I can't say enough about writing for free, as long as you do it with passion and enthusiasm and joy!
I got my first break into freelance writing about twenty five years ago, when I was a young soccer mom with an infant and a toddler. I had been a newspaper reporter before starting to raise a family, but traded deadlines and paychecks for diapers and play-doh. However, after three years of this I was going to positively nuts if I didn't find an outlet. All I wanted was a part-time job, maybe ten hours a week, something to get me out of the house for two mornings and let me talk to other adults. But opportunity found me as I was sitting on the sofa, watching Sesame Street with the girls. The local public television station was looking for volunteer writers.
I jumped at the opportunity, wrote a couple of press releases, and quickly got co-opted by the station's program guide editor. She ran feature stories...but didn't have a budget to pay writers. Was I still interested? Yes. In fact, I felt like a kid set loose in a candy store. Nature, history, theater, science, I dove into each assignment and each interview with gratitude for the opportunity to show what I could do. Eventually I parlayed those articles I'd written for free into a larger distribution, gaining bragging rights to 1.3 million readers on my best days, and earnings of more than $1,000 for some features.
After seven years of writing about PBS, I put writing on the back burner when I had my fourth child. Then there was a serious accident to recover from, and after that I started law school. It looked like my life and career had changed...but only a few years later, friends talked me into starting a blog to give vent to some of the creative writing that so clearly still needed to get out!
I did, starting my "Running with Stilettos" blog with a picture of my shoes at the shoreline and an essay I wrote about my children making Christmas cookies shaped and decorated like bloody axes. I didn't know if there would be more than one or two essays in me, or what I would do with them, but as long as they wanted to come out, I was going to put them on a screen. That was four years ago. I'm still writing essays, and have self-published two of them as collections, "Running with Stilettos" and "Heck on Heels" that have won national awards. A third collection is smack-dab in the middle of production. And while I can't say either book has turned into a "commercial" success...yet...I feel like I've won the lottery in the dollars-per-unit-of-fun category. The essays and the books have opened up a world of connection and opportunity. I've met and made friends with some really amazing people. Sat for TV interviews. Spoken twice at a writer's conference in coastal Georgia, my favorite place on earth. Ridden horseback by the ocean. Had speaking engagements at conferences, and learned to fight my innate fear of public speaking and enjoy reading essays in front of groups. Check out the link I wrote (for free) about "Reading Out Loud" http://growingbolder.com/blogs/living/reading-out-loud-702368.html
This weekend, on Mother's Day, I'll be closing out the day by reading an essay about motherhood (that I wrote for free) in front of a crowd in The Beauty Bar in Chicago (I'll be reading as well for free), and if there's one thing for certain, it's that I'll be surrounded by other writers and having a wonderful time!
Causes Mary Wagner Supports
Washington County, Wisconsin Human Society
Crohns and Colitis Foundation
Chicago Writers Association