5 Mind-Blowing Epiphanies I Got From Quitting Facebook (for 24 Hours or So)

Actual photo of Ben Gran being bombarded by addictive digital clutter on Facebook

I have a complicated relationship with Facebook: Facebook is the bane of my existence, and it’s also one of the best things to ever happen to me. I’m addicted to Facebook, it destroys my productivity, and it’s also been the source of some of my best friends and favorite experiences. Facebook gives me inspiration for creativity and it gives me ideas for new stories and new ways to be productive, and it also drags me into other people’s negativity and depression and hateful political troll fights. I’ve met some of the very BEST and some of the very WORST people in the world on Facebook.

And I post on Facebook A LOT. Facebook is kind of my primary social outlet, because I work from home and I tend to be socially awkward in real life – Facebook is ideal for me because I’m a freelance writer who is good at building relationships with writing. And I’ve gotten lots of great things out of Facebook! I’ve built up a bit of a side hustle as a standup comedian – hundreds of people in Des Moines have come to my shows, and I’ve had video clips of my standup act licensed for money, all because of contacts I made via Facebook. I’ve done fundraising comedy shows for progressive causes – I’ve raised $3,500 so far in 2017. I’ve made amazing new friends in my own home city and all over the U.S. and overseas, and I’ve stayed in touch with old friends who I otherwise would have lost touch with – and that’s wonderful, because my family and I got to go visit some of these friends in Europe this summer. Facebook has in many ways broadened my horizons and given me a more expansive sense of what I can offer the world; it’s helped me make friends and be influential in ways that are deeply meaningful to me, that might never have been possible without social media.

So I’m grateful to Facebook! But I also hate it.

Clearly, something needs to change in the way I relate to Mark Zuckerberg’s stupid website, right? How can I get more of the “good” stuff from Facebook without ruining my whole day in the process?

I’m in the midst of working with a business coach and making some big moves behind the scenes in the way I manage my career. Ever since Labor Day, I’ve cleared my calendar. I’m barely leaving the house. I’m not going anywhere or doing anything or seeing anyone; I’m not watching TV or going to movies or going to bars. I am 100% LOCKED IN on work right now – and that’s good! It feels really good and I don’t regret or resent a thing I’m doing right now, because it’s all for ME and my family’s financial well being. So as part of that newfound sense of focus, I’m trying to re-evaluate the way I relate to Facebook.

So I decided to quit Facebook. For 24 hours. Secretly, silently, just for a day. Some people go through a big show of saying that they’re going to quit Facebook, and they’re going to deactivate their account, etc. and then they come crawling back. Some people just go ahead and disappear from Facebook for days or weeks or months at a time while leaving their accounts active. I decided to take a different approach: I tried to go 24 hours without posting any new posts on Facebook. Here’s what I learned:

I Don’t Have to Post on Facebook to Be Happy

Did you know: Facebook will go on without you! The chaos and clutter and human misery of the Internet WILL continue, whether or not you contribute to it! Facebook doesn’t “need” you at all! No matter how funny that joke was that you wanted to write on Facebook, chances are, thousands of other people already had that same thought and posted it without you. The Grand Ballet of the Human Experience will go on, even if you don’t contribute.

And that’s okay! That’s wonderful! Just spend some time living in your immediate world instead of constantly grappling with the infinite gushing fire hose that is the Internet!

I Feel More Focused

Facebook is an interruption machine. It chops up your day into hundreds of useless pieces as you feel like you have to keep “checking in.” And I don’t even have Notifications on my phone – I still check Facebook 900 times a day even without the stupid little Notification bubbles popping up on the front of my phone. If I can just go 24 hours without posting on Facebook, I don’t get sucked in to as much of that sense of neediness – I can just focus on my actual real life in the real world instead of getting distracted by 1,000 pieces of impersonal online content! Amazing!

Visual depiction of Ben Gran’s mental state within 12 hours of quitting Facebook

I Feel More Calm

(DISCLAIMER: I absolutely despise Donald Trump – you should know that about me; not to get all “political” on my “business brand” website, or whatever, but I really really hate Donald Trump and everything he represents, I think he’s the worst thing to happen to this country since the invention of Slavery, and I don’t want to work with anyone who loves Donald Trump. So if you love, support, or even “mildly like” Donald Trump, stop reading this and go away and never contact me.)

