The Secret to Finding Writing Gigs That Actually Pay the Bills
As part of our Money Week series, Jessica Goodman explains why it’s time to shed the stigma around side hustles.
Upon learning this trick of the trade, I rolled my eyes at the idea, secretly hoping I was above seeking out this kind of work. But after I gave notice, and as my final regular paycheck got closer and closer, I knew all those writers were right. I needed some fast, easy money that came when it said it would, had zero prestige, and helped cover my basic expenses so I could focus on meeting deadlines for my next young adult novel, The Counselors.
So I set about finding this kind of work with the determination of a cub reporter trying to get their first scoop. I reached out to almost every single person I knew who moved from magazines into mysterious industries like “branding,” “marketing,” and “copywriting” and asked if they ever worked with freelancers or could provide guidance. Most were helpful and eager to spread the wealth, directing me to folks at fashion labels, health tech companies, or lifestyle brands who may need quick snappy copy or a ghostwritten blog post.
I also hit up all those freelance friends again, letting them know I was available for “literally anything,” the kind of desperation that may not help me land a cover story at a beloved magazine but will definitely set me up for a bunch of consistent gigs writing “on-brand copy” for a company I have no plans of ever writing about in a journalistic sense.
Some writers—journalists, especially—choose not to work on these projects to avoid conflicts of interest (like if you’re a tech journalist but also write ad copy for Apple, that’s a no-no). But for me, these kinds of assignments serve as an important piece in the Tetris board of “trying to make this whole freelance thing work.” If I relied solely on freelance journalism, an industry in which I spent ten years building a career, to sustain me financially, I would be making muchless than I am now. And if I spent my time only working on novels and other long-term creative projects, I would be going months without getting a paycheck, since authors earn pieces of their advance in chunks and royalties come only twice a year.
Of course there are exceptions to the whole “everyone writes garbage copy” theory—the debut novelist with a seven-figure advance, the magazine writers who command four dollars a word, tenacious reporters who earn grants from nonprofits, folks who make the financially smart choice not to live in the most expensive city in the US, as I do. But for many of us, taking up gigs as tutors, editorial strategists, project managers, or yoga teachers to make ends meet is all part of the job. Being a “real writer” isn’t about holing up with your typewriter at a cabin in the woods, beholden only to the creative process of crafting the next Great American Novel. It’s about making sure you can sustain a life that allows you to write—and the gift of garbage copy helps me do that.
Jessica Goodman is the Indiebound bestselling author of They Wish They Were Us and They'll Never Catch Us. She is the op-ed editor at Cosmopolitan, and has held editorial positions at Entertainment Weekly and HuffPost. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.