This week we are so pleased to chat with Creative Lady Directory member Elizabeth Wellington. After 10 years of practicing her craft on the side, Liz decided to go out on her own as a freelance writer. She currently splits her time collaborating with brands as a brand consultant and writing as a contributor for Travel & Leisure and Misadventures Magazine. Her work has garnered the attention of national publications and prestigious clients like Google, Fidelity, and Prudential.
Be sure to read all the way through for Liz's inspiring take on work-life balance. Enjoy!
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance writer.
Graduating from college, I entered the job market with few professional experiences and in the middle of a recession. I got creative and pieced together jobs that connected me to writing, mainly working at independent bookshops and teaching English abroad and on Nantucket.
My first “real” job was in academia, and again, I stayed close to writing. Our faculty included brilliant authors, and I attended their lectures on campus and read voraciously.
I’ve been writing every day since I was 18 — I got to the point when I had to call my own bluff. Why wasn’t I really going for it? I jumped into freelance writing full-time with no clear plan but a willingness to adapt. I had the advantage of ten years of practicing my craft with no pressure or expectations and a solid emergency fund.
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
I attracted my first good clients by cultivating relationships in Boston's marketing community. Ever the introvert, I'm really uncomfortable in traditional networking situations. But I continued to show up — most of the time, at least — and initiated conversations with a lot of different people.
The hardest part was introducing myself as "a writer" before I felt I could honestly own the term. I read somewhere that people who say, "I'm an [insert dream job title here]" — even if they work full-time in another capacity — are more likely to be successful at their passion in the long term. I really took that idea to heart.
Once I started to move through that imposter syndrome, I found that people were really receptive and curious. A lot of marketers needed creative help — they were so happy to offer work. I always made an effort to go above and beyond, both in process and deliverables.
Word spread fast. Before I knew it, I had a strong referral network in place locally.
Can you tell us about your writing process?
My process varies significantly based on the project I’m tackling. Writing is a bit like cooking — some recipes are more complicated than others. Frying an egg is a two-step process, but a Thanksgiving dinner is going to require many to-do lists, pep talks, and weeks of preparation.
That said, I always try to build creative momentum. Sometimes, I can jump right in and write a draft. Other times, I need to scribble, doodle, and outline until a cohesive message starts to form.
I have some funny tricks, too. For example, when I’m nervous about getting started, I work on a project in an email to myself. Not very organized, but it feels more casual and less loaded. Essentially, I “trick” myself into making progress. Ha!
You balance working as a writer with brand consulting. Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
I read (and write) a lot about productivity. In this last few months, I decided to shift my approach. Instead of trying to change myself to be more productive, I’m trying to design each day around my natural ebb and flows. That means I'm always finding that middle ground: just enough structure and just enough spontaneity.
Within that framework, there are a few daily rituals that keep me balanced and productive. First, whenever possible, I start my day without email. I try to write for a couple of hours before I dive into my inbox.
Throughout the day, I often split tasks into quarters. For me, procrastination only hits when I'm feeling overwhelmed. Outlining a simple plan that breaks down any project into bite-size chunks helps me get a lot more done. I also reward myself for reaching deadlines or crossing something off my list. Sometimes, I'll go do something around the house, but most of the time, I'll take a short walk, drink a cup of tea, or read a chapter of a book.
Every evening, I write a list of must-complete tasks for the following day. It helps me to let go and step away from work. I also try to note what I'm grateful for because there are always moments to appreciate.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelance writer so far?
My greatest struggle has been the imposter syndrome I mentioned earlier. Who gave me permission to be a writer? Why would anyone ever read my work? Could I ever be good enough? These kinds of questions have been my biggest struggle. They created an inertia that made it harder to trust myself creatively.
In that sense, writing every day is a huge gift. If I had another profession that felt less daunting, it may have been easier to avoid these issues. Writing requires that I overcome that sense of inadequacy every day. Just like the water wearing down a rock, my creative practice — and the joy and abundance it brings me — continues to wear on those false ideas. Soon, I don't think they'll be part of my day-to-day life anymore.
Side note: If you struggle with the same challenge, I highly recommend Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. My copy is well-loved, filled with notes in every margin, and a bit wrinkly from reading and re-reading it in the bathtub.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
By far, the self-determination that it requires. I love choosing my own projects, deciding which direction I want to grow in, and nurturing my creative independence. I’ve always done well when I’m in charge of my life, and the same is true for my work.
How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?
I keep a mental tally of the traits I’m looking for in clients. There’s always going to be a contrast: things I enjoy (or don’t enjoy) about working with collaborators. I’ve had my fair share of negative experiences, but they all help me to deepen my sense of what I want moving forward.
At the moment, I’m about to realign my business toward travel, and I’m also taking on a few coaching clients. People often reach out to me to mentor them as freelancers, and I want to do that in a more formal capacity.
In the past when I’ve made a change, I’ve refocused my energy on this new goal. I’ve used every channel I have — existing networks, my own website, social media, and freelancing platforms — to pivot my messaging around what I do and open up new possibilities. I’ll let you know how that goes this time around!
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Yes! Make the time for these pain-in-the-butt details. Get into a routine, and treat them like homework. One of my close freelancer friends, Monika Kanokova, believes that you should spend 50% of working hours actually running your business versus doing client work. I’m not there yet, but that’s a goal of mine. I think that giving yourself the time to organize and create consistent processes is key to long-term growth.
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
Instead of work-life balance, I aspire to work-life integration. To me, I feel balanced when I bring my whole self to my work and my whole self to my life. Ideally, my projects bring fulfillment and support me financially, and my personal life leaves me renewed and inspired to tackle my client work.
Those are lofty intentions, but really, they come down to small moments. I work from a home office, so I go for walks pretty often to clear mind and move my body. I also try to take the time for a meditation from Tara Brach during the day — it’s amazing what “comes” to me when I’m listening to her soothing voice on my iPhone.
I don’t think I’m a master at work-life integration yet, but I do love the fact that I’m not limited to a 9-5 schedule in a cubicle. I try to exercise the freedom I have every day.
What do you to stay creatively inspired?
On a day-to-day basis, I like a healthy mix of movement and stillness. I explore Boston and — as I mentioned before — go for a lot of walks. I’m writing this interview from a park near my apartment. There’s nothing like landing in a new environment (even if it’s just a coffee shop) to spark a new idea.
For me, travel is also important. I need to fill my tank up with beautiful experiences to feel creatively inspired. I try to do one significant trip every quarter, and I usually write about it for a publication. In 2018, my intention is to travel more. There’s just nothing like it for me.
If you could write for anyone who would it be?
As radical as this sounds, if I could write for anyone in the world, I would write for myself. I've worked with so many clients at this point, and I would love to create the space for something that’s mine. Plus, it would be cool to explore my own voice outside of the constraints of other editors.
So, stay tuned for more on that. As far as publications go, I would do just about anything to write about travel for Vogue.