Writing Career Reboot: 5 Steps to Pick Yourself Up After Trauma

Reboot Your Writing Career After Trauma. Makealivingwriting.comIs your life and writing career moving along in a linear fashion, continuously getting better?

Be honest. It doesn’t work that way for anyone.

The reality is bumpy.

Sometimes you have to abruptly take off work for personal reasons:

  • A major illness or death in the family
  • An accident
  • A baby born prematurely
  • Or any number of unexpected and traumatic reasons

I didn’t pick those examples randomly. They’ve all happened to me or my writing friends.

If you step away from your writing career to deal with major life events, hopefully you’ll reach a point where it makes sense to resume work.

But how do you get back on track?

If you’re restarting after taking a break because of trauma, illness the death of a loved one, or some other traumatic life event, here are five tips to reboot your writing career:

Life happens when you’re trying to build a writing career

Back in the summer of 2015, my life and writing career was still proceeding according to plan.

I was a freelance journalist who was perennially short on cash. I finally decided to focus on increasing my income and move into more lucrative forms of writing, especially since I was five months pregnant.

Two steps forward…three steps back

I joined the Den 2x Income Accelerator in August. Exactly a week later, my husband was diagnosed with lymphoma.

My income decelerated…fast. I spent the next seven months taking him to and from appointments, surgeries and emergency hospital visits. I was on the phone for hour with doctors, nurses and specialists. And as his condition worsened, I started looking for clinical trials that might help him. That was just the beginning.

My husband died in March 2016, just two months after our daughter’s birth. In 2016, I had a three-figure income. Then, my mom was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer about a month before my husband died. She died almost exactly a year later.

You can reboot your writing career

Are you in the middle of a traumatic life event? Did your writing career take a back seat to dealing with life-changing circumstances? You’re probably wondering: After things settle down, how will I get my writing career back on track?

It’s been two years since I went back to work, and I haven’t just rebooted my career, I now earn far more than I did as a cash-strapped freelance journalist.

Here’s what I recommend if you’re getting your writing career back on track after an unplanned break:

1. Reach out to old clients…apologize if necessary

I had a blogging client I was still doing some work for at the end of my husband’s life. The Saturday before he died, I had agreed to write two blog posts for this client. I forgot about these blog posts until the client wrote me, several weeks later, to ask why I’d missed the deadline. I told her the reason, and said I wouldn’t be working for a while.

However, when I was ready to return to work, I reached out to this same client. They were happy to have me start blogging again. It was the first step towards my writing career reboot.

Tip: Any client worth having will understand if you missed a deadline because of a death in the family, an accident or illness. Yes, you probably should reach out sooner than later. But even if you’ve been unresponsive for months, it’s worth reaching out to explain what happened and if/when you’d be interested in working again.

And if the client relationship does go south? It happens. Forgive yourself. There are always more clients around the corner.

2. Use your experience to help you reboot your writing career

When I got a nibble from a personal finance site in response to an advertisement I’d put on a local start-up message board, the editor wanted to know what I’d write about.

Guess what? My personal finances were a mess, but I learned a lot about estate planning and life insurance the hard way. I pitched some on ideas related to things I had been through, and I got my first pro-rate blogging client. I later added a grief counselor and an estate planning tech start-up to my roster of clients.

Tip: Whatever traumatic event you’ve experienced, there’s probably a way to leverage that into a writing gig. I don’t write about grief or estate planning much anymore, and I never wanted that to be my niche. But it can be an excellent first step to help you rebuild your writing career.

3. Dump toxic clients immediately

If you’re dealing with grief or with recovery from an illness or injury, you need to prioritize your mental and physical health.

If you have a client that stresses you out, treats you poorly or is otherwise toxic, don’t wait to replace the income—dump the client now. You can’t afford the mental drain. Consider it a form of self-care.

That first blogging client I signed on with? Their submission and revision system began getting more onerous. I started to hate writing for them. I resented the low rates. When I finally dropped them, I was able to focus that time on marketing and land another, much better replacement client.

Tip: I understand it may be hard to drop a toxic client, especially if you’re in a hard spot financially. Sadly, that’s often the case after a traumatic event of any kind. However, getting rid of toxic clients should be your absolute top priority if you’re recovering from any kind of trauma, and you should do so as soon as feasible.

4. Seriously ramp up your marketing efforts

Marketing is always important, but it’s especially essential when you’re trying to reboot your writing career. I focused on sending letters of introduction (LOIs).

None of my LOI stats are particularly impressive. But making an effort to send market consistently (and use different LOI techniques and targets) made it possible for me to rebuild my writing career.

Tip: Don’t be shy about bringing up your experiences in an LOI. I’ve brought up my husband’s illness and death in many LOIs, as well as other experiences—if I think it’s relevant, either to the company’s product or service or to the individual I’m pitching.

The company may not end up hiring you. But if you can bring up a relevant, unusual personal experience, you will get a response. And that’s the beginning of a relationship you need to get a client or referral.

