Melanie Lockert: Good Writers Are Made, Not Born

 We’re excited to introduce you to Melanie Lockert, author of the book Dear Debt, podcast host of The Mental Health and Wealth Show, and full-time freelance writer. Her work covers personal finance, small business, mental health, and relationships and has appeared on Business Insider, VICE, Allure, and more. Melanie has an M.A. from New York University, is passionate about music, boxing, and mental health and lives in Los Angeles with her two cats, Miles and Thelonious. Melanie hosting a series of affordable workshops on freelance writing all summer long, which you can join here!

Hi, Melanie! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m Melanie Lockert, freelance writer, founder of Lola Retreat, host of The Mental Health and Wealth Show. I am based in Los Angeles and live with my two cats, Miles and Thelonious.

How did you get started freelance writing?

I started freelance writing because of my blog. I started DearDebt.com in 2013 to help share my journey out of debt. I was doing a lot of side hustles like being a pet sitter, brand ambassador, etc. and I found out that other personal finance bloggers were making money writing for other personal finance blogs.

I thought if they could do it, maybe I could too. So I started connecting with other bloggers and learning how they got gigs. I started cold pitching other bloggers.

So I initially started writing for other personal finance blogs with monetized sites and then transitioned to writing for FinTech companies and banks. I write about student loans, debt and depression, mental health, music, and wellness. Just this past year, I’ve branched out into other niches outside of finance. 

“I think of writing like doing a puzzle and putting all the pieces together. When I get stuck, I start writing whatever part I know I can get down on paper. Building momentum is key and all of the other pieces will come eventually.”

What’s your writing process like? 

I open Google Docs and stare at the cursor blinking at me. I open Twitter. Repeat 20x until I realize I really need to write. Haha joking. Kind of.

I use FocusMate to virtually co-work with someone else for 50 minutes. It’s kind of weird, but it forces me to focus and get stuff done for 50 minutes. I block out social media using Self Control and keep my phone in the bathroom if I really need to focus.

I think of writing like doing a puzzle and putting all the pieces together. When I get stuck, I start writing whatever part I know I can get down on paper. Building momentum is key and all of the other pieces will come eventually.

Like Anne Lamott recommends, I do a shitty first draft. Just get words on the page. Get a foundation, a structure, a flow. Refining will come later.

When I’m done writing a piece, I give my eyes a break and re-read it several hours later or the next day. I use speech-to-text in Notes to read aloud my work to minimize typos and then I turn in my work. Grammarly also saves my life every day.

What’s been your proudest moment as a writer? 

Honestly? Probably just being a self-employed writer is my proudest moment. This is embarrassing to admit, but I wasn’t a great writer in high school and early college. I would get papers covered in red ink. 

But in undergrad as well as grad school, I went to the writing center consistently and got help as well as feedback. That really improved my writing. Additionally, I started taking a lot of philosophy and critical theory classes which forced me to write a lot of essays, which was great practice.

I am proud because I was not a “natural born writer” with inherent skill. I’ve worked at it. I’m still not perfect or the best but I make my living as a writer and pay my bills that way and that makes me proud. My high school self would have never believed it. It’s good to astonish yourself. 

Any advice for writers who don’t want to limit themselves to one niche?  

If you want to write in more than one niche, you want to have examples or a good pitch on why you can write in another niche. For example, I am mostly a personal finance writer but in the past year I have branched out into music and mental health. I had struggled to get other publications to give me a chance. 

But here’s what I did:

How can new writers get started when they don’t have much experience? 

If you have limited experience, create your own experience! Start a blog. That’s what I did and it served as my portfolio when I had no other clips. You can consider guest posting and connect with other freelance writers.

How do you beat writer’s block?

I beat writer’s block with the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is where you work for 25 minutes and take a 5-minute break. I tell myself that I can commit to 25 minutes. That’s it. If I build momentum, great. If I can’t do more, I wrote for at least 25 minutes. 

If I really feel I can’t and I’m not on a deadline, I surrender to the block. I close the computer and go for a walk. Take a bath or a nap. Read for inspiration. Usually, the block is related to burnout or anxiety, so I try to tackle the root cause.

What do you love to do when you’re not writing?

I enjoy boxing, dancing, karaoke, being a cat mommy, practicing Spanish, drinking different variations of coffee, reading, and walking in my neighborhood looking for flowers.

Melanie’s upcoming workshops can be found at MelanieLockert.com/events.