In May 2012, I locked up my Denver house for the last time, lugged two bags and a dog to the airport, and boarded a plane for what would become a long-term, full-time location independent journey.
When I first left the US, I was working as a freelance copywriter and content strategist, which is a fancy way of saying I wrote websites, billboards, video scripts, brochures, and marketing materials, developed branding campaigns, and crafted content strategies for brands.
I also, on the side, started writing about travel itself, publishing stories in magazines and online publications, something I’d been daydreaming about doing since I was a kid.
In that first year on the road, my side hustle as a travel writer went well. Publications said yes to my stories. Editors responded to my emails. Luck seemed on my side. Which is why, in late 2013, after a month-long hiking vacation in the Swiss Alps, I decided to try something new. For the next year or two, I would focus all my energy on travel writing work and see if maybe, just maybe, that could really be a sustainable full-time job.
Over the next couple years, I published over 10 travel guides, became a foreign correspondent for a magazine, took on new travel writing clients, and slowly, very slowly, started to make ends meet financially as a travel writer.
I also realized, now neck-deep in the career I’d glamorized as a child, that there were a few things I really didn’t like about the world of travel writing.
For one, in the copywriting and content world, I was used to clear, set payment schedules. Sure, clients sometimes paid late. Projects got delayed. But when the work was done, the payment came in.
With travel writing work, it was a different story. I’d do the work, send in the story, and wait, often for months and months, before the story was published and I was paid. Because magazines, for the most part, don’t pay when the work is completed. They pay when the story hits the shelves. Which meant wildly variable income and a whole lot of follow up emails to editors (and follow up is a thing I loathe doing) as I tried to suss out when each story was heading into print.
I also hated pitching—the art of crafting a short description of your story so compelling that an editor wants to buy it. Pitching was terrible for so many reasons, one of which was that it simply wasn’t and isn’t the way my brain works. To craft a short summary of a piece, I needed to write the whole thing first, in which case it felt ridiculous to craft and send the summary at all when I could send in the whole article.
Even worse, though, is the bad habit of most editors of simply not answering their email. Rejection is to be expected. Not every idea is right for every magazine. It doesn’t bother me if an editor says no. But it absolutely does bother me when they don’t say anything at all. How do I know they got my email? How do I know they aren’t actually interested? How much should I follow up? Should I send my idea to another publication? When? By refusing to take those 10 extra seconds to send writers a rejection, editors leave writers guessing at all these things, which is something I’ve come to resent greatly in the last few years.
And so the bloom was off the rose. Travel writing was fun and interesting, sure. I still loved the actual writing part, the research part, the exploring the world part. I loved helping people find the best a place has to offer, introducing them to something new. But, slowly over time, I started to wonder: Do I really want to work with magazines? Do I really want travel writing to be my full-time career?
And so in late 2015 and early 2016, I quietly started to pivot my career yet again.
I started my copywriting career as a content specialist for an ad agency that specialized in travel clients…and in the last year, I’ve been circling back to that beginning. Quietly taking on content marketing clients and building little websites, helping craft blog strategies and brainstorm topics for other bloggers, becoming, again, a content strategist and copywriter…and focusing my energy on clients in the travel and inspiration spaces, the things I know and love most.
So much of life is stepping sideways, doubling back, readjusting as you learn what you love, what you’re best at, where you can add value to people and businesses, and how that jigsaw puzzle fits together to make a living. And it’s funny how sometimes those sidesteps can lead you in a perfect circle.
And so as 2017 opens up, after a sunny seaside vacation, a quiet time to reevaluate, I’m taking the quiet shift of 2016 and making it louder and more official:
As of today, I am again a copywriter and content strategist with a special focus on travel and lifestyle clients.
If you need a copywriter or content strategist, I’ve still got some space in my schedule in the coming months, so now would be a good time to check out what I’m doing, who I’ve worked with, and how I can help—and to reach out.
In all, I’ve got over 15 years of professional writing experience encompassing everything from online marketing to award-winning video commercial scripts to full-length books. Now, I’ll be putting all that experience back to work for ad agencies and businesses.
If you asked me five years ago where I thought I’d be today, I couldn’t have told you. But if you asked me today, I’d say that I’m happy, relieved, and feel utterly right to be coming full circle like this.
Time for yet another new chapter, a shift, a pivot, a reminder that life isn’t a single pathway stretching out before us, but, rather, a thousand tiny forks in the road.
P.S. Working on a business or creative project? I made a Facebook group where we can connect and talk all things business, creativity, and entrepreneurship.
Life is always shifting, and it’s impossible to know what we’ll want down the road, or how things will look. I’m with you, that travel writing sounds wonderful, but pitching and wonky payment schedules and all that gets exhausting and is NOT fun to deal with. I am absolutely not where I thought I’d be but I’m starting to really grow into it, and I like where I am headed. I’m so happy for you that you’ve been able to shift your career into something that you’re happy with and that works for you! And I’m sooooo happy with the content strategy/consulting you did for me and my site. Best money I’ve spent on something business-related in a long time!
Yay! That makes me so happy to hear! So glad I could help – and so glad you feel like you’re growing in the right direction too.
Thanks for sharing this info with all of us. It’s interesting to read your story…and I commend you!
Next time someone emails me excitedly, announcing “I want to be a travel writer…can you help me break in?” I may send just them this blog post as a caveat. Not that travel writing isn’t a great career…or that it doesn’t work well for some people. But the realities and obstacles you mention can very demoralizing indeed. I’m so glad that you’re able to make this career shift!
Wishing you all the best success in this new chapter…
Hey girl, I totally get you on All fronts. I work in a very similar field and my career has often shifted in similar directions. The good thing about being a content strategist is that you constantly get inspired by helping new businesses create a valid and authentic voice and at the same time, the pay can be so much better. I find that ironically, my social media expertise and strategic consulting side is so much more valued than freelance articles which can take days of research and yet the pay is still not wonderful. I also should say (in the part of being a digital editor for an online magazine) that it can be tough on that front too, you can inundated with emails, messages on the daily. I have often drafted long emails to people who’ve wanted to work with us but haven’t had them respond at all, or haven’t provided content in time when needed etc and I’ve even had people send me content that they’ve already published word for word on their blogs, another publication. However, I absolutely agree that even if it is a “no” you are hearing, better to send a courtesy email. Often the way the payment works is up to the heads of the company, not the editors, which is also quite tough. I wish you well in 2017’s endeavors and will be following along for the ride.
Totally agreed! It’s definitely not editors’ faults when accounts payable waits till publication, but it does make travel writing feel very unsteady. And I’ve marveled at that too – how something (an article) that takes so much care, creativity, and time can be so much less valuable to people than my other skills. I find the difference particularly interesting when I take on coding projects on the side from time to time. People are willing to pay so much more for a page to be coded than an article to be written, even though the article requires a lot more energy, creativity, and often time.
Interesting to hear and as a relative newbie travel writer I feel your pain with the endless pitching and no responses. I am still working on building an income large enough to sustain our nomadic lifestyle and am doing a combination of freelance travel writing while also working with a couple of content companies for a more consistent work load/ pay out. Good luck for 2017 and happy travels!
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Sometimes you just need to try out something different to find out that what you were at in the first place was the right thing for you. Glad you’ve found what really works for you.
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