Facebook is an anxiety machine. Especially since the election, I had started to follow lots of political sites and local progressive activist groups, and all day long on Facebook I was getting dozens of increasingly hysterical headlines and ACTION ALERTS to CALL YOUR SENATORS and COPY AND PASTE, DON’T SHARE and it all creates this constant sense of low-lying anxiety and dread, like the world is ending, and you have to stay glued to your screens – it makes you feel simultaneously helpless and transfixed, like there’s too much to do, like it’s all happening too fast, it’s all too late, but here, you have to sit here and watch the apocalypse unfold in real time.

And I don’t want to live like that! So I’m changing the way I relate to political activism. I’ve quit and unfollowed most of my groups on Facebook. I’m still going to be involved and give money and maybe even do another fundraiser comedy show in 2017 or early 2018, but I can’t bombard my brain 24/7 with too much distressing news. You can’t stick your head in the sand and ignore what’s going on in politics, but you also can’t let yourself get deluged by too much alarming information that you’re helpless to do anything about. Manage your information diet; no one else gets to decide what goes on in your own mind.

I Make More Money Without Facebook

I’m not like most people with office jobs, who get paid to sit in a cubicle and screw around on Facebook all day – I only get paid for DELIVERING WORK. I know, this is a radical concept, but I have to WORK to GET MONEY, and the more work I do, THE MORE MONEY I MAKE. So I can’t let myself get paralyzed by Facebook, because it’s literally COSTING ME MONEY.

This is how much money Ben Gran made by quitting Facebook for ONE day

Facebook Is An Unpaid Part-time Job

One of the things I dislike the most about Facebook is how you get dragged into lots of other people’s crap. Everyone has to comment on your posts, and then you have to sit there and decide whether/how to reply to their comments. It’s insane. It’s like an unpaid part-time customer service job, where the new Customer Support Tickets just keep coming in. Sure, it can be fun to have lots of conversations with people all over the world who are smart, funny people who have worthwhile things to say, but lots of Facebook is just useless clutter. I block people on Facebook all the time because they annoy me. I don’t have time! Why should I let some random jerk on the Internet waste 45 seconds of my life? I had to block a guy one time because, even though he posted funny stuff and was smart in lots of ways, he kept coming on my posts with negativity and cynicism, and I said to him, “Your cynicism and hostility have grown tiresome. Good luck in life!” and I blocked him.

That’s the thing: NO ONE ON FACEBOOK is PAYING YOU MONEY to be there. We’re all just on there making more money for Mark Zuckerberg. You are under ZERO obligation to tolerate any nonsense or negativity from ANYONE. Banish all toxic people from your life – online or offline. As a freelance writer, my only true “stock in trade” is my time and my positive mental energy – anyone who wastes my time or tries to drag me down into their cesspit of cynicism is taking bread out of my children’s mouths.

Lots of media commentators have bemoaned the rise of Facebook because they think it’s making people more isolated and lonely; like real-world interaction is being shortchanged because of all the time we spend on Facebook. I totally disagree! Facebook hasn’t made me more “lonely,” it’s made me feel spread too thin! It’s almost given me too many people and causes to care about and worry about; I only have so much mental bandwidth and sometimes it gets overwhelming to see all the distressing news and GoFundMe fundraisers and heartbreaking stories about people dying of cancer and everything else. Sometimes I have to disconnect and just take my mind off of the never-ending stream of updates that make me feel like I’m living inside of thousands of other people’s heads.

Because that’s the thing about Facebook and social media and The Way We Live Now on the Internet: at it’s best, you have the reassurance of being constantly connected to great people who can make your life better. But the downside is, it gets overwhelming and you have to be able to give yourself permission to take a break.

I don’t think I’ll ever “quit” Facebook entirely – it’s too valuable and I really love the friendships I’ve made and maintained because of it. As a writer, it’s a wonderful way to put your ideas out into the world and make an impact. But we’re all living inside of each other’s heads now! We’re living in the future! We’re just a few steps away from becoming a telepathic global hive mind! And I don’t think we’ve fully grasped the magnitude of that; the technology has outpaced our ability to cope, and it requires new standards of etiquette and new methods of self-care and setting boundaries that lots of people are still figuring out.

