good clients, meeting deadlines, tracking progress, and pursuing goals.

When Casey finally realized this, something clicked. She set a goal to earn $100,000 in a year. She forced herself to step out of her comfort zone. And she learned a lot of hard lessons along the way that can help you make money writing.

Casey’s advice to make money writing and be a six-figure freelancer:

1. Always be leveling up

The last thing you want is to plateau before you’ve gotten started, so once you get the hang of one type of assignment, look for your next (more lucrative) challenge.

I spent a long time in assignment hell, because I was too unsure of myself to go after better-paying, higher-profile work on a regular basis.

Tip: Upward momentum is crucial to feeling fulfilled and making good money as a freelancer.

2. Take stock of your successes

Day to day, you’re so busy pitching and working on deadlines that you don’t always see how your portfolio and skills are growing.

That causes you to accept assignments at the same skill and income level, which causes your career and earnings to stagnate.

Once I took a hard look at what I had achieved in my career, I realized I was seriously under-earning by working with low-paying clients who were never going to pay me what my skills were worth.

Tip: When you do a quarterly or annual review, you’ll be surprised by how much work you’ve accomplished and how much your writing has improved. That will motivate you to raise your rates and weed out the low-payers.

3. Think before you accept a rate

One of the biggest traps I fell into during my early freelance years was taking on low-paying work because it sounded interesting or I wanted a particular clip.

The problem: I wasn’t earning enough from those assignments to cover my expenses, so I’d have to take on whatever other work I could get. Oftentimes, those would be assignments:

  • I didn’t really want
  • I couldn’t afford to turn down, or
  • Both, which meant I was trying to cobble together an income from a lot of bad jobs.

Don’t do this, OK. Not only does that approach make it tough to pay the bills, it’s also exhausting and demoralizing. I cried *a lot* in those days because I knew I needed to make a change, but I felt too burned out to market myself or pitch better outlets.

The moral of the story? Insist on a fair, livable rate, even if you’re new to freelancing. That’s what sets you on the path to six figures and gives you the confidence and clarity of mind to keep improving.

4. Get help

I suspect that many freelancers are in the same boat I was in.

  • You’re fairly confident in your writing chops…BUT
  • You’re averse to marketing and clueless when it comes to business.

The reality is that those second two items are critical to make money writing, so you need to find a community of freelancers and learn from people who are excelling in the areas in which you’re weak.

Joining the Freelance Writers Den 2X Income Accelerator through the Freelance Writers Den was a game-changer for me.

Carol Tice is a wealth of information and an amazing resource. But most importantly, she didn’t pull any punches. She helped me realize that I needed to:

  • Revamp my online presence
  • Develop a niche
  • Have a rate floor if I wanted to make money writing

5. Be audacious

If you’ve only written blog posts up to this point, but someone asks you to write a whitepaper, what are you going to say?

Here’s some advice: Don’t turn it down just because you haven’t done it before.

Or maybe you’ve only written for local publications, but have a great story idea with broader appeal.

Try this: Pitch it to a national editor or big online publication. The worst they can say is “no,” (or not respond at all). In which case. you’re no worse off than you were before.

Got rejected? You’re better off. Pursuing bigger, better opportunities changes your mindset. It’s telling yourself:

“I can do this, I’m worth more money, I’m capable of higher-profile work.”

Tip: Once you’ve made that shift, it’s hard to be content with low-paying or uninspiring gigs.

Discover your path to make money writing

Becoming a six-figure freelancer requires strong writing skills, a willingness to market yourself, and a willingness to develop a head for business. But that’s not the most important thing.

“The number one factor in freelance success is having the right mindset and knowing what your time and talent are worth.”

Fun fact: When I closed the books on 2018, I made about $108,000 before taxes. I had hit my mark and then some. Reaching six figures was especially sweet after the dire circumstances I had been in a few years earlier.

If you want make money writing and be a six-figure freelancer, NOW is always the best time to start. Just be prepared for a few twists and turns along the way.

Need help creating a plan to make money writing? Let’s discuss in the comments.

Casey Morris is a fin-tech freelancer and copywriter based in North Carolina. She’s written for Entrepreneur, Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, and a long list of fin-tech brands.

 

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15 comments on “Make Money Writing: One Writer’s Unusual Path to Six Figures

  1. Sally John on

    Wow Casey! You definitely hit a home run with this post! I honestly wish I saw this when I was starting

    out as a writer. It would have made a world of difference in my journey.

