A couple of years ago, I was in dire financial straits. My wife had recently been accepted to study medicine, meaning that she would have to give up working full-time.
With bills to pay and our budget stretched paper thin, I decided to look for paid writing gigs since Writing was the one thing I considered myself pretty good at. After all, I was a full-time copywriter at the time and, while I was making a pretty decent salary, a single income just wasn’t cutting it.
I started doing some research online and immediately felt optimistic upon seeing the plethora of paid opportunities available to writers wanting to make some cash on the side. Man, this was going to be easy.
My optimism waned substantially when I discovered that the vast majority of these gigs were for US citizens only (I’m South African. What the Australians call a “saffa”) or required specialized knowledge of a niche field, for example finance or web design.
This is fine, I reassured myself, there’s bound to be something.
Suddenly, while scanning the row upon row of paying websites on the screen before me, a familiar name caught my eye.
The site in question curates list-based posts on virtually any topic imaginable, and I had whiled away many hours on it myself.
The owners of the site accepted posts from anywhere in the world – as long as they were well-written and took the format of a list – and they paid $100 for an accepted submission.
The only subject besides gate automation (the full-time copywriting job I alluded to earlier) that I considered myself an expert in, was heavy metal music. So I hastily set to work writing a list-form article titled 15 Obscure Heavy Metal Subgenres, which took me around two days to complete.
I was so pleased with the end-result that I felt sure that there was virtually no way that it could be rejected. I had done my research, I used proper language and diction and, besides, metal has pretty much been my life since I was 13 years old.
I attached the draft to an email, hit the send button, and waited for a return mail asking for my Paypal details. Heck, I thought, they’ll probably attach a letter of glowing praise saying it’s the best list they’ve ever received. Probably recommend me for a freaking Pulitzer.
The sting of rejection
What I got instead, about a week later, was a letter saying the following:
“Dear Charl. You suck at English. Please don’t ever write again. We hate you. Sincerely yours, That List Website”.
Okay, so I may have paraphrased a little, but the gist of it was that my English simply wasn’t up to their standard. That’s a direct, verbatim quote, by the way.
I was devastated.
As a non-native English speaker, I have always prided myself on having an above average command of the language. And now an established and respected website was telling me that I had all the writing talent of an orangutan that had been taught how to use a keyboard.
And to add insult to injury, we were still broke, my brief foray into the world of freelance writing having come to naught.
Fortunately, a period of consistently good performance at work earned me a raise and we were at least able to make ends meet and even afford the odd luxury. Determined not to let the opinion of one editorial team rob me of my lifelong passion for writing, I wrote more prolifically and voraciously than ever before. I wrote articles, letters, essays, poems, some of which I published on my various social media channels. Those that I didn’t publish, I simply filed away somewhere and felt incredibly satisfied knowing that I had written those pieces just for the fun of it.
But I didn’t send a single article or piece of editorial to a paying website, magazine or blog. I was writing for the love of the craft, I was writing for myself, and it felt so incredibly good, so liberating. Where in the past I wrote maybe one or two articles a week, I was now averaging between two and three a day, and it was some of the best content I had ever produced.
No one’s opinion mattered other than my own. Now that money wasn’t my motivation, I was unstoppable. I realized that, because there was no pressure to please an editor in order to be paid, I wrote better and my unique voice came through in my writing. So, in a way, I guess I’m thankful to the list site for rejecting my work.
When I did eventually decide to submit my work for publication again, I was instantly successful and managed to get my work published on a celebrated mental health blog that partners with HuffPost. I have since submitted a number of articles to this site. Even though I don’t get paid for having my work published on that particular blog, or perhaps because of that fact, it’s some of the most rewarding work that I’ve ever done. I get to tell real stories, stories from my life that, hopefully, others can relate to and learn from.
Today, I do both paid and unpaid writing work for clients ranging from small startup businesses to major corporations with international reach. Why do I do it? For the love of writing, of course.