In which I attempt to revive my sabotaged writing business
Oh hi, remember me? Yeah, I'm still alive and I still have the internet.
Instead of writing this newsletter over the past year – no, two years? two and a half? – like I intended, I have watched 500+ hours of Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, ordered £123 of lipstick I will never wear, grown my armpit hair out just to see how long it gets, and bought multiple throw pillows. I have also discerned that the reason they’re called throw pillows is because you throw them on the floor when they’re in the way, which is always.
But I promised Sophie I would give her a tenner if I didn’t publish this today, and I already spent that tenner on Andy Weir’s latest book and a packet of BBQ beef Hula Hoops. So, yes. Here I am. Writing this newsletter. Today. Much, much later than I intended. Just let me shake out my hands first.
Okay. Here we go.
Welcome to Clattermouth! A weekly newsletter in which I’ll divulge the secrets of life as a writer, including all the gritty bits most people don’t like to talk about. Actually, it’ll probably be mostly gritty bits. This is not a success story. It’s a claw-my-way-back-up-after-I-intentionally-sabotaged-my-own-business story. Maybe it’ll be a success story one day. I can only hope. And, uh, oh yeah – put the work in. Also that.
If you’re reading this now, there’s a chance you were around when I set my business ablaze and walked away. Back then, at the end of 2018, I went by Karen, not Kaz, and I ran a modestly successful copywriting and freelancing blog called Untamed Writing. I wrote a newsletter then, too, and people would tell me things like ‘it’s the only email I actually look forward to opening’ and ‘it’s literally the only newsletter I read all the way to the end every time’.
Yeah. Untamed Writing was good for a while. It was the dream. Making money for myself, working from wherever and whenever I wanted. I once made £10,000 in a single month, which, compared to the £12k per year I used to make as a bartender, was fairly mind-blowing.
It started in 2012. I scored a freelance gig writing 500-word articles about, I don’t know, cashmere sweaters and stuff, and I was hyped about it. They paid five whole British pounds per article. I wrote them in twenty minutes, without even leaving my bedroom, and it worked out to more than the £7/hr I was making at my job. From there, I grew the business, slowly accruing clients who paid more and more, jumping to £90 for 1,500 words, to £450 for 1000 words, and eventually to entire projects worth thousands.
In the midst of all that, I started selling courses about how to become a freelance copywriter. That’s where the £10k month came in. It’s also where things started to fall apart, although I didn’t see it that way for a while. After all, my courses worked – plenty of my students still earn a living from freelance writing today – and I was richer than I’d ever been. But after I launched that course, and then another course, I stopped taking on my own copywriting clients because, truth is – the courses paid better, and I enjoyed selling my own things more than helping other people sell theirs.
But eventually I realised I had become one of those people I hated – people who made money solely by teaching others how to make money. I don’t really think there’s anything wrong with selling courses about how to become a freelance copywriter. Shit, I took a course like that myself when I first started out. It’s just that, as I taught those courses and stopped doing client work, my own learning about freelancing and copywriting abruptly halted. I had nothing new to teach, and the prescriptive lessons in my courses became less valuable as times changed and the old route into freelance copywriting was no longer the best one, nor even one I would recommend. I could have continued selling it, but it – I don’t know. It didn’t feel right. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all vaguely fraudulent.
At the end of 2018, I decided I didn’t want to be that person any more, so I stopped selling the courses, shuttered Untamed Writing, and recommitted myself to doing my own freelance work. That’s where I’m at now. Almost all of my work since then has come from a small, one-page copywriting site that I threw up in a couple of days and managed to get ranking at the top of Google for copywriters in my area.
And it’s been… okay. I was asked the other day if I regretted closing down Untamed Writing and those courses. I’ve made less money overall in the years since, but I also haven’t, uh, worked very hard. Like, at all. I literally haven’t pitched a single client – all my work has come to me, thanks to that little website. Which is great, of course. What a privileged position to be in. I’ve been quietly working with clients in the background, writing brochures and case studies and websites for charities and universities and fancy interior design brands. These days, I usually don’t take on a project unless it’s worth at least a couple of grand, and preferably several. So that’s nice.