    I can absolutely relate with some of the experiences you had while trying to find your path to success

    as a freelance writer.

    Just like you mentioned, I think one of the things that really worked against my success earlier on in

    this business was my being too comfortable with the “scarcity mentality.” I was stuck in the rut for so

    long because of that terrible mindset. At some point though, I had to take the bull by the horn(again

    you mentioned it, audacity!) and got out of my comfort zone. I started rejecting the jobs that didn’t

    fit what I wanted: If the price and terms weren’t right, I flat out, turned them down. Once I did that,

    I noticed things started changing for better, and I guess that was the big turning point in my career.

    Again, I wanna applaud you for such an awesome piece, and I hope many people get to see it so they don’t

    repeat some of the mistakes I made…definitely bookmarking this one!

    Reply
  2. Nancy Quatrano on

    Thank you, Casey! Greatly inspiring and personally, it helped me to realize that I being financially strong is totally within my reach. You rock!

    Reply
  3. Kelil Wako on

    I’m in the same situation similar to when you first commenced the freelance writing. Here, I wonder if I can get good hint on how to prepare a convincing proposal for the clients. Coz, I have been trying to send some gigs and proposals, however there exists no single Client with at least a feedback. Thank you in advance fo your help.

    Reply
  4. Tamara Jefferies on

    Hi, Casey!
    Thanks a lot for sharing your experience! I was a Den member (that’s how I got my start freelancing). And I’m ready to level up.
    Your article raised two questions I hope you don’t mind answering.
    1) How many articles/projects a month did you average in 2018?
    2) What is the market rate for articles in Entrepreneur and The Wall Street Journal?
    Not too long ago I got my first clip from a big-name publication and I want to leverage that. I want to make sure I’m in the right ballpark for increasing my floor rate.
    Btw, Carol’s the best, isn’t she! I love the Den and her classes/boot camps!
    Thanks for your time! Keep up the awesome work!
    Tamara

    Reply
  5. Milena (Mila) Horan-Klemens on

    Thank you for a positive, inspiring post. You made me feel better after a particularly challenging experience at my day job. I am now in the proper mindset to work on my writing for the weekend.
    I am plotting, not only my writing but my life journey. It is definitely necessary for me to “BE Audacious!”

    I am a warrior again!

    Reply
  6. Ubai on

    Hello Casey,
    Thanks for a thought-provoking and inspirational piece.
    Among all the thoughts presented, I was moved by number 5.
    Be Audacious.
    I have seen in myself and other fellow writers, the fear of accepting work that is even a little beyond our comfort zone.
    We are writers and what we do is write. We can use words in ways others cannot imagine.
    I guess stepping out of the “zone” should not be a difficult task then, would it?
    Your thoughts?
    Best
    Ubai

    Reply
    • Carol Tice on

      Ubai, what I coach writers to do is try to think of this less as a tightrope where one false move sends you plummeting to your death, and as more of a madcap science experiment. “Ooh, never done that before. I wonder what will happen, haha!”

      That latter attitude is how I got where I am today. 😉 Writers should always be stretching the boundaries of what they think they can do, and be willing to try new things. Gotta keep growing!

      Reply
      • June Donenfeld on

        This puts me in mind of one of my all-time most admired people: Georgia O’Keeffe. In a 2003 documentary called A Life in Art, the narrator quotes her, saying “It takes courage to be a painter. I always felt I walked on the edge of a knife.”
        Then O’Keeffe appears on camera and says:
        “On this knife I might fall off on either side but I … I’d walk it again. So what, what if you do fall off? I’d rather be doing something I really wanted to do.”

        Reply
        • Carol Tice on

          I’m always saying that — writers tend to look at freelancing like walking a tightrope and if they fall off, it’s the end. It’s just not like that, really! No one mistake has the power to destroy your career.

          Reply
  7. Jessica Ellis on

    I just became a correspondent and contributing writer for a local online news outlet. This is my first paying job as a writer and photographer. I was offered $25 an article and accepted it because it was a new challenge for me. I have been exceeding my own expectations, and am learning how time consuming the work is from conception to delivery.

    What do other freelance writers charge and how do they decide what their work is worth?

    Reply
    • Carol Tice on

      Jessica… in short, what we charge is A LOT MORE. I got $1500 for the last article I wrote — it was for a wealth-management firm.

      Remember to always keep looking for better clients, better publications that pay more… only YOU will advocate for your career and keep you moving up to a living wage.

      Reply

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