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Freelancing 101: How To Become A Freelance Writer

It’s all well and good to wake up some morning and say, “I’d like to be a freelance writer.” It is a path I took… kind of. I started my working life right out of high school as an office manager for a government agency. I worked with ladies who were in their 60s, and as an 18-year-old, it made for long days and was not a great experience. I left there to work at a local drug store and worked my way up to a store manager and a regional manager. Then along came my children, and I realized I didn’t want to be working long hours on all of the holidays.

I held a series of uninteresting jobs–ones that paid the bills–but I wanted to finally pursue my dream job of working at a newspaper. At that time, in the mid 1980s, there was a local paper called The Journal-Register. I read it daily. I visited the editor almost weekly asking, “Do you have any articles I can write?” He’d laugh and say no. Undeterred, I kept that up for a few months then I decided to up the ante to obnoxious. I took every one of the papers I read and circled all of the mistakes. There were a lot. I also added a document with what the correct spelling or phrase or punctuation should be. Oh yeah, he loved seeing me coming in every Friday afternoon with a stack of edited newspapers.

One day, I think just to get rid of me, he said I could take over the obituary desk. My first week on the job there was not a single mistake nor did the funeral homes request that we re-run any of the obits. The editor took note. After a month of part time doing obits, I was given the police beat. Again, no mistakes and no recanting of the blotter items because of an error. My break came when I was the only one available to cover a big village board meeting because the other reporters couldn’t make it in because of a snow storm. The pressure was on.

I attended the meeting. I wrote three articles. All of them received editorial approval. They ran and not a single village board politician called and yelled about an error. I had arrived. I was offered the coveted village board beat in addition to police and obituaries and the opportunity to write a feature a week. I had truly arrived!

This may not be the path you want to take or have taken to become a freelance writer or blogger, but it is my path. From the reporter beat I eventually moved up to the editor of the paper, then took on the role of magazine editor with a business publication, started my own writer’s magazine, and acted as the editor and publisher then moved into blogging. I honed my skills through hard work, perseverance and a damn good grasp of the language. Whew! How can you become a freelance writer? There are many ways to achieve that dream and they don’t have to involve obnoxiously editing the work of others to show how much you know — although it did work for me!

The Internet has opened up more possibilities for a freelance writer to begin a career; you just need to know how to get there.

How to become a freelance writer


Be a great writer.

Gone are the days when people say, “Oh, it’s on the Internet, it doesn’t really have to be written well.” I am not certain who started that myth but myth it was. If you’re writing, I urge you to write well. Why wouldn’t you put your best foot (aka words) forward when they are in the Internet for the entire world to see? Sure, there will be times when you make your post go live and someone drops you a message letting you know they found a typo. To that I say, “Thank you!” I write and edit my own work, and even though I read my posts several times in several different mediums (ask me if you want to know more), an error can still slip through. I am human, after all.

If you don’t know how to spell a word, look it up. If you aren’t certain of a fact, Google it.

To make it as a freelancer, you will either need to:

  1. Find clients who will hire you to write and who will pay you, or
  2. You will query editors of publications you enjoy and perhaps they will pay you. Writing for magazines is no longer as lucrative as it once was and you may not bring in a steady stream of income unless you can assure you’re putting out articles and getting them accepted regularly.
  3. Participate in blogger campaigns and earn money from sponsored posts.

There are other ways to make money writing, but for the sake of argument let’s stick with these three for now.

Regardless of where you seek freelance writing opportunities, you need to write well. You don’t need a PhD, but you need to have a grasp of the language, a love of the language and a mastery of grammar. I’ve heard it attributed to fantasy author David Eddings that you need to have written one million words to have achieved mastery. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know the more I write, the better I get.

Why do you want to be a freelancer?

Decide whether you want to write fiction or nonfiction or both. Nonfiction is typically easier to sell, more lucrative and, in many cases, will take you a shorter time to write than will, say, a novel.

Do you want to write for a living or for a bit of spending cash or for fun? Decide why you want to be a freelancer as that will help you put together a business plan to meet that particular goal.

Make note of your qualifications. Again, you don’t have to have a PhD, but you should have an expertise in a particular area. When I used to teach fiction, the mantra from the “writing greats” was to “write what you know.” Well, I write paranormal, historical romance… um, how would I “know” that? My mantra was “research what you don’t know.” There you have it! If you don’t know about a particular topic you need to become a researching and interviewing guru and connect with people who do know what you don’t know.