I love the Internet, I love living on the Internet, it’s given me so many wonderful experiences and relationships. But sometimes you just need to shut off your phone and go for a walk.

Why You Should Start a Blog

I’ve been writing blog posts for money for other people for years, but I hadn’t been updating my own blog on a regular basis – in fact, I hadn’t updated this blog in 2.5 years. There are several reasons why I wasn’t blogging; part of it was that I was too busy doing paid writing work for other people. But more importantly, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to blog about. I was afraid that blogging was “over” and tired and done to death, like maybe people don’t have the attention span anymore to read entire blog posts and I should just move to Instagram instead. I worried that there was no point in me further adding to the clutter of the Internet. (“What am I supposed to blog about, how to be a freelance writer? Write about writing?” I grumbled to myself. “Ugh, that sounds awful. And what’s the point? Lots of other sites are already doing that; I don’t have anything new to say.”)

But ever since I started working with a business coach to clarify my next steps in my career, I have felt a new wellspring of inspiration and I’ve been blogging up a storm, and the other night, in a fever dream of blogging, I realized that I’ve finally discovered what blogging really “is.” If you’re a small business owner or solo-preneur or freelance writer or consultant or anyone who wants to make money by doing business online, you should really start a blog RIGHT NOW.

Why? There are several reasons; some obvious, and some profound:

Blogging Helps Your Customers Find You

It sounds simple and obvious, but it’s true, and lots of companies are still figuring this out: content marketing is one of the best ways to find new customers online. Every day, billions of people all over the world are using the Internet to search Google (and other less-popular search engines) for information about questions or problems that they need to solve. By writing blog posts targeted at certain search keywords that are relevant to your business, you can reverse-engineer your website to GET FOUND by the customers who are already looking for information about what your business does. This is a total role reversal of most traditional marketing, which is focused on helping you go out and “find” customers – instead of this traditional outbound marketing, having a blog is a form of inbound “content marketing.” Instead of buying advertising and using a megaphone to reach new customers, your blog serves like a silent magnetic bread crumb trail to attract customers to your site.

Kind of a cheesy bit of clip art, but hey – it was Free!

And sure, it’s not always easy: the content writing game has changed a lot over the years, and many, many sites are competing for traffic on the most-searched keywords, and there’s a constant re-shuffling of content marketing best practices as search engines re-draw the rules of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to keep their search results from getting cluttered with spam and junk sites. Just starting a blog and putting up some keyword-stuffed articles is not good enough to generate enough traffic to build a business on anymore; you might need to buy some Google ads and invest in other paid marketing and “content amplification” to support your content marketing and get it in front of a bigger audience.

But the basic idea here is still relevant: blogging helps your business “get found.” Instead of buying a bigger megaphone to shout at customers (by spending more on ads), blogging lets you build a smarter magnet to attract the right customers who are already interested in (and searching for!) what you offer.

Blogging Helps Customers Get to Know You

Perhaps more importantly – blogging is an ideal way to let your customers get to know you. Blogging is a way of building relationships with writing. This is crucial for any professional services business, whether you’re a freelance writer like me, or running a PR firm or marketing agency or a law firm or a consulting firm or a coaching practice, or anything else where you sell your ideas and expertise.

For example: here’s what I’m trying to do with my blog – I’m trying to share my point of view on how I work and why my work matters and what I care about as a freelance writer. I’m trying to show my readers that I have good ideas, perspectives, experience and expertise that can help them with their content marketing writing needs. Ideally, people will read what I have to say and think, “Wow, this Ben Gran really knows his stuff! This is the kind of person that I’d like to hire for freelance writing projects!”

The best blog articles help your customers get to know you better and develop a more intimate idea of what you’re like – how your mind works, how you approach problems, how you perceive your world, and how you present yourself to your audience. Blogs should not be bland and generic – they should be crackling with personality and ambition and a unique point of view!

