He Can Write, Act, Direct — and He Owns More Pets than You Ever Will. Meet Mark Morris Jr.
Here’s a great example of a multi-tasking writer…
Mark Morris Jr. has done everything from writing to home improvement to acting to directing, plus more (yes, really).
He’s also a bit of a dog and cat whisperer.
Mark took the time to answer some interesting questions I had about his businesses and overall success. After all, who wouldn’t want to learn more from such a handy fellow?
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started as a freelance writer…
Well, I have eight kids, been married 24 years to my high school sweetheart and started my first novel at 14 on a manual typewriter. Got to page 56 before it broke! I got married young and spent a few years in a cabinet shop, teaching acting in the evenings.
Then, I went into the theater business full time for about 10 years. I started freelance writing as a job when I was forced to shut my theater school down after 2008. I started with Demand Media, writing home improvement articles for $15 a piece and ended up writing over 2500 of them in a year and half. It was the highest paid writing site I could find at the time and I looked for quite a while.
Tell us about your work routine. What keeps you successful on a daily basis?
I don’t really believe in routines. That is part of why I do what I do. I know what needs to be done each day and I work in between my family and other pursuits. I wish I had a more standard answer, but that’s the truth.
I’m quick and my first drafts are usually accepted, so the work doesn’t take up a huge amount of my time. Some mornings I literally roll over, pick up my computer and start work before I get out of bed, some nights, like this one, I work late. It’s almost 2 am as I am writing this.
You’re a man of many, many talents. How do you handle so many professions at once and still deliver high quality work to your clients?
Right now I am only actively pursuing the writing. The bio on my website was about a year ago when I was still doing some carpentry. I have been out of theatre for several years, but still take on an occasional project and help two of my younger brothers out with their theater studio from time to time.
When I was doing all three, there wasn’t much balance and the quality suffered. That’s one reason I chose to simplify things. Plus, I realized there were a lot of expenses in the contracting business, cutting those out means I need to earn less than I did.
Over 3,000 articles, 500+ blog posts and more than one million words published. How do you consistently come up with topic ideas?
In commercial freelance for hire work, the topics and even sometimes specific outlines are typically handed to you. For instance, with Demand Media, they work based off of a list of titles that you select from. That is where the bulk of my article work was done. In some cases, like the writing I do for DIYRV.com I use Google alerts to track new ideas.
You also develop sources for specific content, sites, or groups that you can go to. If you notice, a lot of content is very similar, from site to site, so a fair amount of looking at what the other writers in a given space are writing goes on. Then there’s headline topics on what’s current and also Google keywords that have high traffic. All of those are great ways to do it.
Out of writing, filming, acting, handy work and all else, do you consider any of these your main money maker? What made you choose this as your primary source of income?
Writing is my number one occupation at the moment. That could change if I ever got the right offer to go back into theater, but I will likely always keep some writing clients, the money is too good and it’s too flexible to give it up. The main reason I do it is that I discovered early in life that I really did not enjoy working for other people.
In fact, the last guy I punched a clock for is still a friend of mine, one day I just looked at him and said, I can’t work for you and stay your friend. This job is not that great, I guess that means you need to find somebody else.
The freedom of being able to work from anywhere is also huge. This next week, I am going on a trip to Austin with my wife and some of our kids and I will likely work while we are there.
Have you written pieces for big names or prominent brands out there? What was the experience like?
I haven’t done anything anyone would recognize. But, you don’t have to get in with big brands to make good money. I’m not sure I would care for it anyway.
When job descriptions include phrases like, “fast paced work environment” or “comfortable with tight deadlines” I tend not to apply. I keep up with my clients and have no problem with deadlines that I agree to, but that kind of stress is not for me.
Many new freelance writers/bloggers feel overwhelmed and don’t know how to turn their talent into a reliable income source. What valuable piece of advice can you offer?
Subscribe to the jobs list at Writer Town. No, but seriously, you do a great job with that.
You need three things to get started: 1: you need some samples, preferably on somebody’s website with your name on it. 2: you need a resume for your writing work 3: you need a writer’s website branded with your picture and name so people can see you’re legit.
I tried working without these three off and on for years on the side, but it was tough to get clients. Now, most people will at least return my email after seeing my resume and site.
In your experience, should people build their businesses based on their passion, or blindly go where the money is?
Well, I have never blindly gone where the money is, but if someone wants to tell me where it is, I might give it a try. I have always tried to do things I like for a living. In fact, I kind of made a pact with myself that I would never take a job just for the money.
Life is short and it should be spent doing things you enjoy and that you believe make the world a better place. For me, it is spending time with my wife and kids that keeps me self employed. We have made some sacrifices, but we have a lot of fun and I like my life, not something many people say.
Touching on more personal things, you have quite a busy life with 8 kids. How do you balance work and personal life successfully?
I make them my number one priority. That means, past providing the basics, being for them takes precedence over doing more work. When it’s called for, I work at night, or early in the morning. It’s easier in the school year when only my little ones are home, we have them in an online charter school from home.
My wife has a party sales business, so I often travel with her on day trips and pack my laptop. While she is working at a party, I’ll be down the road at McDonald’s using the free wi-fi to turn in assignments, or post blogs.
Five dogs, four cats, among other animals — sounds like heaven for us animal lovers. What other pet is currently on your wishlist?
HA! None! The only dog that I claim is my 200 pound English Mastiff. But, like some guys have the girl that got away, or the one they’ll always remember fondly, I had a dog like that.
He was an Alaskan Malamute the size of a timber wolf, 180 pounds. His name was Zaccheus and we got him from a shelter. If Zach was still alive, I would trade all the rest of these ankle biters for him. (shh, don’t tell my wife, or oldest daughter who is a pre- veterinary science major!)
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I certainly feel more motivated and productive after reading success stories like these.
You can catch Mark Morris Jr. on his main website.
Thanks for this wonderful, kick-ass interview, Mark!