But it’s also been kind of… boring? Not boring in the sense that the work itself is dull, although sometimes it is. But boring in that there’s no variety – I’m just writing things for other people in the way they want me to write them – and I’m not creating anything of my own any more. God, I miss writing my own shit. It’s too easy to coast along doing same-old-same-old when just enough work to keep you going drops into your lap. For all its downsides, I loved creating those courses and writing blog posts and newsletters to build up my brand, and I loved sharing my experiences and knowledge with my readers. It’s my writing when I do those things. My voice. My opinions. My wildly inappropriate language, or so my grandmother would say if she understood the internet and was, you know… alive.
But no, I don’t regret closing down Untamed Writing. I know it was the right decision. Sometimes I wish I’d made a faster, slightly more graceful transition into *gestures around* whatever this is going to be, but hey. It’s been a journey. I’ve had a couple of false starts, as you’ll know if you’ve hopscotched across the internet with me as I’ve tried to figure out what the hell to do next.
About a year ago, I got so sick of myself, of looking like a flake, for starting things and never following through that I quit social media without warning or fanfare. I silently stepped away from the internet and decided not to announce anything again until I was absolutely certain that this was the thing. I’ve been sitting with my ideas for a long time, turning them over in my mind, going on long walks to try and visualise what I want the future of my work to be.
But I’m here now, ready to do a new thing, and finally feeling certain that I really want to. I mean, Clattermouth – cool name, right? (Just nod and agree, thanks.) But what exactly is it? Well friend, I’ll tell you. It’s my answer to ‘how do I share useful information about making a living writing without it being prescriptive or becoming outdated or hating myself for it?’ It’s not a course, nor a how-to guide – it’s a disarmingly truthful memoir about building a writing career, written in real time. It’s not polished and gleaming, something impressive to lure you in and make you think you too could have this fantastical, romantic, writerly life. It’s real. It’s gritty. And it’ll probably be embarrassing sometimes. That’s why I’ve decided to make this a (mostly) paid newsletter – because I don’t want just anyone to be able to read it. Also because I want to become obscenely rich, of course. But mostly the other thing.
I’ll share the down and dirty details of how I currently make money from copywriting, sure, but it’s like I said: solely doing copywriting isn’t enough for me any more. So I’ll also be experimenting with different ways to make money writing – this newsletter being one of them – and sharing everything I learn here. Exploring fiction and self-publishing, pitching essays and articles, expanding my editing services. Creating new courses that aren’t about how to start a freelance copywriting business. Marrying into a rich family and tricking them into publishing my work through an extortionate vanity press. I’ll write about it all here – the things that work and the things that don’t.
I’ll share numbers, too. I won’t be sharing any, like… pie charts or spreadsheets or graphs or anything, because fuck graphs, quite frankly. If I wanted to make graphs, I would’ve become a scientist or a mathematician or a spokesperson for a dubious financial management consultancy. But I will talk openly and honestly about how much I earn, what I earn it for, and how I landed on that price. I’ll also share who my clients are when I can (though I can’t always, because NDAs are a thing), and how I got them. (I will never share contact details or personal info about my clients, though.)
For example, in the first paid edition of Clattermouth (next week), I’ll share how I got a gig rewriting Manchester Art Gallery’s website – a project I just wrapped up – and what I got paid for it. I’ll also share how I’ve kept a roof over my head during the pandemic (the same roof I had at the start of the pandemic, no less), although I should say upfront that this will not be an inspirational story.
In fact, I’ll just warn you now: I’m not necessarily the most inspirational writer to follow. I’m unproductive, like, 70% of the time. I get through too many video games and not enough books. I have not, nor will I ever, hustle. I don’t have a five-year plan or an emergency fund. I absolutely wing it pretty much all the time, getting by only on a staunch belief in myself, my talent, and the vague notion that things will work out okay.