Blogging Gives You Something to Share With Customers

Even if no one ever “finds” your blog, even if you never get any new customer inquiries based on search engine traffic to your website, having a blog is still worthwhile because it gives you some great content – that you wrote and published yourself – to share with your prospective customers. Every blog article becomes your permanent little mini-brochure for yourself on that particular topic – you can share it on social media, send it via email, and show it to new prospective customers again and again.

For example: is there a frequently asked question that prospective customers tend to ask you about? Is there a recurring objection or bit of skepticism about your business or industry that prevents people from buying from you? Write a blog post about it! Use the blog post as your own little “sales person” to help educate your customers and overcome objections. Or write a “thought leadership” blog post with your ideas for where your industry needs to improve or how things should change or something you’re excited about – blogging is a way to share your passion for your business and your industry.

It might seem overwhelming to start a blog in a world of millions of blogs all competing for clicks – but the thing is, you don’t NEED millions of people to read your site! You just need to have some good content up and running and ready to go so you can make a good first impression with the RIGHT people – with blog articles that are focused on exploring topics that are relevant to YOUR audience. Even if only 5 people read your new blog post, what if all 5 of them turn out to be new customers for you? Don’t worry about what the mass audiences are doing; worry about what you’re offering right here in your immediate world.

And speaking of “your own immediate world…”

Blogging Helps You Clarify Your Own Thoughts and Vision!

This is maybe the most important reason to start a blog: blogging isn’t just good for finding customers, it’s good for YOU. Even if you never get a SINGLE customer from your blog (which is unlikely), blogging is still worth doing because of what it helps you learn about YOURSELF. Blogging is a journey of self-discovery. It helps you clarify what’s going on in your own mind. It helps you focus on what you really care about as a business person, it helps you pour out the contents of your mind and soul.

Because that’s another thing I’ve recently discovered…

Blogging Shows You the Meaning of “Content” in Content Marketing

Most people think of the word “content” in content marketing as being kind of a catch-all term – “content” could be anything from blog posts to infographics to podcasts to videos; any non-advertising material that attracts eyeballs. But here’s a clever new catchphrase idea – “content” in content marketing is really the “content of your mind and soul.”

Pour the sweet “content” of your soul into every blog post!

At its best, content marketing is an intimate activity. Ideally, you should take chances with your content marketing – you should pour yourself into it. Writing blog posts should feel like a creative rush and a psychic unburdening. Blogging, at its best, is an act of generosity and community, a pouring out of the “content” of your mind and soul onto the Internet. Blogging is a way to share your lived experiences, your hopes and dreams and fears, in a way that resonates so strongly with the right people who read it, that they will want to jump up from their desk and immediately call you or send you an email immediately.

So…start a blog! Even if you “don’t have time,” even if you don’t have a big budget, even if you don’t know what “Google Ad Words” or “SEO keywords” are, even if you don’t know what to blog about, even if you feel like no one will read it, even if you’re “not a writer.” In fact, even if you have no special talent for writing, you can get help from professional freelance writers who can help brainstorm topics and ghostwrite your articles and channel your expertise into highly readable website content.

Speaking of which…

Would you like to hire a freelance writer to help you create blog posts like this for your business? I can help! Send me an email: benjamin.gran@gmail.com

Why Hiring a Business Coach is TOTALLY Worth the Money

I recently started doing business coaching with one of my personal heroes, Pamela Slim. I used to read Pam’s blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, back in 2009 when I was trying to start freelancing and was stuck in a cubicle all day and wasn’t sure how to take the leap from the corporate world to solo-preneurship. I didn’t have any local role models; I didn’t know anyone in my own city who did what I wanted to do for a living. So I lived vicariously through Internet heroes like Pamela Slim, who showed me the possibilities of a magical world of people on the Internet, working from home on their own terms while wearing pajamas, and making a good living at it. That’s all I wanted, early on – I just wanted to work from home and be with my family. I had modest goals and simple needs.

Over the years, I’ve gone from those modest beginnings to become established as a freelance writer. I’m not bragging, but I’ve literally become more successful at this than I ever dreamed was possible. Quitting my job in 2010 to be a full-time freelance writer was absolutely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life! I’ve been home with my kids almost every day as they grew up, I’ve spent lots and lots of time with family and friends, I’ve traveled to New York and L.A. and San Francisco and Europe, we’ve taken marvelous vacations, and I almost never set an alarm clock. It’s a sweet, beautiful life.

