9 Truths About Freelance Writing

by Anne Wayman

FAQs for WritersPeople who think they might want to earn their living freelance writing often have a distorted vision of what that career path actually looks like. Here’s some unvarnished truth about freelance writing:

  1. Freelance writing is hard work. Of course, writing isn’t hard like digging ditches, although to write well can be exhausting emotionally. The hard part of writing is learning to write regularly and to do the rest of the things that will make you successful.
  2. Freelance writing requires self-discipline. You simply have to find a way to regularly do the things you need to do to make your writing business a success – that’s self-discipline.

  3. You’ve got to get the writing done. You can’t be a successful writer if you don’t sit down and get those words on paper. And once you’ve written you’ve got to rewrite and edit. There’s just no way around it, really.
  4. Your writing business is a business. Yes, freelance writing is more business than glamor. You’ve got to learn a minimum of business skills, like simple bookkeeping, marketing, making deadlines, dealing with taxes, etc. That doesn’t mean you have to throw your creativity out, just that you need to honor the business side as well.
  5. You’ve got to market your writing. The word, marketing, seems to cause automatic resistance in writers. I’m not sure why. There are all sorts of marketing methods to choose from, from business cards to cold calling to queries, to websites, with a whole bunch in between. You don’t have to do them all, but you do have to find the marketing you will do consistently and that will bring you the clients you want.
  6. Marketing requires patience. Many fail to realize it takes time to see the results from marketing. It’s rare to hand someone a business card and have them hire you right then. It probably takes 50 cold calls to get one solid lead, and that may not result in work right away if then. Even the most seasoned writers don’t expect every query to result in an assignment, and it can take six weeks to a month to even find out. Websites need to be promoted so people can find them when they are looking for a writer with your skill set. It all takes time. Consistency is the key to marketing.

  7. Writing income varies from month-t0-month, year-to-year. The income from freelance writing is anything but consistent; it’s not at all like the regular income you get from a job.  One year you may earn way more than you expected, the next year, quite a bit less. Successful freelance writers learn to deal with uncertain income.
  8. Keeping track of the money is an absolute must. You simply must track your income and expense to have a real idea of what’s going on with your writing business.
  9. Saving is a must for the freelancer. Savings helps smooth freelance income and adds power to your negotiations.

Freelance writing is a wonderful career which, once you get going, offers many perks, including the ability to mostly control your time. But it isn’t for everyone. If you’re not able to do these nine things consistently, it’s unlikely you’ll succeed.

What have I left out of this list?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth West November 5, 2010 at 1:13 pm

*whimper*

It’s hard when you have no credits to get credits. I’m considering trading editing a paranormal group’s website’s copy for the organization’s helping me with some research for my WIP, just to get one. The site DESPERATELY needs it, but I don’t want to step on their toes. Any suggestions?

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annew November 9, 2010 at 12:30 pm

ask gently? do a short sample to go with your asking?

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Diana November 5, 2010 at 11:14 am

Totally helpful list, Anne. I’d (humbly) add that the freelancer needs to value their time and talent. It can be difficult for those of us who are used to 9-5 jobs where we simply take the wage offered and carry on. In freelancing YOU set the wage and then find the clients to match (well, in a perfect situation anyway :) ) I’m finding that “holding onto my value” is the number one struggle right now and funny enough, it ties into all of the others – marketing in the proper way, being disciplined, keeping track of cash, etc. And it’s something I consistently have to do… and then do again! Guess that’s all part of the “hard work,” but it beats digging ditches any day.

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annew November 8, 2010 at 11:42 am

Yes, Diana, self-worth, valuing self and talents is imperative for the freelancer and it seems to me we women have a harder time with it than men. But, it can be done…

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Sarah Charmley November 5, 2010 at 8:18 am

Great article, Anne. I think that the Marketing point should be number one. If you don’t market your business, then you don’t have a business and none of the other things come into play.

Many thanks.
Sarah Charmley recently posted..Promoting Your BlogMy Profile

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Cathy Miller November 4, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Hi, Anne –

Your list covers it. One that I shared over at Jenn’s AFW site is you need perseverance. It’s similar to Carol’s, but I am talking about freelancing in the “whole.” If you’re not in it for the long haul, don’t start – unless you are going to be that 1 in 1,000 overnight success. And don’t let someone sell you on that idea! :-)
Cathy Miller recently posted..5 Sure-Fire Ways to Lose CustomersMy Profile

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annew November 4, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Do you know any true overnight successes? I don’t. Perseverance, persistence – http://www.aboutfreelancewriting.com/2009/01/discipline-and-persistence-freelance-writing-success/ yep, it should be on the list for sure.

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Carol Tice November 4, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Great post, Anne.

I’m hearing from a lot of people on #6 lately. “I sent a bunch of query letters last month, and nothing happened!” Marketing is definitely a long-term game.

When I discuss my marketing strategies, I often get the response, “Oh, I tried that once, and it didn’t work.” Well, I tried it 40 times and it worked once. It really is an investment — and a commitment to a mindset of continuous marketing, no matter what.

As Nathan Hangan of Beyond Blogging told me, don’t give up before it pays off!
Carol Tice recently posted..How to Get the Most Lucrative Writing Clients- Part II- 5 Ways to ConnectMy Profile

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annew November 4, 2010 at 7:48 pm

I’m always surprised when people think results should happen in a hurry. Like Cathy says, it’s perseverance… you’ve said that too I know.

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