I’m super excited to share an interview with one of my former students, Alicia Armeli, today. Alicia took the inaugural session of The Advanced Class: How to Become a Highly Paid Freelance Blogger, which I ran late last year through into February of this year. (In case you’re wondering where that course went, I decided not to run it again in its original form, but have instead adapted some of the content for my bigger, better course, Start Content Writing.) Alicia’s 32, lives in San Diego, CA, and is the person who inspired me to write this post: How I Can Instantly Tell Who’s Going to Be a Successful Freelance Writer. Here’s the interview:
If you could pin down one main reason for wanting to become a freelance writer, what would it be?
I love to write! It can’t get more simple than that. I think often throughout life people focus on what they should be doing or what is safest, but that’s not for me. I’ve been a writer my whole life but mostly for fun. Why I didn’t understand I could do it and make money is beyond me. For most of my adult life I was focusing on the wrong things. This lead to me taking career paths that made me unhappy. Once I realized what I needed to do, even though no one really understood it except me and a few really supportive family members and friends (who else do you really need anyway?!), I made it my life mission to become a successful writer. I combined my passions for health and writing and voila! I am now a Health Freelance Writer.
What was your life like before taking the course?
Oh dear. Do I have to revisit this time in my life? (Karen, you saw me through this, you precious dear!)
Well, let’s back up. I had a master’s degree in teaching English and with that I taught English for a couple years but soon realized it wasn’t for me. My students were inspiring but something was missing — for me. There’s no other way I can explain it. Knowing that teaching is a very important profession, I moved on so that someone with that passion could take my place.
After that, I started to explore what I wanted. How could I get back to writing (my lifelong passion) and what did I want to write about? I have always been a self-proclaimed science geek so I dabbled in cancer research, completed internships, etc. and finally settled on getting another master’s in Nutrition with the goal of writing about health, wellness, and how to nourish the body. I took my boards and got my certification as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I also got my certification as a Holistic Life Coach. Yes, I’m an overachiever. You can say it. I won’t be offended :)
And that’s when the fun started — not really. To achieve a goal, I feel one has to be comfortable with the bumps and sacrifices along the way. Because I needed to make money, I took a run of the mill dietitian job that I hated so that I could support myself until my writing career took off. But it couldn’t happen soon enough. For six months I was working as a dietitian by day and writing by night and getting burnt out pretty quickly. When I wrote, I was in bliss, but soon my day job was taking over my entire life and the time I desperately needed to write. I knew something had to give — and it wasn’t going to be writing. Not anymore. And that’s when I found Karen. She gave me the tools I needed to organize my business and start writing full-time.
What were you unhappy with in your life before taking the course? What did you most want to change?
I think I felt very unfulfilled. Teaching, like I said, was lacking. I wasn’t passionate about it. The same thing with common dietitian jobs. I kept asking myself, ‘Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like?’ But when I write, time stands still. I can write for hours and it’s like no time has passed. I can create and research and learn and grow. It’s incredible. That’s what was missing — my passion. I needed to get that back. I wanted to be excited about what I did for a living. I didn’t want it to be just a job. I wanted it to feed my soul. Yes, I know I expect a lot, but shouldn’t we all?
What prompted you to finally make the leap?
I took a long look at my life as a dietitian and sure, the pay, the benefits, the perks were all… safe. But I tell you this, and I’ll share this without embarrassment. Those months before writing, I was considering taking anxiety and depression medication because I hated what I was doing for work. It was like life was being drained out of me every day. And I know I can’t be the only one who has felt this way. I knew something had to change. I knew I had to start being truer to who I was and what made me happy — even if there were no guarantees, no 401Ks, no upfront perks (yet!). I owed it to myself to do what I wanted to do.
What were your biggest hesitations, both in signing up for the course and in trying freelance writing at all?
My biggest hesitation was linked to the horror stories you hear about starving writers. I was afraid I would fail, that I wouldn’t be able to support myself, that I was making a huge mistake and that I would regret it. But the thing about regrets is, in my opinion, the biggest regret I could ever have is not trying and having to live with that. So I jumped, despite the horror stories. ‘It can’t be impossible to be a writer,’ I thought. ‘Other people do it. Why can’t I?’ At the end of the day, this is my journey. It’s what I make of it. Fuck the 401K.