And yet…now it’s 2017, and I decided to hire a business coach. Not because things aren’t going well, but because I wanted to see if I can re-evaluate a few things and realign a few goals and otherwise give my career a tuneup to make things EVEN BETTER.

Pamela Slim – My business coach!

And I decided that I wanted my business coach to be Pamela Slim. I’ve hired writing-specific mentors and coaches in the past, and it was always worth the money, but I had some particular goals and interests that I wanted to talk about with Pam this time. I’ve been feeling kind of down in a rut lately, feeling kind of directionless; I needed to rediscover my zest for work. I also recently had a few big projects fall through, and I realized that my pipeline of new projects was looking kind of empty – I hadn’t been doing any marketing in awhile to find new clients, because I’d gotten comfortable (and maybe a bit complacent) from lots of repeat business and referrals and random lucrative projects that landed in my lap. So I needed to think differently about how to find some new freelance writing clients.

Pam Slim has a great sense of optimism and abundance about her, she’s great at building community, and she’s a successful book author and public speaker and corporate trainer and business coach, all of which are things that I would potentially like to do.

So I signed up for individual coaching with Pamela Slim, and also signed up for a 6-week group class with Pam’s network of people called Giant Client Magnet – where we each commit to taking action on 3 or more Tiny Marketing Actions (TMAs) each day to move our businesses forward.

Let me say: BOTH of these business coaching programs have ALREADY been WELL WORTH THE MONEY.

Here is why hiring a business coach is (almost always) a good investment for your small business:

Accountability

Even if I don’t get any new clients from working with a business coach, even if I don’t get any “new” ideas on what to do for my career by working with a business coach, working with a business coach is already a good investment because it’s helping me hold myself accountable.

Working with a business coach helps get you to actually DO THE THINGS that you ALREADY KNOW you should do.

Maybe this sounds incredibly simple, even stupid! But listen: sometimes when you’re self-employed, the hardest thing to do is to just DO THE THINGS that you already KNOW you should be doing!

For example: I had a whole To Do list that was like 15 items long that I already knew I needed to do – and knew how to do – in order to market my business and find new projects. Many of these things were very simple and easy, like “Send an email to a current client and ask for more work.” But I wasn’t doing the things!

But now that I’m PAYING MONEY to a business coach? I have skin in the game! I have a vested interest in actually getting done with stuff! And I have a new sense of inspiration, because…

New Perspectives

Your business coach will help you see the bigger picture of where you want your business and your career to go. A good business coach helps you think strategically and identify your own points of mental resistance – what are you struggling with, and why? How can you remove obstacles that are in your way? How can you drill down to the roots of what you really love about your business and what you really do best and what you really hope to achieve in the world? With my business coach, I am thinking more EXPANSIVELY about my career and my future and what kind of an impact I really want to make in life.

Business coaching isn’t just about technical/practical knowledge like “which email marketing software to use” (although there’s nothing wrong with that); business coaching, at its best, is CAREER THERAPY.

And that’s what I needed, was Career Therapy. Because sometimes even when you’re successful, you can still get into a rut; you can still get complacent, you can still start to get into a funk and feel like work and life aren’t as meaningful as they used to be; you can still feel human vulnerabilities and anxieties about the future.

The best thing about being a solopreneur is that your success is all up to you – there’s no corporate bureaucracy holding you back, there’s no ceiling on your success!

The worst thing about being solopreneur is that your success is all up to you – there’s no clear path of “next steps” and no higher-ranking people to mentor you and tell you that you’re doing a good job and that you’ll be rewarded someday with a comfortable career path.

Sometimes it feels lonely to be a solopreneur. Sometimes you need a supportive voice from someone more experienced who can help you find clarity and purpose and a more hopeful path forward.