I judge basically everything on gut feeling. Sometimes I calculate my copywriting fees by scribbling and scrawling and crossing things out until I land on a number that makes me go, Um, yeah, that seems right. Sometimes I settle on a big number that feels appropriate, then reverse engineer the details until they fit.
I can’t stick to a schedule to save my life, although god knows that doesn’t stop me trying. I can only make myself work if I feel like it or if a deadline is about to slap me in the face. If I NNNEeeEEEeeEeeDDd!!! to get work done, I go to a cafe, cuz that’s the only way it’s happening. Forcing myself to do work I don’t want to do feels like wrenching my soul out through my chest, crumpling it into a ball and tossing it out the window on a rainy day, after which I slump limply over my keyboard. Not an ideal trait for a self-employed person, honestly.
I wake up every day and go, Hmm, what do I feel like doing today? And two hours later I’ll have changed my mind. I never know what I’m going to do until I’m doing it. This is true on a minute-by-minute basis. However, once I start doing something, I’ll generally do it until it’s done. I’ve got that going for me, at least: I get obsessed with things way too easily, which can be great when the thing I’m hyper focused on is my work and I do it for 12 hours straight every day until it’s finished. My friends with ADHD say, ‘Wow, what’s it like being able to focus on something for more than five minutes?’ and I say, ‘Fucking terrible when that thing is all seven seasons of Mad Men.’
Sometimes I don’t get dressed until, like, 5pm, or even at all. I guess that’s normal now, but I was like that pre-pandemic, too. Welcome to my world, bitches. It’s comfy. These days, I either don’t write a to-do list for months or have five separate lists scattered across multiple notebooks, scraps of paper and Post-its, all of which I ignore. I know what I need to do, so just leave me alone, okay?
If you tell me to do something, I’ll be less likely to do it, unless you’re a paying customer, and even then I’ll probably just explain why you’re wrong and why we should do it my way – until we’ve gone back and forth twenty times, at which point I’ll give in and do things your way, just to get it over with. I don’t like it when that happens, not because I want to win, but because I want my work to be the best. But sometimes I will just shrug and say okay, let’s do that.
Also, sometimes I buy those £1 microwaveable doner kebabs you can get in the frozen section at the supermarket.
So. That’s me, and this is Clattermouth. I just wanted to let you know what you’re in for. Sometimes I’m kind of a mess, but I’ve got bold plans, and by taking risks, trying new things, and focusing on what I actually want to do – well, I hope that’s how I’ll build my business into something better than it was before. And I’ll tell you all about it.
In the beginning, my plan is to charge £5/month (around $7 USD) and publish a paid newsletter every Tuesday – BUT until I send out the first paid edition next week, you can sign up for 50% off forever. Just my way of saying thanks for not giving up on me while I dragged my heels and floundered around for a bit. So if you want to subscribe for £2.50 (around $3.50 USD) per month, you’ve got until next Tuesday, 17th August.
If you can’t afford or don’t want to sign up right now, no worries: not all my newsletters will be for paying subscribers only. On weekends, I’ll send out a free, shorter email, which’ll include a curated list of excellent shit to check out while you drink your morning coffee, including articles, books, podcasts, games, videos – you know the drill – plus anything I’ve published myself.
If you want to subscribe to the paid edition and get all the stuff I would never share publicly, hit the Subscribe button at the bottom of this email or visit Clattermouth.com/subscribe. If you have any questions (or flattery) for me, you can reply to this email or click the headline to leave a comment on the web version. (I think. Still figuring this baby out.)
Whew. I think that’s everything. It’s 6pm now and Sophie’s sending me harassing messages asking where her money is, so I guess I’d better hit send.
Until next time,
P.P.S. Can you believe you just read a 2,500 word email? And people say we don’t have attention spans any more. Hmph.