5. Be patient

When I told my therapist that I had broken $1,000 in one month, she looked at me in awe and said: “Wow. That’s fast.” At the time, I was only working at night after my daughter fell asleep, but that still felt like peanuts. And it didn’t feel fast to me. That was two years ago now, and looking back it seems like both fast and excruciatingly slow.

Tip: Realize it does take some time to rebuild your writing career after trauma. But it doesn’t have to take years. When I returned to writing, I was only working part-time, which is often the case if you’re recovering from illness, injury or grief. Focusing on your mental and physical health is important, and means you shouldn’t be putting in 12-hour days.

Writing career reboot: You can do this!

Landing your first client willing to pay pro rates can take a little while. But if you follow these steps, you and your writing career can fully recover.

Ready to reboot your writing career after trauma? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

Emily Omier is a freelance tech writer. When she’s not working, you’ll find her goofing off with her two-year-old daughter.

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28 comments on “Writing Career Reboot: 5 Steps to Pick Yourself Up After Trauma
  1. Liana Cafolla says:

    What an inspiring, and touching, post. Thank you for sharing your story and advice.

  2. Norman Andrew says:

    I love each of your tips. They are valid and straight to point

  3. Judith Norris says:

    Emily,

    Your helpful tips turn trauma, tragedy, and turmoil entering a life into something more manageable. All at once what demoralized, turned life upside down, and transformed what we once were into an unrecognizable zombie becomes a blessing in disguise.

    My husband of nine years left without a word in the midst of a personal job change, no time to market and sell our house forced it into foreclosure, mother’s lung cancer diagnosis and death followed a few months later, lost the new job, moved again, then again.

    Worse crises happen to people always. Rising above it, weathering the storm, and turning tragedy into joy builds fortitude. These life-altering events create a writer who lives life fully using those experiences to enhance an otherwise hum-drum existence.

  4. Lynn says:

    I’m so glad I read your post, Emily.

    I’m really struggling right now, and my freelancing has suffered a bit. It’s good to know I’m not alone and that help is out there.

  5. Brenda Daniel says:

    Emily, I am very sorry that you had to live through such traumatic and intense, emotional suffering. Thank you for being willing to share your experiences so that others may be encouraged and motivated by them.

  6. Willi Morris says:

    This was right on time. I’m deeply sorry you had to experience so much trauma and grief at once. I like that you’ve leveraged it in the past. Since I deal with chronic anxiety and depression, I’ve tried to write about it when I can, because it does seem to help. Kudos for doing some pretty heroic things.

  7. Sarah says:

    I had a massive postpartum hemorrhage and nearly died and this resonated with me so deeply. Thank you so much for your wisdom.

  8. Nicholas says:

    Thanks Emily for this wonderful insight. I completely agree on the fifth point.Rebooting ones writing career, after long exit, requires patience. A writer who stopped writing for a living a while may not regain his usual rate, but he will come back better.

  9. Lynda Smythe says:

    Thank you for sharing this insightful and encouraging piece—I can relate with both article and comments, as I am also in the process of returning to my writing life. . .Thank you again for your very pertinent advice!!!

  10. Hi Emily,

    Wow, I love this. I’m amazed by your resiliency and perseverance. So awesome to hear how you didn’t just reboot your career after your tragedies, but you’re doing better than before!

    Random, but are you on Twitter?

    I’m the Blog Editor and Social Media Manager for Smart Blogger, and I’m going to schedule several shares for this post of yours. I’d love to be able to tag you in these tweets, so you can get a bit more promotion.

    Carol can give you my contact info if you’d like to reach me. (Hi, Carol!) But either way, great post. Keep up the great work, Emily.

    – Kevin

    • Carol Tice says:

      Wow Kevin, didn’t realize you were editing for SmartBlogger now — congrats!

      • Hi Carol,

        Thank you! Yes, I started last month. Big career change for me. Quit my job of 14 years so I could blog full-time. Very thankful Jon gave me this amazing opportunity. I’m loving it. 🙂

        • Emily says:

          Hi Kevin,

          Thanks. My Twitter handle is @EMLiedel. Be warned that while I am on Twitter, I haven’t used it in years. But would love to be tagged! Thank you. If you post anything on LinkedIn, that’s the place I’m actually active.

        • Carol Tice says:

          You’ll learn tons from Jon and the SmartBlogger team, I’m sure!

  11. First of all, so sorry for your losses. My husband passed in August 2018; and that was after my high school basketball coach and my Goddaughter and her son passing at the beginning of 2018. Everything you have said is true and I’m finding I have to take more “me” time now. My husband and I were married for almost 28 years. I desire to make the leap into more freelance. I’m a ghostwriter and editor who also does press kits and such. I will be reading your posts and following your guidance. Thanks for your transparency and sharing. God bless. Beatrice

  12. Jude says:

    I truly appreciate you writing this Emily. I’m so sorry for your losses. Sometimes the cards we’re dealt are the toughest of hands.

