The Sober Writer: 10 Steps to Launching a Freelance Writing Career After Substance Abuse
Updated: Feb 28
Ever since I was a teenager, I dreamed of being a professional writer, but life got in the way. For as long as I can remember, I struggled with depression, anxiety, and toxic relationships I never learned how to survive. These habits made it possible for me to find myself in an emotionally abusive relationship that traumatized me beyond recognition. And not only that, but during that absuive relationship, I also stumbled onto a dangerous drug habit that threatened to take my family, my health, and my life away. It was all of these things that created the perfect storm for me to fail, but I had never been one of those women who could settle for the life she didn’t want or the life she knew she didn’t deserve. I looked around at the people who I surrounded myself with and the dangerous situations I’d allowed myself to land in the middle of, and I made a choice to do something different: I quit self-medicating.
By that time, I’d left the abusive relationship, but I had kept using drugs for several months after that. When I looked around at everything I still had left to lose, I realized if I hadn’t made that choice, I might have ended up dead before I realized it.
But this is not my advice on how to quit drinking or getting high. I am not a substance abuse expert, and I also realize that everyone’s motivation for going clean and sober is unique. My motivation was my family and all the potential I’d thrown away all those years by surrounding myself with all that toxicity. Whatever your motivation is, you have to search yourself for that meaning. I promise: It will come when the time is right.
What I am going to do, however, is walk you through how I went from working dead-end day jobs to becoming a full-time writer and/or editor.
Find your focus. When you know what kind of writer you are and who you want to write for, your way through the maze of writing success becomes much clearer. But the problem with that is that nobody can decide these things for you. You have to discover them on your own. Take some time to look at your career, skills, hobbies, passions, and education. Where do all of these things intersect? You can also look to your journey through addiction and sobriety to inform your writing goals.
Define your why. When you’re first starting out as a writer, this will be one of the most important steps you take because you need to know exactly what’s going to keep you working on your dream of becoming a writer — no matter what obstacles stand in your way. When I first stopped using drugs, I used reading and writing as a way to distract my mind from wanting to return to that old life of toxicity and substance abuse. Every time I wanted to give up, I told myself, “You have no other choice but to move forward.” And that attitude has kept me going for the past three years since I embraced going drug-free.
Build your portfolio. If you don’t have any writing samples to show potential employers, now is the time to start collecting those samples. One of the easiest ways to do this is through starting your own blog. Return back to the first step to look for ideas on what kind of blog you’d be passionate about writing for. You don’t have to spend money to set up your blog, either. There are plenty of places online that will allow you to do this for free. Another great way to get started writing is through micro-gigs. The pay is typically low for these writing gigs, but you won’t have to do them forever. When I first started ghostwriting blogs, I signed up for textbroker.com, which has hundreds of open gigs at any time you can start writing. It’s free to sign up, and you can start working right away.
Start applying for part-time or full-time writing gigs. No matter where you live, there are tons of opportunities out there for freelance writers. A quick search on Google or Indeed will return hundreds of available writing jobs for writers who work remotely. Some of them don’t offer any pay for beginners, but there are plenty in the market that pay. Apply to at least one every day that interests you, and before long, you will find an opportunity that’s the right fit for you that can also propel you into success as a freelance writer.
Do you have any interest in editing? If you are a skilled writer, it’s likely you also have the skills to be a great editor. This is exactly what gave me the opportunity to quit my day job to work from home for the publishing industry. Within a year of starting my editing business, I was making enough money to make a living with only my editing income. It also gave me more time to pursue other writing projects that were important to me. If you’d like some information on the course I took that made me successful, contact me directly, and I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.
Write every day. When I still worked a day job, I took every little space of extra time to write — before work, during my lunch hour, and after work. If you write thirty minutes every day, by the end of the week, you will have written for over three hours. That time adds up! And if you’re having issues finding that thirty minutes in a day to dedicate to writing, start in the first week by writing five minutes every day. The next week, bump that up to ten or fifteen minutes, and you can keep increasing the amount of time if you can find it. This technique will create excellent habits that will last throughout your entire writing career.
Build an online presence. Once you’ve figured out your focus, your why, and you’ve collected enough writing samples, create a website that serves as your portfolio and shows the world what you have to offer. Be consistent in creating new unique content on a regular basis, and over time, your future clients will be able to find you through web searches. You can also increase your reach online by creating social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
Focus on your ideal client. Your ideal client is a real person or organization that you need to be able to find if you’re going to be a successful freelance writer. This requires a lot of research, but once you’ve isolated who they are, it will be much easier to reach them. When I started doing this research, I set up an in depth profile on a specific person I wanted to market my services to. Once you see your target as a real, live human being, you will be able to dive deeper to understand where they hang out online, what publications they frequent, what kind of content they like to engage with, and what websites they frequent the most. When you can isolate these things, you won’t have to put as much effort into marketing to your target audience.
Reach out to individuals and organizations. While you’re doing your research, you’ll come across specific organizations and individuals who will fit in well with the writing services you’d like to offer. Put yourself out there, tell them who you are, how you can help them, and ask them to keep you in mind for future projects. You may not see results immediately from this, but the more people who know about who you are and what you do, the more opportunity will flow your way.
Say yes to every opportunity. I don’t care if it scares you or if it’s something you’ve never done before … do it anyway! When you first made the decision to to go drug- or alcohol-free, that was much scarier than tackling a new writing or editing project will ever be. Whenever something new and challenging lands in your path, remind yourself of the strength you used to start a better life for yourself. Yes, even if you fail, you can still be confident that you tried your hardest to grow and pursue more success as a writer.
The road you took to get here was likely not very easy, but when you can look back on your past and say, “Yes, it was all worth it,” the difficulty begins to fade away, and the path forward to success becomes much more clear. Your success won’t come overnight — nobody’s does — but when you work as hard as you can every day to achieve your dreams, it all makes a difference in this new path you’ve carved out for yourself. Embrace the scary, mysterious future and do one small thing today to ensure you’ll be successful tomorrow!