This week I’m talking to André Spiteri, a veteran student of mine who now makes his living completely from freelance writing. André, originally from Malta, took my freelance writing course back in September 2015. Here’s his story:
Why did you want to become a freelance writer?
As a child, I spent many summers holed up in my room writing short stories (and a terrible novel). I figured when I grew up I’d move to NYC, get a flat near Central Park and write books for a living. (Ah the dreams of innocence…) Then I guess, through a combination of shifting priorities and a general lack of self-awareness, I kind of lost my way for a while.
To cut a long story short, in early 2015 I read Barbara Ueland’s amazing book If You Want To Write, and it put things back into perspective for me. At the same time, I landed an unpaid gig writing for a music blog, which I really enjoyed. That brought it back home for me.
What was your life like before taking the course?
Financially I was doing great, but I didn’t feel like my career was a good fit. It was unfulfilling and didn’t really play to my strengths. I changed jobs 3 times in 8 years, and each one paid better than the previous one. But it just didn’t make me happy. If anything, each job made me more miserable. So I quit, moved to London and got a job tending bar for £6.50 an hour.
What were you unhappy with in your life before taking the course? What did you hope freelance writing would help change?
To be honest, I wasn’t in London long enough to be unhappy. In fact, I quite enjoyed being a barman for a while. But, obviously, I knew it was unsustainable in the long term.
I’ve always wanted a job that would allow me to be creative and to be myself. These past few years I’ve also been really taken with location independence. To me, being able to go wherever you want without having to worry about what you’ll do for work is the ultimate dream. Freelance writing seemed to tick all these boxes.
What prompted you to finally make the leap?
Well, I had already taken my dose of fuckitol and moved to London to turn my life around, so in retrospect it wasn’t much of a leap. But you did promise lots of hand holding and step by step instructions, so that reassured me this wasn’t one of those courses that promise everything and deliver nothing.
What were your biggest hesitations, both in signing up for the course and in trying freelance writing at all?
I had just blown most of my savings on rent (my landlord insisted on 6 months’ up front because I had no credit history), so I was concerned about spending the precious little I had left on something that might not work out. I also wasn’t sure I had it in me to be a professional writer and a business owner.
How long after completing the course did you make your first money from writing?
I actually made my first money writing before I started the course: £50 for 4 blog posts. It seems very little now, but at the time it felt pretty sweet. And once I got that first payday, I wanted to learn how to turn this into a living, which is how I found your website on that fateful day.
What’s your freelance writing journey been like so far? Bringing in the big bucks yet?
It’s been a rollercoaster.
At the beginning I was terrified I wouldn’t find clients, so I pitched aggressively. I sent 10 to 20 cold emails a day, applied to all the ‘just added’ jobs on Contena and said yes to anyone who replied.
Before long, I was up to my neck in work, but it paid so little I barely made ends meet. And some of the clients weren’t very pleasant to deal with, to put it mildly.
But I soldiered on. I tried to put out the best work I could and I learned how to find better clients.
In February, I got my first high-paying gig, and it was an eye opener. I started working less hours and making more money in a day than I used to make in a week. More importantly, they valued me, which kept me motivated to do my best.
I wouldn’t say I bring in the big bucks, but I consistently make a pretty comfortable living.
How has your life changed since completing the course?
I feel reborn. I love my work, even when I’m having a bad day. And I can live my life entirely on my own terms.
Recently you sent this newsletter where you said you no longer feel the need to look for something better, because you’re happy right where you are. I may be paraphrasing a bit, but I feel the exact same way. I’ve spent most of my adult life dreaming of greener pastures, so this is a huge deal.
What does a day in your life now look like?
I don’t do well in a structured environment, so I’ve built my workday around my natural rhythm.
I don’t use an alarm clock, but I’ve found I’ll naturally wake up between 7.30 and 8.30am. Depending on how early I wake up, I’ll read a bit in bed. Then I’ll shower and decide whether to stay in or work out of a cafe. Either way, I aim to start by 9.30am.
I’ll try to get the bulk of my work done before lunch, which is anywhere between 12.30 and 2pm. Then I’ll go for a walk, maybe sit in the sun for a bit (weather permitting – this is London, after all) or go grab a cookie. I’ll get back to work around 3 or 4pm and finish between 5.30 and 6.30pm (or a bit later if I’m really busy).
I try to keep client work to a minimum on Fridays. I’ll write a blog post, plan my social media for the week ahead, reflect on where I’m at and generally just try to finish as early as possible so I can watch Netflix or go grab a pint at the pub.
If you could go back and do things differently, what would you do? Any regrets?
Well, could I have started sooner? Probably.
Did I make mistakes? Hell, yes. I still do. All the time.
But I don’t really have regrets.
I don’t believe in fate or luck, but I do believe in timing. Had I not been where I was, mentally, when I started this journey, I might not have managed to make it work.
What are you working on right now?
I have two main ongoing projects.
The first is a series of guides on the financial side of moving abroad. The second is for a company that owns comparison websites. I’m helping them revamp the content for some of their websites and also creating content for new websites from scratch.
These two projects take up most of my time, but I also fit in some other work around them, mainly blogging and helping out with copywriting at a few agencies.
Where do you see your future headed, both in terms of your personal life and your business?
There’s definitely a move in my near future. I’ve been living in a glorified hole in the wall and sleeping on a futon for almost a year. My lease is up soon, and I plan to treat myself to a living room, a real bed and, possibly, a home office. I may also scratch my travel itch later this year… maybe cross Bhutan off my bucket list.
As for my biz, I’m working hard on going inbound. I’ve started a blog and I’m trying to get better at social media. I also have the outline for an ebook. But I have to find the time to actually write the damn thing.
What advice would you give to somebody who’s thinking about signing up to become an Untamed Writing student?
It truly is the best money I’ve ever spent (I’m not being coerced into saying this… honest!).
Karen will help you set up a viable business. Where you go from there, though, is entirely up to you. Scary, but also exciting, right?
Where can people find more about you?
You can read my blog and check out my portfolio here: Maverick Words.
Want to follow in André’s footsteps? Check out my freelance copywriting course.