How (and Why) I Became a Freelance Writer

I envy prodigies whose God-given genius is obvious at a young age. They're not forced to wonder what kind of work they'll do when they're older because their extraordinary talent is plain to see. I had no idea what I was good at when I was a kid, so I toyed with the idea of becoming a doctor, but that changed when I was fourteen--I knew I wanted to become an airline pilot. Pilots made even more money than doctors, and flying seemed more exciting than anything doctors did.

After graduating from Wyandotte High School I enrolled at the University of Kansas (KU) with aerospace engineering as my major, an excellent major for a future pilot. This was one of KU’s toughest majors, however, and though I was smart, I wasn’t studious. So I struggled.

The Air Force required its pilot trainees to have an engineering degree, but I learned in my sophomore year the Navy had no such requirement, so I changed my major to political science (with an economics minor) and began envisioning becoming a Top Gun fighter pilot. 

After graduating college I joined the Navy and entered boot camp for future naval aviators: Aviation Officer Candidate School at Naval Air Station Pensacola (Florida). The weather was warm, the ocean was beautiful, and the training was designed to test your mettle. Or break your will. 

A bugle jolted us out of our bunks every morning at 5:00 and minutes later we were off on a five-mile run. Marine Corps drill instructors assaulted us with insults, push-ups, mountain-climbers, and more insults. We studied and marched and learned to be Navy officers, and upon graduation, we were Ensigns. Next stop: primary flight training at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi (Texas).

I’d never flown an airplane before, and after a half-dozen flights, I knew I lacked the aptitude to fly. I could've completed flight school and flown a propeller-engine plane or a helicopter, but that’s not what I wanted to do. No one did. We wanted to shoot through the sky at 1500 miles-per-hour in a fighter jet: an F-14 Tomcat or an F/A-18 Hornet. So, I opted out with an honorable discharge.

I returned home and landed a job at The Kansas City Star writing advertisements, and while I won awards and sales contests—and was one of the highest revenue generators—writing professionally still hadn’t occurred to me. After two years of creating award-winning advertisements at The Star, I became a Program Manager at the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, where I spent nearly six years writing content for the Department of Development.

Not only did I discover my love for writing, I also discovered I had the aptitude for writing. I wrote a range of content—I even wrote for Mayor Carol Marinovich—but I wanted to be a full-time writer. They didn't need a full-time writer. I applied at companies across Kansas City, but no one was interested, so I decided to create my own opportunity by becoming a freelance writer.   

Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer and Robert Bly’s Secrets of a Freelance Writer taught me how to run a profitable freelance-writing business, and How to Not Write BadOn Writing Well, and The Elements of Style taught me how to produce outstanding content, how to attract more readers, and how to persuade those readers to buy my clients' products and services.

I’ve written for some of Kansas City’s largest employers—H&R Block, JE Dunn Construction, The Star, the Unified Government—and I've also written for organizations and small businesses, including Blue Nile Contractors, Custom Engineering, Hardwick Law Firm, Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and The Community Voice. I’ve even ghostwritten a book: Across the Middle: Entrepreneur Strategies for Growth and Success.

My journey has taught me three things. First, some of the smartest, most-accomplished people hate to write. So if this describes you, you're in good company. Second, if you're spending lots of time writing—and not doing what you do best—you're giving your business a competitive disadvantage. Third, by creating content that has won awards, helped revitalize communities, and helped clients increase their visibility and their bottom lines, I'm certain I've finally found my gift.