A good business coach will help you put your worries and indecisions to rest and redirect your focus to the present, and give you…

New Energy

Before I started getting business coaching, I was feeling stuck. I knew what I had to do to get new writing projects and get work done and make more money, but I wasn’t doing them. My list of To Dos was just sitting there, clogging up the system like a fatberg. (Do you know what a fatberg is? It’s an amazing new word that I just learned today – a fatberg is a large concrete-like mass of sewage mixed with fats and grease and garbage that clogs up sewer pipes. London has a massive fatberg right now that weighs 130 tons and is going to require a team of sewer workers to work around the clock with hand tools and power hoses to get it dislodged! Fun stuff! Whatever they’re paying those sewer workers, it’s not enough.)

But that’s what happens to your mind when you procrastinate for too long: you get a fatberg in your brain! Your mind gets clogged with a big blob of greasy, messy filth and you can’t move forward, and the longer you ruminate on it, the worse it gets! The filth just keeps building up and solidifying and getting bigger and scarier and messier and nothing can break through!

But now my fatberg is gone! I’m thinking clear and flowing freely! I’m open-minded and energized! I’m ready to see where this leads!

Actual photo of me after dislodging the Mental Fatberg

Here are a few of the things I’ve discovered about what I want to do next with my work as a result of working with my business coach:

  • Building Relationships With Writing: I love to write, I love the craft of writing, but what I really love on a more fundamental level is Building Relationships With Writing. It’s what I’ve spent my whole life doing, ever since I was a 6th grader writing the Gran Family Newsletter (new issues published monthly, printed with a dot matrix printer, and mailed to relatives all over America). Building relationships with writing is how I met my wife via online dating back in December 2003, and it’s how I’ve built lifelong friendships and a following of “fans” on Facebook. And of course, I love to build relationships with my clients and help MY CLIENTS build relationships with their key audiences with the power of the written word.
  • Teaching: I have teaching in my blood. Both of my parents have worked in education, all four of my grandparents were teachers and superintendents and college professors, and my first job out of college was teaching English on the JET Program in Japan. I want to try to do more with this – whether it’s working as a business coach to new freelance writers, or whether it’s incorporating teaching into my career by offering webinars, or whether it’s using a “teaching” approach to inform the content I create for my own website and for my clients.
  • Public speaking: In addition to writing, I love to speak to audiences. I do standup comedy, and I have a following on Facebook – I used to do comedy gigs around Iowa and the Midwest, and hundreds of people have paid money to come to my shows in Des Moines. I want to do more with public speaking, whether it’s as a guest speaker for local associations and networking groups, or speak at conferences, or maybe someday become a keynote speaker and author. I feel like I’m a better speaker than most writers, and I’m a better writer than most speakers. Surely I can do more with this.
  • Helping people find meaning: Ultimately, I’m trying to make the world a more meaningful place. One of the things that makes me good at what I do as a freelance writer is that I have a strong sense of curiosity and a strong service orientation – I can find something interesting about almost any subject. I can find something worth saying about almost any client’s business – and not in a superficial or sycophantic way; I really try to go deeper into what makes that client’s business meaningful and why that business matters. People make meaning of the world through telling stories, and I have been doing that all my life. Ultimately, meaning is what we’re craving. The world is full of bland corporate chain restaurants and cheap mass-produced junk and impersonal clutter and disingenuous marketing messages and lots of other stuff we don’t care about, stuff that’s meaningless to us – but what people DO care about, what people CRAVE, is finding messages that resonate with them, finding people who they “click” with, finding organizations with integrity and values and transparency. This is the great promise of the Internet that we have barely begun to explore: the Internet as an engine of genuine human interconnectedness and a vehicle for human meaning.

I really believe that the next wave of the Internet is not going to be about clickbait or copycat traffic-scraping content from too many sites chasing the same SEO keywords – it’s going to be about creating meaning and genuine connection with people through radical transparency – authenticity, humility, honesty. Just like people are making deep friendships on Facebook with people they’ve never met in real life, the Internet is still a wide open canvas for building relationships – if you’re brave enough to let your humanity through.

That’s been one of the great revelations of the work I’ve been doing with my business coach – I feel like something is opening up inside of me; I feel a great clarity of purpose, I feel completely unstuck. No more fatbergs!

I’m not sure how long these good feelings are going to last, but I hope it’s a long, long time.