    Your post has really resonated with me.

    I’ve been able to function at very few types of work for the past seven plus years, due to a number of ‘Top of the List’ traumas. I’ve just this year found the weight lifting and the energy returning to focus on creating a freelance income.

    My trauma list includes:
    – having a schizophrenic, drug addicted, beautiful firstborn son (only properly diagnosed at 30, after 15 years of hell)
    – filing bankruptcy after being stupid with business debt
    – being diagnosed PTSD in the years after losing everything (including on/off estrangement from psychotic son)
    – living below the poverty line and homeless since 2012 — with as much dignity as I could manage!
    – sudden death of that same son in May 2018 when he was doing really well and his future looked better than ever

    It’s been especially hard not having a partner or confidante beside me through this; friends can only take so much when your life’s falling apart, and they have their own challenges! And potential partners run the other way when your life looks like mine has.

    I’m so sorry you lost those closest to you: your husband and your mother, right when you’d expect life would be filled with the joy of raising your newborn baby with them.

    I’m so grateful to be part of the Writers Den, such a supportive and authentic community. I couldn’t agree more with your comments about being wary of toxic clients (that goes for toxic ‘friends’ too) and prioritising your mental health and well-being above all else.

    I’m slower than most on this journey to become a freelancer, but hey, I know what my limits are and what my strengths are and I’m not going to allow myself to crash and burn as I’ve done in the past. The worst has already happened; nothing but good can come now.

    Thank you again for sharing your pain and the wisdom it unlocked. You are speaking to many others who need to hear this. Your compassionate words mean so much to all of us.

  13. Cherese Cobb says:

    It’s almost like this post was written specifically for me. My mother, 53, just died from a rare disease called calciphylaxis. It calcified her organs and veins. The doctors cut off both of her breasts and football-sized hole in her stomach.

    While dealing with this, a client that I’ve worked with for over three years didn’t pay me. When I asked about it, they blamed me for moving (which I didn’t) and then blamed me for my direct deposit being wrong (which was fixed nine months ago). They made me pay the stop check fee, telling me that they weren’t going to eat it.

    I had already lost two more clients, and honestly, I was wondering if I should give up, but now I have hope again. Thank you.

    • Jude says:

      I’m so sorry for your loss Cherese, and so glad you’re not giving up. It’s hurtful when others make inaccurate assumptions and act harshly towards us. Take care of you x

    • Emily says:

      Cherese, I’m sorry to hear that your mother died recently. It sounds like you need some new clients, though—I hope that client paid eventually!

  14. Karen says:

    The last several years have been very traumatic for me. The trauma ended last May, so it’s been nearly a year. I’m only feeling now like I can think clearly again. I hope I’m right.

    I am curious as to how you included your experiences in your LOI’s, as I have decades of experience working with specialists & therapists on behalf of my disabled son. This is not something I can talk about and I am still trying to re-learn how to smile.

    • Emily says:

      You have to decide how much to share or not share. Right now I don’t generally share this at all. However, it’s part of my ‘toolkit.’ I usually research people I’m going to send an LOI to on LinkedIn. Let’s say, for example, they list the Leukemia Lymphoma Society as a place they volunteer. I will address that in the LOI. But that goes for any random connection. I recently connected with someone who put that she was born in Canada to Iranian parents and grew up in Switzerland. Thats a pretty weird story, but I have a good friend with exactly the same history (who is also a writer and has written about it). So, I mentioned it in the LOI. We never worked together, but you bet I got a response.

  15. Linda H says:

    This is so valuable for me right now. I’m recovering from surgery following a two year absence. Nobody knew in 2017 when I became ill what was going on. Instead of just a month of two for hip replacement it took 20 months and four surgery tries. I had to retire, take an 80% cut in income and am now out of the hospital, healing and trying to rebuild. I had no idea how or where to begin. This answered my questions. Thank you. I’ve taken some notes and gotten many ideas. I’ll be working on rebooting today. But yes, I’ll pace myself and healing is a priority.

  16. Marie says:

    I’m building up my writing career and it seems I’m getting no where. I have over 60K views on Quora but haven’t figured out how to translate that into working for my writing career. After reading this article I see anything is possible, getting personal and owning all truths can open up doors. It’s time for me to start pitching and marketing myself. Your comeback story is amazing and motivating thank you so much for sharing.

    • Emily says:

      Carol has a lot of resources for new writers on this blog—check out the whole ‘new writers’ section. Have hope! It’s possible.

  17. Cevia says:

    Emily, I can’t thank you enough for this post. It has been very hard to do the self-care needed after recovering from a surgery with significant long-lasting effects while at the same time grieving the loss of my father and trying to stay afloat as a new freelance writer. Your story is both inspiring and motivating. I feel for you and your daughter and am grateful to know we are not alone in moving on from trauma and towards our freelance writing dreams!

    • Emily says:

      Thanks, Cevia! Healing after trauma of any kind is scary and makes it hard to function in so many ways. But it’s all possible and you can do it too!