How to Become a Freelance Writer

by WorkFromHome on April 17, 2011

Enjoying an extra income from freelance writing may sound too good to be true, but there are many opportunities that pay freelance writers a fair or even generous fee for their writing. Freelance writers work as independent contractors, contracting with clients on an individual basis instead of working as an employee full-time for someone else. As a result, those freelance writers who are both competent writers and willing to devote enough time to writing professionally, are even able to support themselves entirely on the fees that they are paid from their freelance writing gigs. Whether you want to keep your freelance writing as a part-time gig that helps to finance family vacations and pads your retirement account or turn it into a full-time profession, the steps to get started are the same.

Do Not Just Write, Write Well

Every day millions of Australians set pen or pencil to paper and write sentences. Even more type out those sentences on the computer. No one is paying them for their writing. To be paid for your writing, you must be an excellent writer. This may sound like an obvious first step, but it is the biggest difference between a professional freelance writer and an amateur is the quality of their writing.

Professional quality writing is not defined by its use of the most complex terms possible. On the contrary, professional quality writing is concise and precise in its use of the most exact terms available. It also uses excellent grammar, suitable to the situation at hand. If you do not already have these lingual skills, then it is time to head back to the classroom. Check out your local university to see if they are offering any basic writing courses that can give you a refresher on the basics of grammar. If you have not already obtained a degree, then this may be the time to do so. After all, a freelance writer with a degree in writing will be paid more than one that has no university degree at all.

Even if you do not need to take a course before embarking on your new career path, you should still invest in a book or two on writing and grammar basics. These reference materials will prove invaluable as you continue your career writing about different topics and situations.

Communications Is Key, Written Or Not

You may be tempted by a career path in freelance writing because it offers you the ability to earn a great living without the stress of having to go into the office every day. While this is true, freelance writing will not keep you from interacting with others. Being a freelance writer means that not only will you be writing articles, fiction, ebooks and other materials for clients, but you also will be working to attract and retain those clients. As a result, you will have to be comfortable with communicating with corporate vice presidents, administrative assistants, proofreaders and many others.

Be ready to communicate in person as well as in writing, especially at the start of your freelance writing career. Networking is likely to be how you get your first client or series of clients, which means that you will be talking up your freelance writing capabilities. Practice your brief description of your services and qualifications. Decide ahead of time how much you charge for your services, since, if someone is interested, that is sure to be a question that they ask.

Ensuring that your freelance writing career is a long and productive one means that you continue that great communication with the client over the course of the relationship. A written contract that includes a description of the services that you will provide, when you will render your final product and any other salient details, such as when payment is due and in what form, is essential to a professional relationship.

If you plan to sell something, such as a book to a publisher, than a query letter that describes your book idea and the experience and qualifications that you plan to use to write it, is the industry standard. If you have not been published previously, then you should be able to honestly tell the publisher that your book is a complete manuscript that is ready for him or her to review. If you have been published, then include that information.

Be Disciplined

There are so many upsides to being able to work from home. Many freelance writers list benefits like being able to write from their couches, wearing panamas while on conference calls with their publishers and choosing their own hours as their favourite parts of their job. However, these highlights can quickly turn into quicksand for a freelance writer who is unable to focus without a time clock or boss to keep him on task.

The first step to staying disciplined is to take the time and energy to try to separate your professional and personal lives. Even on days when you are working from home, you should still take the time to get dressed. It may still be in comfortable clothes, but the difference will be important for your state of mind. Carve out a space for your writing in your home. It could be a small desk, an entire office or something in between, but an organized space for your papers, reference materials and writing is important. It is okay to spend some time writing on your laptop while on the couch, but try to set up a more ergonomic work station if you plan to write for several hours each day.

Stay on track to complete all of your assignments as you promised your clients with an electronic or paper diary. An online calendar is a great way to stay on track even if you are standing at a cocktail hour talking up your freelance writing, since you can quickly look at it through your smart phone and know whether or not you are free to take on an assignment due on a given date. Over time, you will develop your own system for tracking the progress of each article, but a basic online calendar and task manage should be enough to get you started.

But What If Freelance Writing Is Not Going Well

Remember, not every assignment that you accept is going to be incredibly interesting, rewarding or fun. Some may leave you annoyed with the client, frustrated with freelance work’s solo nature and thinking of taking on a full-time job or otherwise irked. This is perfectly normal. Of course, part of freelance writing is being able to take on the jobs that you are most interested in, and turning down those articles, ebooks and other assignments that do not appeal to you.

As you continue to build your reputation and gain more experience, you will feel more comfortable saying “no” to a request for your writing. You also will develop your own personal checklist for deciding whether to take on a new client’s projects. Perhaps you will begin to turn down requests for articles that are written in American English or you will require new clients to provide you with a fifty percent deposit upon agreement of the terms of your contract.

If you are concerned because you are struggling to find new clients for your freelance writing, then do not despair. The first step is to make certain that you have nailed down solid credentials, including an appropriate university degree. Adding additional publication credentials is the next step. Show that your work is professional quality submitting your writing to small, non-paying websites and magazines. Your reward is being able to add the publication credit to your portfolio. Take the time to update your portfolio as you add new publishing credits. It should be a single PDF file that contains all of your best work, with the most impressive pieces in the front of the file. Delete the less impressive pieces as your career progresses, and you are able to replace them with increasingly impressive published pieces of writing.

Leverage the internet to help you with your search for freelance writing jobs. After all, the internet is how you will be communicating with most, if not all, of your clients. It is only natural that you should use it to find them in the first place. Look at job listing websites to see which small, mid-size and large businesses need freelance writers to help them with short term writing assignments. Some of these businesses may even have lucrative recurring long term assignments.

Start using your network of contacts to start to build your list of freelance writing clients. If you had a career in the corporate world before having children, then it is time to call your contacts up to see if you can use those connections. If you have friends or relatives who are involved in marketing, publishing, news media or advertising then let them know that you are now writing professionally. Remember to provide them with business cards!

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