How long after completing (or during) the course did you make your first money from writing?
I had a couple of well paying jobs before I started the course but not enough to make ends meet. I got what I finally needed right as the course ended. I’m being serious. However, it’s not like it all fell into my lap. I had written and sent out hundreds of proposals and pitches throughout the course.
But the course is what really helped me to get organized and gave me the confidence I needed to move forward. It worked out perfectly. What’s funny is how it actually unfolded.
I was just about done with the course when it got to the point where I couldn’t work my job another day so I quit — without another client. I really had no idea how I was going to pay all my bills. I smile now, but it probably was not the smartest move. However, out of the blue, a client contacted me and wanted to pay me for regular work. It was unbelievable. It was the money I needed to support myself. Then a couple of weeks later, another client who I had sent a proposal to weeks before contacted me for regular work. It all fell into place. Sometimes I wonder if it was because I finally had the courage to quit and put all my focus and energy into writing. The universe works in mysterious ways.
How has your life changed since completing the course?
My life is like something I never thought possible. I hear so many people say they don’t want to go to work in the morning. I never feel that way. I’m not saying every day is sunshine and roses but overall, it’s amazing. I have the freedom to work at my own pace and according to me. I am responsible for my meetings, my schedule, my budget, the amount of work I do, what type of work I do. I’m learning every day, reading new research, creating, and putting everything into stories people can understand. I’m helping people to live better but I’m doing it in a way that is making me feel incredibly happy and fulfilled. And that’s what was missing before. It’s important to help people and make a difference, both very crucial in my life, but I was forgetting about me and my happiness — which is just as important.
What does a day in your life now look like?
I wake up around 7.30am and get ready for my day by making breakfast and meditating. I have these little exercises that help me to relax and become clear on my intention for the day. I then catch up on emails and organize in the morning. The afternoon is when I write. That’s when my brain is most creative. From about noon to 5pm or 6pm depending on the day. But like I said, I work according to me so if I have brain fog, I don’t push it. I’m organized and self-motivated enough to give me time for those days when work just doesn’t flow. In the evenings I stop and I’m no longer Writing Alicia. I’m just Alicia and that feels good to be able to have that balance.
If you could go back and do things differently, what would you do? Any regrets?
No way. You heard what I said about regrets. The only regret I would have is if I didn’t try. Oh, and the 401K. I am now making enough to fund my own IRA. It all happens when it’s supposed to.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m writing for an international women’s health organization. I write a lot of women’s health pieces and am now writing about women’s rights as well, which I’m excited about and want to do more of. I get to research fascinating topics and interview the most interesting experts. I also write a monthly column where, as a dietitian, I answer readers’ questions in story format. I love writing with a voice. I’m thankful for these jobs every day.
Where do you see your future headed, both in terms of your personal life and your business?
I’ve been in talks with some food and travel publications and that is where I would like to expand my business. As a photographer I want to combine my writing with photojournalism. I forgot to mention the only other time I feel free as a bird is when I’m behind a camera.
I love health and wellness and definitely want to keep that going for the long term but I’m also addicted to travel and will hop on a plane to explore any chance I get. Perhaps I’ll make the majority of my career health and wellness but polkadot it with travel pieces. That would be ideal. Writing for both and incorporating my DSLR would make my career complete.
As far as my personal life, well, I would like to travel more and the freedom that comes with writing makes that possible. I’m new to San Diego so I would like to get to know this new city more and meet interesting like-minded people. I also want to learn how to surf! Last but not least, I’ve been working on a historical fiction novel for the past three years so finishing that is always in my future.
What advice would you give to somebody who’s thinking about signing up to become an Untamed Writing student?
Do it. Don’t worry about the fears. Those are natural. But if you are dedicated, hard-working, self-motivated, and persistent — you will make it. You already have everything you need inside of you. Karen just helps you tap into it and gives you tools to help you realize your strengths and gifts. She helps to put it all in motion but you already have it inside you. Believe in yourself. Bet on yourself. That is a must for any entrepreneur. Best of luck on your journey.