On Becoming a Freelance Writer

Becoming a freelance writer

Every pen monkey has thought of setting up as a freelance writer at one time or another. You get the best of both worlds, don’t you? You love to write, why not become a literary gun for hire? It’s in your scribbler DNA. You can’t resist.

For some, it’s simply a thought that passes as easily as it came. Other, more deluded types, take a breath and dip their toes into the freelance waters, encounter little or no success and return to their fantasies of becoming the next Stephen King or J R Tolkien. A few hardy souls bite the bullet and decide to become fully fledged freelance writers.

They do! Yes, they do! (Sound of trumpets and general hurrah-ing).

So, here’s your first of several freelance writer hard truths: It generally sucks.

Strangely, I don’t mean that in an unkind way. What I mean is that it’s not all fun. You won’t be sitting with your favourite pen, waxing lyrical as you sip nice French claret and dig into a box of Thornton chocolates while dressed only in yesterday’s vest and pants.

Oh, wouldst that it were dear scribe. Then, we would all be doing it.

A freelance writer works hard

For those thinking of quitting the day job and giving it a try, be warned. You may currently work eight hours a day, five days a week and all for a set wage. You may hate your job, the travel each morning and evening, your evil boss, your pointless work mates, your work chair, and the stupid executive toy on the edge of your desk. But, listen my friend, you have a lovely set income flying into your bank account each month and you have a pretty good idea how and when you’re going to earn it.

As a full-time freelance writer you will be working longer hours, probably for less, and your pay packet is going to be highly uncertain, at least in the beginning. You will have to hunt for jobs and you will have to compete with other, equally skilled, writers for your share of the freelance pie. And, through all this, you will have to provide a consistently high standard of work.

Still haven’t put you off?

Okay, it’s a good idea. I agree. Should I mention tax returns now? No?

Besides, you’ve decided you’re going to keep the day job and simply freelance part-time.

Good for you! Just for you here are:

6 qualities a freelance writer needs

Commitment: If you are going to do it, commit to it. You will have deadlines, meet them. You have to spend time writing, do it. Do it all at 100%. Don’t sit and think: I’ll have a go at it later or I’ll crack through that tomorrow. It doesn’t wash in the wonderful world of self-employment. You are a freelance writer: Write!

Competence: Your writing has to meet the standard. You must have above average literary skills and that includes being able to edit your own work effectively. If you are still throwing in redundant adjectives and adverbs and your editing consists of a few flighty red ticks in the margin of a page, the freelance writer life is probably not for you. It’s a skill, not an art form. You need to produce good quality work, quickly.

Determination: Not the same as commitment but an ugly cousin twice removed. You have to get out there and find work each day, every day, seven days a week. You sit down each morning and say: “I need to earn some money.” Find it. Hunt it down with grim determination. Trap it. Kill it. Well, maybe not kill it. Maim it slightly. Chain it to the desk. Make sure it doesn’t get away.

Consistency: Your work must be of a uniformly high standard. No exceptions. If you’re lucky to get business from a freelancing site you will generally receive a customer rating of between 1 and 5 stars after you finish a job. Hard truth #2: For you, a 1 star rating is catastrophic. Your writing credibility immediately goes south and people think twice about hiring you. If you are consistently good you will consistently get 5 stars. If you are poor for just one second, you might do irreparable damage to your reputation.

SEO awareness: A number of your clients will want work that is SEO friendly. If you don’t know what that means, or why keywords are seen as important, then find out. It’s not difficult and you need to be able to incorporate it into your writing.

Adaptability: You need to be able to write across the board. In my short time as a freelance writer, I have put together articles on Chinese social media, storage spaces, car specs, features and benefit selling, dental hygiene, office cleaning, and football. Get yourself comfortable with researching your article, it comes with the job. There are only rare moments when someone asks you to write something you are completely familiar with.

Still interested?

In the next part of The Freelance Writer I’ll be talking about my own personal experience with freelancing platform People Per Hour and I hope you’ll join me for that. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts on going freelance then please jot them down in the comments section below.

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