A Coronavirus Course-Correction

By Erica Bartlett | June 1, 2020

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Interesting Times 2020 Challenge Winners

At the beginning of the year, I felt like I was on the right path with my copywriting career, but in mid-April, things changed. That was when the pandemic impacted my writing.

Up until then, I’d been continuing my half-time work for a software company – work that comes with health insurance – and balancing it with contract copywriting work I’d gotten with an agency in New York last November. The agency work involved writing one or two blog posts a week for one of their technology clients, and while it wasn’t the most exciting writing, it was steady work, gave me some good experience, and came with decent pay.

I’d also written a couple of articles for a local magazine with a focus on green and sustainable homes, and I had an offer to write monthly pieces for the magazine’s e-newsletter.

Even when the shelter-at-home orders came, I wasn’t worried. All my work, both software and copywriting, could easily be done from home. Well, as long as the cats weren’t too disruptive…

By April 10, though, I noticed that I hadn’t gotten any work from the agency for a couple of weeks, so I reached out to the editor. After a few days, he got back to me to say he didn’t know when they’d have work for me again. Their clients were cutting back, which meant they didn’t have any assignments for their freelance writers.

Plus, the editor of the local magazine had written a few times with ideas about my next monthly writing assignment but didn’t commit to anything, and she hadn’t responded to my follow-up emails.

Suddenly, things didn’t seem so rosy anymore.

At first, I felt depressed and worried. I’d taken the slow and steady approach to copywriting so I could make sure I’d have a good writing income before quitting my day job. I especially wanted enough to pay for health insurance, something I’ve been terrified of losing since my mom died from breast cancer.

I figured after a few more years, I’d be able to retire early from software and focus solely on writing. The abrupt loss of my steady copywriting work made it seem like that possibility was slipping away.

But as I thought more about it, I realized that while I appreciated the income from the agency work, it didn’t mean anything to me. That recognition reminded me that one of the biggest reasons I wanted to get out of my software job was to do work that felt meaningful. Something I could be proud of doing, that would help leave the world a better place.

That goal had gotten a bit fuzzy over the past year, glossed over by the desire to simply have a paying client. Once I took a step back to reevaluate, I thought about what truly mattered to me and what I wanted to focus on – environmental issues.

This isn’t a new goal. I’d initially thought about trying to write for non-profit environmental groups when I first discovered copywriting in 2017, but I’d switched to green technology when I realized that the non-profit work probably wouldn’t be able to support me. I still didn’t have a lot of luck finding green technology clients, though, which is why I jumped on the agency work when it came my way.

Now, though, my desire to do work I can feel good about and that aligns with my values is outweighing the paycheck. After all, I already have a paycheck, and health insurance, and a lot of flexibility with my part-time schedule. I might be willing to stick with the software job a little longer if it supports me doing other things on the side.

Given all that, I have a new plan. I want to reach out to local environmental groups to offer my help, for whatever they can afford, or even as volunteer work since they may not have the resources to pay me right now.

My hope is that I’ll start building relationships and connections with people in those organizations, and perhaps a year or so down the road, that will lead to paying work. But even if not, at least I’ll be writing about something that matters to me, and I expect I’ll enjoy it more than the agency work.

I don’t know how this will play out, but I feel more energized by this plan than I have in a while. I hope that other writers can also have a little space in their lives to revisit their values and perhaps make adjustments that will point them in the direction that’s right for them. And I hope that they, too, will find new excitement, on whatever road they choose.

This article is part the series: Interesting Times 2020 Challenge Winners