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7 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started Freelance Writing

starting freelance writingAs I look back on my writing career, it’s easy to see the things I know now I wish I’d known then. Or maybe not. The experience of learning each of these has also been invaluable.

In the interest, however, of giving you some ideas about you and your writing, consider these seven things I wish I’d known in the beginning:

  1. My article ideas are good ones. Early on I thought I had to have a block-buster idea to sell an article to a magazine. Slowly it dawned on me that most magazines are filled with not mega hits, but with solid information that one way or another was about the human experience. So my experience as a mother was perfect fodder for a magazine aimed at mothers. Likewise my humorous approach to computer problems worked well for computer magazines aimed at the consumer. In fact pretty much anything that was going on in my life could be turned into an article if I found the right magazine and the right tone. Writing A Draft? Silence That Inner Critic! may help.
  2. Magazines really are open to new writers. Most magazines are happy to find new writers. After all, month after month after month the magazine must be filled with x number of words written by x number of writers. Although editors love having a stable stable of writers, the truth is writers get old, develop new interests, move on, die, stop writing for various reasons, etc. etc. etc.  Replacement for those writers come from two sources, writers with lots of credits and writers with few credits. The former generally cost more while the later can be groomed to fit the magazine perfectly. The take-away? Go ahead and submit your article on spec or your query.
  3. Editors are not God. Well, editors are a sort of god or goddess for their publication in the way they can say yes or no to ideas or writers. They are after all in charge. But editors are also real human beings and they have a problem. They need to meet their deadline and please their readers. It’s the writers that provide what editors need to solve their problems. Sure, some of them are more approachable than others – don’t you find that true of all humans? But you’ll never know until you try. Until you submit a query or an article on spec, the odds of any one editor even suspecting you exist is minuscule.
  4. Most people don’t write well. I don’t know why, but I thought that since I wrote reasonably well, other people must be able to do the same thing. In other words, I didn’t value my abilities; I didn’t know how. I was fortunate enough to work where I got an opportunity to see the writing of others – it was in my father’s real estate office and most of the sales people there couldn’t draft a truly coherent written response to a client, or a sales letter or a real estate ad. As those began to fall to me because I could, I gradually began to recognize I indeed had some talent to communicate via words in print.

  5. My writing was good enough. I agonized over my writing in the beginning. Now I know that suffering, particularly around issues like that, are more a matter of fear than anything else. Yes, my writing improved over time which, I suppose, means it wasn’t as ‘good’ then as it is now. That’s not the point. The point is I did write and I did begin to submit. I somehow managed to sidestep that ego-driven drive for a perfection I wouldn’t have recognized. I still wouldn’t recognize perfection, or don’t. Who knows, it may be perfect just the way it is. I have no way of telling and insisting on perfection guarantees I’ll never finish.
  6. The simple desire to write may be enough as long as you keep writing. Although I longed to live by my writing, for so long it seemed an impossible dream. And then in wasn’t. There were, I think, two elements in this switch to success. The first is I kept writing and the second was I began to value myself and my writing. A FAQ About Getting Started In Freelance Writing may give you some more ideas about what works.
  7. Writing is physically draining. I’m still surprised by this one, but in the beginning I thought I was sick. When I’m deep in a piece of writing for an hour or so it’s both a lovely and a draining experience. I feel exhausted because at some level both my body and my mind are literally tired. I’ve come to honor that – sometimes with a gentle walk outside, sometimes with a nap. Getting away from writing for at least an hour or two is a must. There’s some sort of battery re-charging that has to take place. It’s normal, and I’m glad I know that now.

What have you learned that you wished you knew when you started writing?


{ 23 comments… add one }
  • It still brings me up short when people say, “I love how you write.” I think to myself, like you did, that because it comes so easily, everyone should be able to do it and why would mine be anything special? Yet I know for a FACT they can’t. I took an online college course where we had to share our work. I pitied the professor who had to mine through such poor writing to find a morsel of concept.

    Thanks for your words. This post encouraged me.

