When I became a freelancer, I thought I was going to be one forever. I started because I thought I wanted to escape the drudgery of working fixed hours. I wanted to live, and going to the office was taking the life out of me.
It turned out my problem was not the hours—it was because I lost track of my purpose.
From an engineer to a writer
I studied engineering, and I spent 9 years of my career in various roles in tech: support engineer, integration engineer, and solutions architect. I'd spend my days learning new things and solving complex technological problems, all while sitting in an office chair or hunched in a freezing server room. There were many sleepless nights, but I didn't mind because I thrived for action even if it meant that my worries of breaking everyone's internet connection continued in my dreams.
When I started to burn out, I turned to writing as a hobby. On weekends, I traveled then wrote about my travels. Traveling and writing helped me reset my brain, and I would always get back to work on Mondays with a better perspective even when I lacked sleep.
Writing has always been a part of my job too. While writing was not the most important aspect, it was necessary. I wrote design documents that stakeholders read and agreed to. I wrote detailed procedures. I made sure there was no room for misinterpretation at 1 AM when we deployed to production.
I was enthusiastic about writing so I joined writing and blogging communities. Through communities, I found out that people were willing to pay me to write (what a shocker) and that I can earn a living as a writer. It didn't take too long for me to realize that I can travel and make money simultaneously; I didn't have to choose.
And so, after a year of getting paid to write on the side, I decided to leave the corporate world. I intended to take on all sorts of writing.
Not all kinds of writing are equal
In almost two years of freelancing, I took all sorts of writing contracts. I quickly realized that taking all sorts of jobs made me feel the same way as I did when I was going to the office, except now I have the Pacific Ocean as my view.
Some writing contracts sucked the joy out of me, such as those where I needed to:
- Write only to meet a word count, peppered with keywords.
- Write just good things (really, this is lying by omission).
- Write without knowing if what I wrote was true.
- Write content that I would never read.
At some point I realized it wasn't a problem of working hours or going to an office. What I was doing for a living was the problem. What I did didn't align with what I found important.
The right kind of role
Finally, I realized that at the very core, I am an engineer. My purpose has always been to solve complex tech problems.
Letting my experience guide me, I looked for writing contracts that aligned with my strengths. I found that I enjoyed:
- Trying and breaking things before writing.
- Writing to explain and clarify.
This kind of writing is called technical writing, meaning writing about technical things.
I did the same activities as an engineer: learn and understand how things work and try out solutions. The difference now is I'm doing these so I can write and explain these concepts in the clearest way possible to help readers solve problems. I think of the role as an engineer light version, where I still use the same skills but minus the stress.
And now a technical writer
At the end of 2016, I took a full-time technical writer role in a company in Vietnam. While I had no corporate experience as a technical writer and only had a small tech writing portfolio, my manager took a chance. I'm forever grateful that they gave me an opportunity.
After almost two years, I took another technical writing role in the Netherlands.
Every day I get to satisfy the engineer within, every day I get to work with a team of experienced technical writers, and every day I get to learn how to become a better writer.
Freelancing paved the way
Had I not taken the chance to be a freelancer, or had I not gone through soul-draining writing contracts, I wouldn't have figured out the exact role that fit my strengths. I may not be a freelancer now, but that experience helped me experiment and think about what I enjoy doing the most. Now I'm back working in an office and in a role that's anchored to who I am and what I find important.