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Don’t Be A Freelance Writer

Freelance writingBeing or becoming a freelance writer isn’t for everyone.

Trying to earn a living, a good living as a freelance writer isn’t easy; it isn’t always fun.

You probably shouldn’t become a freelance writer unless:

You have some reason to believe your writing is better than average. When I’ve edited magazines I’ve always been surprised at the number of people who think they can write but can’t. Or maybe no one has shown them how to let go of their fear and write without stiffness and formalism.

If you want to be a successful freelance writer you’re going to have to write well. Not perfectly, whatever that might be, but well enough so others truly get what you’re writing about.

Such self-knowledge might come from getting good grades on school writing assignments, complements about your writing by others, (and your mother probably doesn’t count in this), positive results from some sort of advertising,  (I wrote real estate classified ads for several years and we tracked the response; can’t tell you how much I learned from that) or something else.


You love the process of writing and of rewriting. Although it’s not enough to assure success as a freelancer, you should love the process of writing – the getting the words down on the page. Maybe you don’t have to love the rewriting but you have to be willing to do it and do it well.

You meet most of the qualifications of an entrepreneur like the article 25 Common Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs or Five Characteristics of America’s Most Successful Entrepreneur and a million other places

Okay, the characteristics are pretty typical. You’ve got to be a risk taker is probably the most important personality trait for successful freelance writers. That doesn’t mean extreme risk taking, but you’ve got to be willing to learn to put up with uncertain income, deal with clients who can be flaky as heck, and hang in there.

Come to think of it, hanging in there, which is really persistence, is right up there with risk taking.

You’re unwilling to spend serious time marketing your freelance writing skills. The only way a client can hire you to write is if they know you’re a writer and they can find you. That takes marketing.

Fortunately marketing can be done in a whole lot of different ways, but it must be done. If you’re just starting out plan on spending at least 50percent of your working time on marketing. After you get started that time will automatically reduce, but it probably should never go much below 25-30 percent of your time.


Obviously I think being a freelance writer is pretty nifty, but I never want anyone to go into the trade thinking it’s easy. It isn’t.

Do you agree?

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Photo from flickr.com

{ 25 comments… add one }
  • ??”Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys…” or freelance writers.?

    BTW, if you re-read your post, Anne, it says: “You probably shouldn’t become a freelance writer unless…you’re unwilling to spend serious time marketing.” I certainly qualify under that rule, but unfortunately, I think you meant “willing.”
    .-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.

    • Anne

      ogeeze… I don’t need a keeper… I need an editor who watches every typing move… thanks… okay, I fixed it by drawing a line through the un – I tend to do it that way so needed reader corrections are obvious… my attempt at some transparency… Thanks!

      • Jack

        Not a big deal, but I thought you’d want to correct your correction – you’ve underlined the “un” instead of striking through it…

        • Anne

          Sigh, thanks… I think I got it fixed Jack.

  • Right on, Anne! Especially on the marketing and entrepreneur traits. And also accept that books aren’t a money-maker for most and there’s more to writing than magazines and books.
    .-= Meryl K Evans´s last blog ..Books and eBooks: Keep or Purge? =-.

    • Anne

      Amen… I feel another post coming on… more to writing than….

    • YES! I have a book coming out this year and I hate telling friends and family about it. Because right after I tell them, I then have to explain that I am not Stephen King and have no chance of being on Good Morning America. Also, they can’t borrow ten dollars from me because that would pretty much be my entire book advance! LOL!

  • “First, there must be talent, much talent. Talent such as Kipling had. Then there must be discipline. The discipline of Flaubert. Then there must be conception of what it can be and an absolute conscience as unchanging as the standard meter in Paris, to prevent faking…

    Then the writer must be intelligent and disinterested and above all he must survive. Try to get all these in one person and have him come through all the influences that press a writer. The hardest thing, because time is so short, is for him to survive and get his work done.”

    — Ernest Hemingway, “Green Hills of Africa.”
    .-= Steve Amoia´s last blog ..Dunga Releases Roster for Emirates Friendly with the Republic of Ireland =-.