    • I used to be surprised… now I just arch an eyebrow or simply say thanks

  • Kara

    What a refreshing post! I have been researching freelance writing recently and I expected this list to be more in the hard-nosed vein: the life-of-a-freelance-writer is misery and marketing. This post resonates with me and actually encourages me to keep pursuing this option. Thanks for this insight.

  • I keep resisting sending pitches to magazines because I think “well, I’m good enough for the web.” And yet I continually get feedback from my editors that my stuff is (to quote one yesterday) SO DARN GOOD.

    I really need to learn how to trust in my skills, I think.
    Miss Britt recently posted..Do you have too many valuesMy Profile

  • Great post!!! Thank you!
    helen recently posted..Feb 20- eReaders GuideMy Profile

  • Bianca

    This is an inspiring article for those of us just starting out in the freelance world. Sometimes we spend so much time questioning ourselves, our ideas and our ability that we find ourselves inert.
    I’ve stopped questioning myself and just get on with writing and now I find that the words come more easily. I’m going to print this out and pin it to the wall above my desk. Then I’m going to start writing query letters. Thanks for the positivity!

    Bianca’s blog on traveling Victoria Australia – Day Jaunts

    • Keep us posted Bianca on how the query writing goes…

  • Very helpful article that had me laughing at myself! I’ve been freelance writing for over 20 years using the “lick and a promise” method. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the L&P method involves writing a little, selling a little, and making a lot of excuses for why I’m not accomplishing more with my writing. Now, I’m learning that consistency and perseverance are worth more than all the “golden” ideas and kid-free afternoons put together. I can write reams of articles in 30-minute blocks of time if I write consistently. (Of course, the kid-free afternoon is still a treasured experience! :))

  • Jan

    Thank you Anne. Try try again; writing seems to come back on my ‘must do to keep my soul awake’ list. Even at $0.01 a word. I must explore the world of queries and get pro-active. Making $20 on constant-content put me in 7th heaven for a day. That was months ago.

    • Jan, if you’re getting a penny a word, you can move up to two or five. A $20 article on constant comment most likely means you can get $25 or $50 elsewhere – keep writing and keep on moving up.

  • I’ve been a freelance writer for years now and I really think this post is spot-on. I’m going to share this link on facebook for my wanna-break-into-the-business friends. Thanks!
    Brenna recently posted..If you have a girly girl at home you need this nail polishMy Profile

  • Great post Anne, thanks for sharing.

  • Thank you for this article, as well as your straightforward friendly style of writing that makes me feel like, “Hey! I can send out queries!”

    What stumps me is the futility of finding the right niches. But I have learned with all of the other writing I do that as long as I start somewhere, something will happen eventually and also that it’s a numbers game more than anything!

    • Kyrsten, I know we all talk about finding niches, but when I look back, the niches found me… as you say, start something!

  • If numbers 5,6 & 7 don’t ring true to your readers there’s something wrong. As long as your writing daily, the writing will be good enough for someone somewhere. And I’m glad I’m not the only one whose eyes, fingers and head hurt after staring at the computer screen trying to bang out words.
    Bill Swan recently posted..When No One Around You Considers Your Writing WorkMy Profile

    • If I’m writing well, that is, actually writing… 4 hours is a full full day.

    • or writing regularly… daily really doesn’t work for some… and some complete a novel over only weekends. It’s the regularity that counts.

  • Wow. Excellent post. This week marks my official entrance into the freelance world, so many of the things you mentioned here resonated with me. I am mostly struggling with Points #1 and 2. Although I’ve written articles for both magazines and newspapers, the topics were always decided for me, so the idea of generating ideas and—gulp!—sending out queries makes me tremble quite a bit.

    I know I’ll need to push through the fear in that particular area, and posts like this one help me believe that it’s definitely possible. It’s encouraging to know that established writers such as yourself have dealt with those same insecurities and conquered them. Thanks, Anne, for all you do 🙂

    • Lisa, congrats on joining the field… and remember, not a single one of us was born knowing how to write queries, etc.

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