Advice to a Future Freelance Writer

I haven’t updated my website in a long time because I’ve been too busy doing paid freelance writing work for other sites! This is a very good problem to have, but it’s still a problem. I’m going to try to do a better job of updating this site regularly just to show the world that I AM in fact, still in business as a freelance writer (7 years and going strong!), and also share some advice and ideas and general musings to give prospective clients a sense of what I’m like and how my thought process works and what it might be like to hire me as a freelance writer.

I recently got a question from a Facebook friend who mentioned that they have a 13-year-old child who is very interested in writing and wants to know what it’s like to be a writer for a living.

Giving advice to young people is one of my great joys in life; if there’s something that young up-and-coming writers can learn from my experiences, I’d be honored to share a few bits of wisdom.

If you’re 13 years old, or any age, and are interested in becoming a writer, then here are some bits of advice:

Write All the Time

A writer is a person who writes. So do it! Start a blog. Keep a journal. Write every day, even if it’s bad, even if you feel stuck, even if you never want to share what you write with anyone, just do it. Writing is a craft and a discipline; sometimes it’s magical and elegant and you have a perfect feeling of creative “flow,” but sometimes it’s a miserable agonizing slog and your brain feels like trudging through molasses and every word feels like discordant notes of music. But you just have to keep going! Keep producing! The world doesn’t need more constipated, tortured artistes; the world needs you to PRODUCE. If you feel like you might have something to say, then say it. Put it out there into the world and contribute your verse.

Photo Credit: Dan90266  CC BY-SA 2.0

Read All the Time 

Being a writer is like being a jellyfish, or a big whale that feeds off of plankton through its baleen filter-feeder system. (This analogy sounds cumbersome, but bear with me!) You need to write, yes? But you also need to read ALL THE TIME to give you constant INPUT and INSPIRATION to write. You need to drift around the Internet like a jellyfish, or inhale massive quantities of ocean water like a whale, and PROCESS THAT INPUT into new ideas and insights and observations and written material. This is one of the many reasons why I love being a freelance writer – I get to float around the Internet all day like a happy jellyfish, sucking up inspiration wherever I find it. (See how that works? Not such a bad analogy, is it? This is why people pay me to write things for them.)

Explore the World

Writers should travel. Even if you can’t travel because you’re too young and you still live with your parents, watch Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown (it’s on Netflix, last I checked) and other travel documentaries to learn more about other countries and other parts of the world. Read about other places. Read world history. Watch international movies. Learn a foreign language. Make friends with the foreign exchange students at your school – I made friends with Fabrice, the German exchange student, back when I was 15 years old, and we’re still friends 22 years later. All of these experiences – especially if you start at a young age! – will give you valuable perspective and help you empathize with people from all cultures and all walks of life.

Talk With People

Never miss a chance to talk with people and learn from other people around you. Be open to ideas. Participate in conversations. Ask good questions. Have the mentality of a reporter – watch interviews and listen to podcasts and get a sense for what it means to ask open-ended questions and engage with people around you and help draw the stories out of people. Lots of people think that writers are all solitary souls who disdain talking to other people, but some of the best writers are comfortable striking up conversations. And even if you’re an introvert, the most important thing is that willingness to learn from people and a curiosity about what makes people tick and how to get the best out of people. I spend most of my life working alone in an attic, but I care about people very deeply and I tend to believe the best about people. We all are enriched by each other’s presence and we have so much to learn from each other.

Go to College – But Don’t Worry About Going to the “Right” One

I graduated from Rice University in 2001 with a degree in History, and back then, I didn’t know I was going to be a freelance writer in 2017. But looking back on it, everything in my life has led me to this point. I spent two years at Iowa State University and then transferred to Rice; I was undecided about my major until the 2nd semester of my junior year at Rice when I declared a major in History because I loved to read history books and my advisor gave me some great advice: “Major in the subject that you would most like to teach.”

Lots of people who are smarter and richer than me are questioning the wisdom of traditional university education, and there may be something to that – it’s true that college is more expensive than ever; the costs have more or less doubled since I was a college student. I don’t know if college is worth it for everyone, but if you want to be a writer, college is still great preparation. Why? Because you learn how to think. You learn how to analyze information critically and synthesize sources of information and do the hard, unglamorous, disciplined work of sitting in the library for hours and hours while you cram your head with material and try to come up with something new to write about what you’ve just read.