    • Anne

      Steve, you blog about football, or what we know in the US as soccer… much more interesting sport than American football in my experience…

      • Anne, yours would be the minority opinion among most Americans. 😉 Both sports have positive and negative attributes. Each one has passionate supporters. But like politics, gridiron football is local. Soccer is global.

        The term “soccer” is a British term derived from “Association Football … asoccer … soccer.” Initially, the word was used by the British upper classes who played the sport. Commoners coined the term “football.” Outside of North America, the game is also called soccer in Australia, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa and parts of the Caribbean.

        As Albert Camus said, “All I learned in life, I learned from football.”
        .-= Steve Amoia´s last blog ..Dunga Releases Roster for Emirates Friendly with the Republic of Ireland =-.

        • Do wish US would call soccer “football” and give football another name. After all, the rest of the world does. But not going to happen.
          .-= Meryl K Evans´s last blog ..Books and eBooks: Keep or Purge? =-.

          • “Pointyball?”
            .-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.

            • Anne

              See… we’re starting football’s new name already… I’ll go for pointyball played by pointed headed… oh never mind.

          • Anne

            Maybe we can start a new name here?

        • Anne

          Won’t be the first time I’m in a minority… which I suspect is true for every freelancer.

          One source has Camus’ quote as “what I most surely know in the long run about morality and the obligations of men, I owe to sport, I learned it with RUA” Your version is more pithy. 😉

          In truth I didn’t at first believe Camus said anything remotely like that – wrong again.

  • 🙂 Sometimes I STILL fantasize about a mindless job. But I’d be sharkbait in a 9-5 these days. Too spoiled as far as work hours, clothes, commuting. 🙂 Which is odd, because I am a very very disciplined person. But I guess I’m disciplined in the ways I need to be here, as an IC.

    I also agree with Lori. I recall some serious 80 hour work weeks with nearly no income to show for it. That’s the building stage, and I suppose if one can get through that, it’s a good start.
    .-= Allena´s last blog ..Multiple Streams of Income =-.

    • Anne

      lol, I used to want to be a housewife in pink hair curlers too… seemed so simple from one perspective. Glad it never happened.

  • Freelance writing is a tough gig. I agree with these warnings and I would add another point: it’s a business, stupid.

    Things like marketing, bookkeeping, debt-collection, sales, negotiation, pitching, client management, project management, tax etc. are not optional extras. They’re part of the deal.

    I often come across people who want to be writers but who don’t want to deal with all this stuff. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.
    .-= Matthew Stibbe´s last blog ..The best plays in London – Jerusalem and Twelfth Night =-.

    • Anne

      Matthew, you’re so right! It is a business and all that needs to be included… I know that of course and so do you… I may amend the article. Or do one along those lines. Thanks

  • It’s certainly a difficult road to take. There are many people who started the trek as freelancers and abandoned it for the safety and security of a “real job”. You have to be stubborn to succeed. You also have to have tough skin, rejection is part of the job and your work is constantly being judged by others.

    I think the only reason anyone should ever get into freelancing in any field is because they can’t bring themselves to settle for anything else. If you can’t stand the idea of doing anything else, you’ll have the moxie (as Lori called it) to make freelancing work for you. If you’d be just as content doing some other kind of work, do that instead.
    .-= Rebecca Laffar-Smith´s last blog ..Melissa Hart On Family, Love, and Food =-.

  • Totally agree! I think I’d add just one thing – you’re willing to work hard and long before seeing results. You have to have the moxie to stick it out when the jobs aren’t coming in regularly, and you have to have the will power to really push yourself when things look bleak.
    .-= Lori Widmer´s last blog ..Sending the Wrong Mesage =-.

    • Anne

      Yeah, the persistence or stubbornness – it’s got to be there.

  • I completely agree. There are too many people who think it’s “easy money” or they don’t want to market, or they can’t be bothered to learn the craft. And then they wonder why they’re only landing a rare assignment that pays next to nothing.
    You have to have motivation, skill, and creativity.
    .-= Devon Ellington´s last blog ..Monday, March 1, 2010 =-.

    • Anne

      One of the sad things on the net are the ads offering to teach folks to make a ton of money without much effort by writing copy or seo writing or who knows what.

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