How to Become a Freelance Writer
Hundreds of thousands of writing opportunities exist. Making the most of them is where the art of the freelancer really comes into play. A freelance writer is someone who writes without belonging to any single company or entity but acts like a small business or an independent contractor. It’s possible to be a full-time freelance writer earning a living, or to be a part-time freelancer supplementing a regular income. Another role is to simply do it for fun or to build up a broader portfolio of skills. In this article, you’ll get the basics on what it takes to ease your way into freelance writing as a career or hobby.
Be a good writer. It may seem self-evident but there is a substantial group of people who believe that they can write but when they attempt it, their lack of originality, good grammar, and self-discipline prove otherwise.
Be sure that you’re comfortable with writing, that it is a medium in which you can express yourself with ease and clarity, and that it is something you don’t mind doing almost every single day of your life without respite. If you don’t already have writing qualifications, consider doing a college degree in journalism or English, or taking a workshop so that you’re at least aware of the major requirements in writing, and the terminology used. Even if you already have a degree in a non-writing related course, you may find it easier to either get a writing diploma or to get an entry-level job as a copywriter or editor in a field related to what you graduated in.
Decide whether you prefer fiction or non-fiction or perhaps even both. Non-fiction is much easier to sell than fiction, so bear this in mind when making your choice. If you’re writing for fun, you have more leeway to experiment, though.
Decide whether you want to write for a living, for extra money, or for fun. The reason for your freelance writing will impact the approach that you take to running your freelance operation. Bear in mind that treating freelance writing as a full-time income will require a lot of hard work and establishing yourself in the niche, so be prepared to put in the effort and time.
If you already have qualifications, from a degree to a diploma, always make use of these to support your expertise. These are extremely helpful in a competitive world where many people are seeking the same thing but who don’t have the qualifications to stand out.
Be comfortable communicating. Unless you want to be the hermit novelist living in poverty, you’ll need to reach out to other people as a freelance writer. You’ll need to be prepared to market yourself, to drum up business, and to chase leads. You will also need to be happy to turn around work quickly and according to the client’s or employer’s needs and changes, and all of this requires good negotiation and interaction skills. Fortunately, much of this can be done by email, meaning that you can rely on writing to connect but it does mean you’ll need to be prepared to put yourself out there and not just sit about waiting for leads.
As part of this, you’ll need to know how to write a query letter. A query letter explains the concept of what you’re proposing to write, along with a very brief explanation of your experience and qualifications. This letter has to sell your idea to an editor, blog owner, or website operator and will become a regular part of your toolkit. The sooner you’re comfortable with it, the better.
Realize that turning a creative passion into a job can dampen your enthusiasm. No matter how much you love writing, there will be occasional writing jobs that you’ll hate doing. In this situation, you’ll need to learn the art of “just doing it” regardless of your feelings, your desire to procrastinate, and your temptation to rush through it. Master pushing through the dislike barrier by treating it as the work that it is and looking forward to the more interesting writing coming up. Some freelance writers find it helps to maintain their own writing on the side, as a means for ensuring that at least something they’re writing remains a pure joy.
Balance the joys of working alone with soaking up the vibes from being around other people. Working from home or for yourself can be very lonely at times (no matter how much you love your writing) and you can feel as if you’re working in a vacuum. Part of the answer to this is to accept the unusual (and often liberating) nature of being a freelance writer; the other part is to get out and be around people as much as you can. Get portable by having a notebook or laptop, and portable Wi-Fi access, and go and write around people when you’re feeling lonely – a cafe, a library, a park, anywhere that you feel involved in society again. You might find you need to do this regularly, or every now and then; just find your own rhythm and don’t box yourself inside your house all day.
Be prepared for a lot of self-discipline and good money management. If you’re planning on making a career from writing freelance, you’ll need to have a good sense of responsibility toward your clients or employers and yourself.
Have financial systems set up before you start taking in work and be regular with your invoicing, tax filing, and reconciliation of accounts. You cannot afford to be sloppy when it comes to your income!
Be organized; have a dedicated writing space, all of your reference books in one place and easily obtained, all the writing equipment that you need in good working order, and a decent ergonomic work station set-up. Writing daily can do terrible things to your posture if you don’t take good care of it!
Have a deadline system in place. Whether you use a diary, an online reminder system, a wall chart, a whiteboard, or whatever, be sure to have some sort of system in place that allows you to see at a glance what writing work is due when and for whom. That way you can prioritize accordingly and not have last minute rushes.
Communicate well and regularly. It’s very important that you feel comfortable reaching out to people to make queries, to reassure them of your skills and ability to meet deadlines, and to keep clients and companies informed as to your progress and any issues that may come up.
Don’t take on more than you can do.
Part of being organized is knowing your limits. Once you do get into a flow of regular writing, don’t be lulled into a false sense of confidence that you can do more than the hours in the day. Remember to maintain a good balance in your daily life.
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