My career as a freelance writer started purely by chance. A random invitation to a book club would introduce me to the possibility of writing, a career I had never really considered before. Though unexpected, the opportunity came during one of the most difficult times of my life and my ability to work as a disabled freelancer has given me a creative outlet, a source of income, and a cathartic form of therapy.
After leaving my job of 10 years due to major episodes of anxiety and depression, I was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The diagnosis came after years of being dismissed by doctors because of my weight. As relieved as I was to have a diagnosis, I was terrified that having yet another chronic condition would keep me from working again.
At that time, I put all my value into having a paying job. Not being able to make money, after being the major breadwinner for my family, destroyed my sense of self-worth. If I wasn’t working — if I wasn’t making money — I was nothing. Still, my mind and body couldn’t go at the pace I had set before. It took a good 18 months to get healthy enough to start exploring who I was as a newly disabled person.
That exploration led me to that life-changing book club meeting. I was invited to the small book club by someone I had recently met while exploring other new hobbies. At the first meeting, the two other members shared with me that they both worked as freelance writers. I was immediately intrigued. Seeing my interest, they explained how they got into freelance writing. They shared with me how I could pitch to publications and editors and offered advice about their experiences.
For the first time in years, I felt like this was something I really wanted to do. The anxiety I felt about exploring freelance writing was more of a giddy kind of excitement instead of the manic sort of energy I was used to feeling towards the unknown. This was something I had to try. I initially submitted three pitches and was rejected three times.
Still, the refusals didn’t hurt as badly as rejection usually did. Instead, I was proud that I had tried something new and was still excited to explore writing. That optimism was rewarded when one of the platforms that initially sent a rejection offered me a chance to ghostwrite as a freelancer. It didn’t pay well and it was a lot of listicles and fluff pieces, but it was just the start that I needed.
During the first year of my freelancing career, I stuck solely to ghostwriting. The editor I was working with offered me a ton of support as someone who was just starting out in the business. He had once been where I was so he was very helpful while I learned the job. During that year, I was able to ghostwrite on several websites belonging to minor media identities. It was fun, light work and the approval I felt when I saw an article perform well was just what I needed to get some of my lost confidence back. Eventually, I felt assured enough with my work experience to renegotiate my rates and received an offer from my editor for credited writing gigs.
Being a ghostwriter was great, but nothing compared to seeing my name printed under my words. I ended my ghostwriting career and used that new confidence it gave me to write about more personal issues. Through pitching to publications that I personally read and respect, I was finally able to work on more substantial topics. I finally had an outlet to explore themes like disability, fatphobia, reproductive rights, and gun control in my writing.
Finding professional self-fulfillment and a way to monetize my interests really felt like a dream come true. Still, more than that, I found a freedom through freelancing that I never had with my former job and I never needed it more than then. Disability doesn’t look the same each day. My mental illness and fibromyalgia can be impacted by any number of variables, from stress and sleep patterns to the weather and my menstrual cycle. So freelancing seemed absolutely perfect for the inconsistencies of my disabilities.
One of the biggest issues I had when working a job with a set schedule was the guilt I felt when I needed to take a day off for my health. However, as a freelance writer, I’m allowed to have bad days. If my muscles are aching or my anxiety is through the roof, I can take time to recover. I can plan work around doctor’s appointments and write whenever I like without worrying that I’ve inconvenienced someone. Building relationships with the editors I’ve worked with has also been a great benefit of freelancing. I can honestly share my needs and eliminate stress about accommodating my disability.
When pitching to other publications, I also discovered a wide community of freelance creatives — both disabled and not — on social media. As a tool, using social media sites like Twitter has helped me to self-promote and leave my comfort zone to find new opportunities. However, there’s the added bonus of connecting and communicating with those who share similar experiences, challenges, and aspirations. Since first interacting with Disabled Twitter and users who work freelance, these connections have become a never-ending source of information, humor, and support.
I’ve had so many meaningful interactions with freelancers that I’ve met via social media. Sometimes, it’s just reaching out to ask for an editor’s contact information, but it’s also those times we’ve re-blogged each other’s work to show our support of each other. If I need someone to proofread something or to bounce ideas off, I know help is just an app away. If I’m having a terrible pain day, I have a community of disabled friends who can commiserate and offer spoons.
Besides offering better flexibility and an ever-growing support system, working as a freelance writer has been a form of therapy for me. In being able to write about the things that matter to me, I’m more able to turn my focus inwards. Writing through experiences such as the death of my father or my time with postpartum depression helped me better understand these tragedies. Unpacking the facts and feelings by retelling these stories has made me a more mindful person. The catharsis I experience from writing about disability topics or COVID anxiety is just like the relief I get from a great therapy session. I can only hope that anyone who reads my words experiences that same feeling.
As a disabled person, I can’t fully express how grateful I am for the opportunities that freelancing has offered me. Being a freelance writer has enriched my professional life as much as it has my personal one. Though a career as a freelancer was unplanned, I can’t imagine what my life would be like without everything that work has allowed me to experience. The agency, the stability, the flexibility, the affirmation, and the community I have found through freelancing have made every struggle to get to this point completely worth it.
Samantha Chavarria is a disabled Latina freelance writer who lives and works in Houston. The life-long Texan writes about identity, wellness and disability advocacy, social justice, and pop culture, contributing words to platforms such as HelloGiggles, Bustle, Mitú, and Bitch Media. When she isn’t writing, she’s busy being a wife, mother of three, and spending too much time on Twitter. You can read more of her work and contact her @teoami on Twitter & Instagram.