Make note of what is driving you toward a freelancer’s life. It isn’t an easy row to hoe, but if you “make it” (whatever “making it” means to you) it is the most satisfying of careers. I know. I’ve been living my dream for close to 12 years now.

You need the gift of gab.

Yes, as a freelancer you are working from home, but you also need to know how to interact with others. Even if you’re sending a query letter (more on query letters in another Freelancing 101 post, stay tuned!) via email, there may be a time when the editor or blog owner you’re reaching out to will want a face-to-face (via video, perhaps) or a phone call. You need to be able to carry on a conversation with humans and you need to be able to sell yourself and convince the editor that you are THE person for the writing gig you’re pursuing.



Your dream might kill your passion.

What?! It’s true. You may LOVE writing, but you may not LOVE writing when your livelihood depends on it. I know many a writer who absolutely loved the written word and churned out hundreds of thousands of them BUT when they had to do it on a regular basis–aka not just when the Muse was present–they came to dread putting words to paper.

When you decide to become a freelance writer and are pursuing a living at this chosen path, you need to be able to write on demand. You have to write even when you don’t want to write. Writing will become a “job” and you have to be prepared for that.

Perhaps you will no longer look upon writing as a romantic endeavor. Be prepared.

The home office conundrum.

Oh, it is a joy to work in one’s pajamas surrounded by your dogs and cats and lizards and whatever other pet you live with. However, there are those days when you realize that ALL you have to talk with are your pets and it can feel lonely. You may miss the watercooler conversations discussing the latest Kardashian escapade.

Another distraction that us work-from-home-ers face is the “I could do a load of laundry” or “run errands” or “vacuum” or “watch television and eat bonbons” dilemma. It is very easy to fall into the trap of, “well, my deadline isn’t until Friday so I have time to take a bit of time off and meet friends for ice cream today.” Believe me, today becomes tomorrow becomes the day before your deadline and then panic sets in. Sure, you may feel you work best under pressure, but I’ll bet your final product will be better if you work on it sooner rather than later, am I right?

I speak from experience. The idea of “being my own boss” lead me to gobs of procrastinated time. BUT you have to remember, when you’re a business owner, if you don’t produce you don’t get paid. When I worked for others there were times I slacked off and put projects off until last minute, but guess what? I still walked out on Friday will a pay check for a full weeks’ worth of work. You don’t realize the benefit of that until you realize you don’t get paid until you turn projects in. Keep that in mind.

An organized freelancer is a productive freelancer.

Yep, I am on my soapbox about the importance of organization. You don’t function and you are not as productive as you say you are in a messy environment. A messy desk is not a badge of honor. A messy workspace does not put for the message of, “Wow that person is SOOOO busy. They must be! Look at her desk.” Frankly a messy desk is just that a messy desk.

Clean it up. Organize the physical and virtual desk top. Set up a filing system. Get your receipts for business purchases into a program like Evernote or a bookkeeping system and file the physical paperwork.

Set office hours.

Don’t fall into the trap of working from when you wake until you go to sleep again. Set office hours – whatever works for your client communications as well as your personal rhythms. Perhaps you function at your highest productivity at 5 am, 5 pm or midnight. Know yourself and schedule your work hours around your most productive times.

Let friends, family and clients know when your office hours are and that you truly are working and no you can’t run their errands.

Network with other freelance writers.

You need to continually build and nurture your tribe. Join writer’s communities. Jump into Facebook writer’s groups. Seek out online courses or places in which other writers gather. These groups and the friendships you will cultivate will be invaluable as you’re growing your freelance business.

Attend conferences like BlogPaws. If you’re in the pet space, there is no better place to meet and make friends with other pet loving people who are trying to make a living pursuing their pet-centric passion.

Get out of the house and attend Chamber of Commerce or other networking events. Look for in-person courses you can take. Don’t let your exploration of the world come to a halt because you’re working so hard to become a full-fledged freelance writer. Exploration and meeting new people keeps you relevant and in the know.

What path did you take to become a freelance writer?

Robbi Hess will be speaking on Time Management  For The Blogger at the BlogPaws 2016 Conference. She is an award-winning author who works with clients on time management issues as well as content creation and content strategy at All Words Matter.

Images: A. and I. Kruk/Shutterstock.com and Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

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