I left a career in sports television to become a writer. Here's how I made the first year a success — and what I wish people people knew about freelancing.

Nick Dauk's initial goal was to secure a book deal.Nick Dauk
  • Nick Dauk is an internationally published travel writer and freelance copywriter. In 2018, he left his stable job at a sports broadcasting company to pursue a career as a writer.
  • Freelancing has its perks, like being able to travel and work from around the world, but Dauk says it was also stressful in the beginning to find clients and develop a consistent revenue stream.
  • For people aspiring to write full-time, Dauk recommends securing a few paid gigs before quitting your day job, being flexible with rates, and being open to doing all types of writing, from editorial and social to copy and product writing.

When I said I was leaving television to become a writer, my coworkers choked on their laughter.

"A writer? Like… a book writer?"

The broadcast operations center of the sports broadcasting company where I'd worked for six years was relocating from Florida to New Jersey. I was left with two options: Apply for a position in another department that would inevitably be relocated as well, or accept a severance and press my luck as a writer. Advertisement

My peers believed that leaving a coveted job that paid $55,000 a year at the age of 27 to pursue writing was hilariously naïve of me.

Still, I chose to leave the company, and despite the odds, I made it through my first year as a writer, word by word, penny by penny. And in that year, I went from making $0 to $30,000 as a freelance writer, without touching a dime of my severance or working another job. (Spoiler alert: Not a cent came from publishing a book.)

My initial goal was to secure a book deal before year-end

Nick Dauk on vacation atop the Eiger in the Bernese Alps, Switzerland, in December 2019.Nick Dauk
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I wanted to publish a memoir sharing my misadventures from five years in college and eight years working in retail, years that were littered with triumphs and failures.

But publishing takes time, effort, and luck… and my student loans and other bills wouldn't wait for a miracle. Instead, my income came from two freelance writing gigs: a digital marketing company (DMC) and a content marketing platform (CMP).Advertisement

A year before quitting my job, I began freelancing for the DMC, completing zero to four jobs per week at a rate averaging $90 each. I learned marketing-style copywriting by creating content for major companies in fields like healthcare, manufacturing, HVAC, and product prototyping. With feedback and guidance from SEO experts, I grew a vital skill set to help keep my finances afloat.

DMC: $10,080.42 for 107 articles, 2,200 to 3,600 words each

In addition to the DMC, I created an account with the CMP, a platform that anonymously connects clients with writers. My rates and workflow there varied, averaging $0.05 per word. Advertisement

CMP: $18,762.32 for 741 articles, 150 to 1,200 words each

Unfortunately, NDA and anonymity agreements limited what I could share publicly on my resume, meaning that I was an accomplished writer with zero ability to prove it to prospective clients or employers.

But after only six months, I was almost ready to call it quits

Dauk visiting the Copan Ruins outside of Copan Ruinas, Honduras, on assignment in 2020.Nick Dauk
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Manuscript rejections, coupled with inconsistent CMP clients and infrequent DMC assignments, annihilated my confidence by six months in. Just before I gave up completely, my luck changed.

A Costa Rican magazine offered to purchase a piece I wrote about my visit to a coffee plantation….and then requested additional articles. Overnight I went from abandoning my dreams to becoming an internationally published travel writer.

My luck continued from there. A friend of a friend commissioned me to write blogs and product descriptions for a small clothing company. A Guatemalan magazine asked me to write a film review. A pop culture website paid me to write quizzes about sports, film, and TV. Advertisement

Little by little, the paychecks added up.

Clothing brand: $598.56 for three blogs at 300 words each, and 88 product descriptions at $5 each Costa Rican magazine: $394.23 for four articles, 700-1,300 words eachAdvertisement

Guatemalan magazine: $50.00 for one article, 500 words

Pop culture website: $291 for 48 quizzes, $0.65 per 1,000 views

One year and 700,000+ words later, I'd made $30,176.53. Advertisement

It was a $25,000 pay cut from my former job, where I was paid to literally watch sports television all day.

Still, I'd make the same decision again in a heartbeat. With only a laptop, I can travel the world and work from a hotel in Bucharest or a cafe in El Salvador. I can do something different each day, like write an op-ed about Spiderman or write listings for multi-million dollar homes in Palm Beach. The constant variety is challenging, but invigorating.

At the end of the day, I'm a writer at heart and I'll never take for granted the opportunity to do what I love. Here are my five tips for other aspiring writers.Advertisement

1. Don't quit your day job

That is, until you've already become a paid writer. During my last two years working in television, I began freelancing part-time with the DMC and CMP, so I was already able to generate some income the minute I left broadcasting. Still, freelance writing was inconsistent: I made $1,500, $90, sometimes even $0 per week. Don't roll the dice like I did; try to secure consistent, dependable income through a full or part-time writing position before leaving your current job.

2. Be flexible with rates

I once accepted a $0.05/word rate for a new client which averaged $30/hour when working with them. They've now become one of my primary forms of income despite offering the same rate. Be flexible with your rates when possible and many clients will show their gratitude with continued business.

3. Broaden your definition of "writer"

"Writer" in my mind used to mean "book writer." "Writer" in my career now means copywriting, entertainment writing, travel writing, editorial writing, product writing. I write what I'm asked to write. Write what you're passionate about when you can, but don't forget that being a career writer means taking what work is available.Advertisement

4. Don't be discouraged by rejection

The real reason why I sent my coffee plantation article out into the ether one last time before quitting was thanks to an Englishman named Jack I'd met in Copenhagen the week before. When I told him I was a copywriter, he said it sounded "sexy, kinda like Mad Men," and I'd never been prouder of my job. Jack made me rethink my decision to quit and soon after, I found success.

5. Remember that there's more to life than writing

Freelance writing takes patience, endurance, and resilience, but that doesn't mean sacrificing your entire life. If you decide to pursue a career in writing, finding a healthy work-life balance is key. Writing shouldn't define your existence, on or off the clock. Never forget that writing is just one chapter of your life's story.
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