I'm not a freelancer, dammit.

In 2005, my sister got married in a Korean nightclub she rented out for the night. It had private karaoke rooms upstairs, in case you were wondering.

 

I was the maid of honor.

 

But I wouldn’t even consider making a speech at the wedding, let alone a toast. 

 

I felt like I had nothing original to say. Nothing meaningful. And more than that, I was and completely lacking in confidence.  

 

I’ve been writing award-winning things since 1990. 

 

Okay, by that I mean that I won my middle school’s “Just Say No To Drugs” poetry contest. 

 

$50. 

 

First time I learned that words are worth money.

 

But I forgot that lesson pretty quickly. 

 

Fast forward to a year or two after my sister’s wedding. A local alternative newspaper asks me to write an article for their first issue. 

 

A $40 check arrived in the mail 3 weeks later. 

 

You know I photocopied that shit. I couldn’t believe what I had to say was of any value, let alone the same amount as what I’d make in tips after an entire 6-hour shift at the coffee shop where I worked. 

 

Little by little, the confidence grew. I loved my job as a journalist. All in all, it didn’t pay much. 10 cents a word. But I got to experience giving a damn for the first time. If not for my own life, then for other people's. 

 

It was my job to pitch story ideas to my editor twice a month. I would research local businesses who were doing their part to bolster the local economy. Cooperatively-owned breakfast cafes. National celebrity paper cut artists. Punk bands. Folk schools that offered classes in forgotten crafts. A pole dancing studio that taught women how to love being sexy in their bodies after a lifetime of shame. 

 

Maybe a hundred articles. All people doing what they did as acts of love. For the sake of art. For passion and joie de vivre. 

 

Without my knowledge, I had started a writing business. What a joke, I thought. Who would take me seriously, let alone pay me?I was 28. No clue how to get clients. When I did finally get one, I bid $200 to write her whole website. No surprise, my words never made it to the final page.  

 

Still, I loved writing so I stepped out a bit creatively. Took a poetry class in the big city an hour away, which led to me performing a poem about my internalized homophobia in front of 400 people. 

 

Which led to me going to grad school for writing. 

 

Which led to writing a memoir. Which led to me forgiving my mother.

 

People in my classes and my professors loved what I wrote. Okay, sometimes they didn’t. My grammar was shit and much of the time I didn’t have a practical understanding of what actually makes for a good story. But I could feel it in my body when I nailed it an emotional truth. 

 

Then I got a client.

 

I’d force myself to work at the library, terrified that I didn’t know what I was doing. I just wrote from my heart. And very closely followed (or, ahem, slightly copied) what other writers wrote.

 

Then I got another client.

 

I quit my day job working for a nonprofit that taught low-income business owners how to take off, despite the fact that I loved it.

 

Not recommended when you don’t understand the ramifications of ongoing cash flow… or lack thereof. I just wanted to be a writer so badly.

 

Pretty soon after, I moved to my dream city. The place I’d wanted to live since I was a 15-year-old punk ass kid who moved out of my parents’ house because of all the fighting. 

 

Clients? Ha! 

 

Getting them completely eluded me. I got a business coach and she told me that she didn’t know any copywriter who was lacking work. “I guess I suck,” I thought. 

 

Slowly, but quicker than I realized, I began supporting myself with my writing. People recommended me to their friends. I studied marketing, teaching myself by looking at what others were doing that I liked, and more importantly, what I didn’t like. 

 

I wanted to do things differently. I wanted to write things that I would actually read. My bullshit detector was strong and I had a deep-rooted aversion to sales.

 

Plus, I grew up without money and basically lived in abject poverty my entire 20s, so I hardly ever bought things besides food and rent. Buying something luxurious like even the $100 online classes I was selling for my clients was out of the question for me personally.

 

Not a good thing when you’re a copywriter and your job is to sell shit.

 

Eventually, I worked it out. 

 

Fast forward to today. I rarely take the time to bask in my accomplishments. I keep a file on my computer desktop titled “Praise” where I put my testimonials or anything kind my clients tell me about what I write or do for them, including the numbers. 

 

$5,000 in sales from one promotional email. 

 

$120,000 from a few of them in a row, and then another $98,000 two months later selling the same thing.

 

“I don’t want to recommend you to anyone else because I don’t want you to get too busy to write for me.” (I always tell them to go ahead and refer me and we can work it out.)

 

When I open up the doc to enter a new one, I see pages full of proof that what I write is valuable. Still, there is a part of it all that doesn’t seem real. 

 

Despite the fact that on any given day, my words go out to half a million people. 

 

Despite the fact that I’m often booked out a month in advance and many nights I work until 11 pm trying to get it all done. 

 

There are also days where I skip out. Go to acupuncture in the afternoon or say fuck it when my friend from Portland comes to town. 

 

Almost every day I take my dog to Golden Gate Park for an hour before the sun sets. I watch her run through the grass, hair flowing like Falkor from The Neverending Story, headed to greet every person basking in the sunshine. She is a Yorkshire Terrier, so she doesn’t shed fur. She sheds joys. 

 

When people ask what I do, I say different things depending on my mood and who I’m talking to. 

 

My friend’s 12-year-old daughter asks what I do. 

 

I tell her I’m a ghostwriter for New York Times bestselling authors.

 

I can’t believe the words are true but they are. 

 

Someone else asks, and I tell them I get paid to write about poop. 

 

Many of my clients are digestive health experts. 

 

I’ve had a few passions in life. 

 

Photography. (My first career choice — I worked in New York City when I was 18, but couldn’t hack it with the sexism of the industry.)

 

My dog. 

 

That one guy I met in Barcelona…

 

But for much of my life, I was pretty detached. I didn’t bother much dreaming or wanting anything because of how impossible it seemed to attain anything good for myself. 

 

But slowly, through my side gig writing articles that only a few dozen people would read, through working with my clients — people who cared so deeply about helping people — I learned how to care about outcomes because what they — what we — did mattered.

 

And I fell in love with the fierceness of business owners even more deeply. Although I don’t know what took me so long, I finally realized I was one. A legit one. 

 

My friend Jeanie corrected me one day when I said I was a freelancer. 

 

No, she said. You’re a business owner. 

 

Yeah, I said. I’m a business owner. I run a business. Suddenly, I was in it to win.

 

Winning meant having confidence for once in my life. 

 

Winning meant making more money in one month than I did in the entire year just 3 years before. 

 

Winning meant being able to afford vitamins and max out my Roth IRA and pay back my student loans. 

 

Not living paycheck to paycheck? I literally didn’t even know that was possible once upon a time in the not-too-distant past.

 

For the first time in my life, I’m proud of something. I have a skill and am an expert. Others have taken note. I’m in demand. People ask me for business coaching, and although it’s not something I advertise, I do it and I love it. I get paid to be creative and have fun every single day. It can happen fast.  

 

If I could go back in time, I would write a toast for my sister and her husband on their wedding day, but I can’t, so I’ll just say a few things now. 

 

Danielle, I want you to be wildly happy. 

Luke, I want you to be wildly happy. 

I wish for you a lifetime of making each other laugh like no one else knows how. 

Never-ending romance.

Occasional fights that eventually bring you closer. 

I hope you push each other to grow, always inching toward your best potential.

And a deep knowing that you’ll never lose the capacity to surprise the other one — and yet always be there to remind each other, “See, I knew you could do it.”