Freelance writing! It’s the perfect job if you want to be a writer, but you’re not too attached to the idea of job security or regular meals. Between the internet and the self-publishing boom, it’s more possible than ever to live a meager existence as a freelance writer. You too can be a gremlin who sits at home writing all day and never leaves the house! But if you’re a full-time freelancer, you’ll need some survival tips for freelance writers.
As Liz Lemon, patron saint of workaholic writers, puts it, “I’m a freelancer, which is pretty much a modern-day cowboy.” And like a cowboy, you must learn to juggle several different writing tasks while sitting on a dusty horse. Forget your dreams of lounging in 1920s-inspired hotel bars, writing in a leather-bound notebook while a handsome stranger tries to get your attention. You’re going to spend a lot of time at home, in front of a laptop, in your scruffiest pajamas, trying to come up with a good pitch for a list about 90s fashion. But it’ll be worth it, because you’ll earn your life as a professional writer.
This is possible. So check out these tips to help you live the freelance life:
1. Try to avoid becoming a vampire
Before you even get into the dangers of trying to get paid as a freelancer, know this: you are responsible for your own schedule. If you don’t plan time to go out, you will never go outside. If you work better at night, do your thing. But don’t underestimate the power of stepping out and squinting into the sunlight. Write in this cafe with overpriced scones once in a while. Also, be sure to make plans with other members of life, as writing from home can be a lonely job.
2. Hunt down customers and kill them
I mean don’t kill them kill them. But do leap at every opportunity. Advertise on freelance networks. Find sites that publish writing assignments. Use social media, even though social media is rude and a nightmare. Harass your friends/mom/mom’s friends until they spit out all the contacts looking for a writing job. Reach out to writers and publications you admire. Only you can find your next gig. Just be sure to mask your desperation with a well-trained skill.
3. It’s OK to say NO
Being independent is a hustle, but that doesn’t mean you have to say “Yes!” asset. Once you’ve gotten the ball rolling with a writing gig or two, you can be a little more discerning. If you already have too much time, be honest. If you don’t feel comfortable writing adult content, say so. If someone wants you to help them get published, or wants you to write for “exposure,” you can laugh wildly in their face and then politely decline.
4. Set boundaries
Part 2 of Saying NO: Limits are your friend. Clarify due dates and pay schedules will save everyone a huge headache later (requesting a contract in writing is both reasonable and sexy). If a customer is overtly rude to you, let them go. And be clear about your hours with clients, employers, and friends and family. Otherwise your family will be confuse “freelance writer” with “unemployed,” then ask him to help her move a closet at 2:00 p.m. on a Wednesday.
5. Get Paid
To have. Paid. Get paid. Do not work for exposure. People die from exposure. Of course, if you have a passion project that brings in bupkis but makes you happy, go for it. But 99.99% of the jobs you take should be paid. People will ask you to write for free, but writing is your job, not your hobby. Make sure you know how, when and how much you get paid upfront. Don’t be afraid to negotiate your rate or stand firm if someone tries to renege on a deal. Your clients have to pay for the work you’ve done, even if they don’t like the result.
Do it. Right now. Get out of your chair and stretch. Sitting all day writing for clients and then sitting all night working on your screenplay from a twenty-something freelance writer will cost you dearly. Breaks are great, even if you’re just going down the block to catch a Pidgey.
7. Love enemies
If you write freelance, your work will likely be published on the internet at some point. And if, God forbid, you commit some kind of atrocity like splitting an infinitive or being a woman, the wrath of the internet will descend upon you. Or a client will get upset because your handwriting doesn’t match their indescribable specifications. Its good. Shake. Come up with dynamite pitches for the next gig. Work on your own stuff. The infinitive rule is for Latin, anyway. In English grammar, there is nothing wrong with splitting infinitives.
8 o’clock. Manage.
There will come a time when it’s one o’clock in the morning, and you’re working on your fourth article for the day, and you’ll start to wonder how you thought freelancing would save you time in the long run. Time management is essential. Make lists. Make schedules. Set timers. Write to the library or coffee shop, or join a writing group if it helps you stick to regular writing hours. Having flexible hours is a double-edged sword (like most swords).
9. Be ready to defend your lifestyle against strangers.
Some people will stare at you because they think the life of a professional writer should be glamorous and intriguing. Others will look at you with slight panic, as it pains them that you have chosen such an uncertain career path. Other freelance writers will attack you on sight to clear up the competition. Go to workshops and open mics, find your community of artistic support, and try to sound worldly and knowledgeable in front of judging strangers.
10. Peanut butter ramen is a perfectly acceptable dinner
Bonus tip: if you buy regular coffee with a dose of flavor, it tastes almost as good as a latte and costs a lot less. If you can figure out how to photosynthesize instead of eat, that’s even better.
11. Know Thyself
I can’t think of a catchier phrase than “personal brand”. But it’s important to know your strengths and highlight them. If you’re good at humor, don’t spend all your time writing tech. Figure out what sets your writing apart and focus on that. Write the things that only you can write (and if you also want to have a very specific Twitter persona, I won’t stop you).
12. Stop reading this article and go write
The internet is full of distractions and detours. But you chose freelance writing because you love writing. So go write! Talking about writing and reading about writing will never get you as far as sitting down and writing. Dorothy Parker said it best: “Writing is the art of applying ass to seat.”
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