But don’t worry about going to the “right” college – don’t get hung up on a name brand college degree. I really believe this: it doesn’t matter where you go to college so much as whether you get that degree. There are lots of people with big-name college degrees who aren’t very smart and who don’t end up being very successful; there are lots of people who did 2 years at community college and then graduated from a state school who go on to do amazing things and have a great life. Don’t think there’s one “right” college for you that’s going to make all the difference – you’re better off just working hard wherever you are and publishing articles on your blog and building up a base of business as a writer that way. We have the Internet now! Traditional credentials are less important than they used to be. Your college connections can be helpful but college is not the end-all, be-all of everything – in fact, one of my freelance writing mentors, Carol Tice, doesn’t have a college degree!

There’s never been a better time to be a writer. I love what I do for a living, I get to work with smart, fun people all over the world, and I get paid to think and learn and create. What could be better?? If you’re 13 years old (or any age) and interested in working as a writer someday, start now. Read. Write. Learn. Explore. It’s an amazing journey and I’m happy for you that you’re already on your way.

Do you have questions on how to become a freelance writer? Email me: benjamin.gran@gmail.com 

How I made $100,000 on Elance

I recently passed a significant milestone in my career as a freelance writer on Elance: I have surpassed $100,000 in lifetime income on Elance.

This all started with a single $200 project that I won back in February 2009. A business consultant in Australia hired me to help him write some training materials, and the rest is history. On that day, I never would have guessed how thoroughly my life would change as a result of getting signed up on Elance.

I originally started out as a part-time freelance writer just to earn some extra money and have some fun with some more interesting side projects outside of my day job. Soon I was working nights and weekends, loving the work and loving the extra income. There were frustrations and stresses and hassles along the way, but I maintained my determination to keep bidding on Elance jobs and finding new clients and building up my reputation.

By July 2010, I had quit my corporate job and started my new life as a full-time freelance writer. I’ve been doing this now for almost 1.5 years and I sometimes still can’t believe it’s real. I love working from home. I love spending ridiculous amounts of time with my family. I get to eat lunch with my kids every day (I used to eat lots of miserable, lonely lunches in my cubicle – no more!) and I get to feel sunlight on my face every day, and I get to work with interesting people from all over the U.S. and all over the world.

If you’re stuck in a job that you hate…maybe you should start working as a freelancer on Elance. Start small. Start now. You never know where it might lead. That first Elance project could turn into $100,000 of income.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Elance

Bidding on Elance jobs is an emotional roller coaster.

Depression

Some days, the jobs on Elance are just plain depressing. Like the ones that say, “We need someone to write 1,000 articles for our Web site – and in exchange for these articles, we will pay you TWELVE American dollars!” There are always people posting projects who pay pitiful wages, people with dubious-sounding businesses (“I need someone to help me write an e-Book on how to get rich in real estate speculation!”) and other assorted hucksters, fraudsters, and con artists. (Most people who post jobs on Elance aren’t like that, but on the bad days, it seems that way.)

Fear

What if I don’t get any of these jobs that I’m bidding on? What if I do get the job, but the client turns out to be crazy, unethical, or otherwise unreasonable in some way?  What if I never get another freelance job again, and we lose our house and our health insurance and have to move in with my parents?

Resentment

I bid on a job, I feel like I’m a good fit, and then the award goes to someone else who bid lower, or who seems less qualified. (“I’m an Elance Premier Provider, for cryin’ out loud – that job was rightfully mine!”) Oh well. There are always other fish in the sea.

Abandonment

I bid on a job, the client writes back, seems interested, sounds enthusiastic…and then I never hear from the client again. The abandoned job bids pile up in a ghostly queue. What happens to these jobs? The project never gets assigned, maybe the client loses interest, decides they don’t really need the work done or don’t want to hire someone after all? Who knows. I send follow-up e-mails for weeks, and never get a response.

And then, finally…

Success!

I win a project. I get one of those great e-mails saying “Congratulations, your proposal was chosen..” All the discouragement and dead ends are quickly forgotten, and I’m “in” again. Those are the times when I love this business.