My Path to Becoming a Freelance Writer

I became a freelance writer in 2009. A year earlier my husband and I moved to Puerto Rico (from California) to buy an organic farm. We'd been working for Amgen (the world's largest biotech), had a house in the suburbs, two cars, two cats and two motorcycles. Despite all of the trappings of middle class, we were unbelievably unfulfilled.

When we moved here, I hadn't taken the idea of becoming a writer very seriously. It wasn't until our asses were against the wall that I rethought things.

Following construction of our house we were broke. I don't mean broke like we still had a house in the Hamptons and may have to sell off the other house in Maine, I mean we had $40 in our checking account to feed us, our two cats and two dogs. I mean we lived in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on an island whose language is not my mother tongue, so finding a full time job is out of the question kind of broke.

Both my parents were writers so I figured why not give this thing a try? Except that I have dyslexia and just a couple years of college—which didn't stop me in the "real world," but when people think of a writer, they usually picture someone with a minimum of a bachelor's and more likely a master's.

With two seemingly big strikes against me, I really wanted to become a writer. I could have opted to pursue marketing jobs on Elance (which is what I did when I was in the brick and mortar world) but I was done with marketing. Obviously this wasn't the time to take chances but go for a sure thing, which is why when Elance wanted me to choose which category I wanted to look for work in, I chose writing.

It made sense, didn't it? There's the practical me and the "you gotta seize life by the balls" me.

Of that $40, I used $10 to open an account. Now we had $30 to feed my husband and me, as well as our two dogs and two cats. I created a profile, called myself Sarita Writes (Sarita means little Sarah in Spanish) and cutish logo (I am not a designer!), and started bidding on jobs.

Without a single, salutatory writing sample, I responded to a job posting looking for a content writer with a penchant for traveling.

In my proposal I wrote, "Hi! This is going to sound crazy but I am very interested in writing travel articles for you, but, I have no experience as a professional content writer. I have never written an article, but wait! Google is my friend and I'll learn how to do it tonight, and start writing your articles tomorrow."

As if that weren't crazy enough, I continued, "What have you got to lose? If you aren't happy with my writing, not only will I suggest you not pay me, but I will invite you to leave me bad feedback."

Well, let me tell you how much I lucked out that this crazy proposal went to a woman named Aimee who was willing to take a chance on me. She responded immediately and hired me. I told her I could have all five articles within four days.

I stayed up all night and learned how to structure an article for the web.

The next night I wrote one of the five articles: a travel article about the South of France, a place I'd been to before, so I could suggest options not necessarily found on Google. I turned it in and apart from minor corrections (which I saw in track changes), Aimee said she loved my writing style and to keep going.

I stayed up all night the next night and finished the other four and turned them in.

Aimee paid me $50, gave me five out of five stars, and with that four things happened:

  1. I was a freelance writer, by golly!
  2. I proved to myself I could write, despite what I (still) sometimes perceive as strikes against me
  3. I made back my investment and then some
  4. I got my first (of many) repeat client

I didn't care that people chastised me (not anyone who matters) that the rate was so low. I knew I had to start somewhere and I had no business charing high rates with nothing more than a holiday letter to prove I could string two words together.

I continued writing for her for six more months. Aimee mentored me (she still does when I'm stuck) and we are still friends to this day.

I met her and her wife, Vanessa, when I was in Los Angeles in June 2016. As the co-author  of the book, Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide, we were there to sit on a panel and talk about gender and race politics. I loved being able to look out into the audience and see my very first client cheering me on. And they flew to Puerto Rico six months later to celebrate my 50th birthday.

It was one of those completed circle moments for me.

Nine years ago I became a freelance writer after years of thinking it would remain an unfulfilled dream. I am filled with gratitude for Aimee. I can't thank her enough for giving me my first shot. I guess the rest is kind of history. I've written hundreds, if not thousands of articles on a variety of topics. I've ghostwritten 15 books, but it all started with the first five I wrote for Aimee, and subsequent jobs that got me where I am.

I've written about things that made me happy and were in my niche: medical marijuana, gender and race advocacy, addiction, personal essays. I have also written a lot that provided nothing more than an opportunity to put some cash in my bank account and work out my writing muscle: How to get your ex back (150 articles!), penis enlargement, hemorrhoids, eczema, body odor and so much more.

Today I own Coquí Prose, a content writing agency. After many years of doing nothing but ghostwriting, I'm finally doing bylined writing.

How did you become a freelance writer? Did you always know you'd be a writer? I'd love to know about your path.

I started freelance ghostwriting in September 2009. A little late by some standards, given my age at the time (42) but I was reinventing myself after serving a 20 to life sentence in corporate America. I didn’t have any professional writing experience when I started and I had to do a lot of on-the-job training. Every time I learned something, I made note of it and tried not to make the same mistake twice.

While I was registered with Elance (an online bidding platform that matched clients with freelancers that no longer exists) I was very active and visible. I was a member of their 10-person panel they tested new features on before they rolled them out site wide. I wrote a regular column for their blog designed to help freelancing newbies.

I established my content writing agency a year after I started freelancing and went from a freelance force of one to an agency owner.

None of this means I'm an expert. It just means I have many years' experience as a freelancer and I'm hoping some of my advice can be helpful to you.

If you have a question ask here.