How Not To Suck at Freelance Writing

Being a freelance writer isn’t an easy gig. Many people wake up on January 1st and after staring at themselves through a hazy fog of cheap champagne and celebratory glitter decide that this would be the year they took the big step and pursue their passion for the written word.

Three months and several rejection letters later they sit alone in their basement home office muttering about being an under appreciated, true artist. Instead of writing for a living, they spend the majority of the day failing at freelancing. Fortunately, after spending a fair amount of time sucking at this job and talking with other writers who have also, at some point sucked, I have found five truisms that should keep you from flunking out of freelance writing:

Freelancing is a J-O-B.

The bunny slippers, the special hours, the inordinate amount of time spent checking email or taking photos of food may make this gig look like a cool excuse for tax write-offs. I assure you, whether you are wearing a bathrobe or a business suit, if you don’t commit to working you won’t eat. Internet currency/street cred/real estate cannot be printed off and used as cash to pay the gas bill. I’ve tried it already.

Real world client interactions rock.

It’s shocking I know, and if you need to take a few moments to compose yourself I understand. There are times where you’ll have to *deep breath* unplug from the Matrix and get out there to find clients. Networking events,

business events and conferences, etc. are places to find these clients. If you have a niche, go to events for that niche, then you can hit them up on Twitter, FB, LinkedIn, etc.

If you never leave the house, you will miss out on a lot of opportunities.

Embrace technology.

If you want to pick a low-budget, start-up business, freelance writing is the way to go. To start, all you really need is a computer, an internet connection and a printer. However, if you stop there, the freelance writing money wagon will not stop at your door.

Okay, I’m not sure about there being a wagon, it could be an internet rumor like Facebook shutting down. The truth is, if you are unable to communicate with an editor, don’t have a website with links to your work or refuse to get on that Tweety thing or Faceplant you are going to miss opportunities.

You don’t need a fancy website, but you do need a little slice of internet real estate where you can host your clips. The advantage is two fold: many editors don’t open files from people they don’t know which means your query with clips attached may be deleted or shunted to the spam file. Also, you cannot rely on a website to keep your clips live. Saving them as a PDF and uploading them to your website will keep you from losing clips to limited bandwith or upgrading tragedies.

While you’re setting up your site, grab yourself an email account, an IM (instant message) profile and a social media account. If you have to pick one I would start with Twitter. Facebook tends to be more personal, while Twitter allows you to follow people in the industry without being personally connected.

Avoid begging.

You don’t need a paying client immediately to pay the rent, you have an opening in your schedule. It’s the difference between “Please go out with me, I haven’t had a date in a year” and “I scored two tickets to the game on Saturday, would you like to go with me?” Desperation is a turn-off in both the public and private sector. So don’t announce to Twitter that you need a job. Approach clients/editors privately – dm, email, phone call and let them know you  are available.

Do Your Research.

Not a week goes by that I don’t get an email that says “I love/like/tolerate/skim your work on Freelance Writing Jobs, how do I become a freelance writer?” I always wonder why they left a site chock full of info, from a variety of industry professionals, to send me an email.

When I write back I always direct them back to FWJ and include a few of my favorite “Get started links.” I do this not to be an ass, but to give them the opportunity to use their own research skills to find the information that is important to them. Every writer has different goals, pathways and priorities when it comes to this profession. Putting in the time to research the industry boosts a writer’s confidence and affords them an opportunity to personalize their writing journey.

Being a freelance writer isn’t easy, but it is a worthwhile, bankable profession as long as writers keep an eye out for possible pitfalls on the way to writing success. Starting out well and maintaining good habits along the way will hopefully keep you from enduring a suckfest. I’ve been there and it’s not fun. You don’t need to be a starving artist to have a successful writing story. Plus, a rumbling tummy interferes with your inner monologue as you write.

Got any tips on how to stay sucker free? Share them below!


20 responses
  1. Some jerk who actually cares about the English language Avatar

    Did I write a message to you FWJ people about grammar and punctuation? Why, yes, I did.
    Did you then post another blog full of errors? You sure did! I don’t know if you actually have any control over this blog content, but if you don’t, why are you posting it on your site and advertising it on Facebook, and goodness knows where else?

    I don’t know why I continue to read this, because all it ever does is upset me. How do these people have any clients left?

    Wow. Just wow. Flames…on the side of my face.

    1. Franky Branckaute Avatar

      Hi Grrr Hed,

      First of all congratulations on calling yourself Jerk. As you wonder yourself, I don’t know why I continue to read this, because all it ever does is upset me.

      I must say that after your flame on the FWJ Facebook, I don’t know either why you continue reading. As said in my reply to you on Facebook: if you don’t like the site, or its grammar, feel free to leave. We can not nor will stop you. We will continue doing what we do best and that is provide useful tips to the people who read and do enjoy our site. As you can see in the comments to this post alone, our site *does* seem to be both valuable and entertaining.

      Additionally, a wise man once said: If you don’t have anything constructive to say, don’t say a thing at all. Leaving comments like these, online, certainly do not help your online profile as a writer. Imagine: a possible employer discovers your blog and comments you leave all over the internet. Do you really think they will hire you? Think again.

      Franky Branckaute.
      Splashpress Media CEO.

  2. bobbi carr Avatar
    bobbi carr

    lol — Thanks for the humor-filled reality check!

    1. Terreece Clarke Avatar

      I’m glad you liked it Bobbi!

  3. Samantha Bangayan Avatar

    Haha! Love it! How about: “Don’t be so full of yourself”? =P As in not overdoing the self-marketing, developing real relationships with others and helping other freelance writers grow (like with this post) and really considering the clients’ needs. =)

    1. Terreece Clarke Avatar

      That it a good one Samantha, but you know, if you say you’re something on Facebook or Twitter it must be true! So, I’m queen of England when Liz is out of town :0)

  4. Carol | Make a Living Writing Avatar

    Hi Terreece — great post!

    In polling my readers, I’ve found many writers are absolutely terrified about somehow ‘blowing it’ in their attempts to become freelance writers. It really surprised me! In fact, we all make mistakes and keep learning.

    Every editor in America does not know every other editor, so even if you do blow a situation, there are a million more out there.

    With basics like you’ve suggested, they should be on firm footing.

    1. Terreece Clarke Avatar

      Thanks Carol. I think in our rush to be professionals we agonize over everything trying hard to never make a mistake. It can really paralyze you sometimes. I know it gets me sometimes with a new client…

  5. Kathryn Lang Avatar

    I think the reason people send the emails is they are looking for the quick fix – the overnight success – and they want it fed to them. I always tell people that I got into freelance writing with A, B, and C, but each journey will be unique. The only way to be successful at freelance writing is to start writing. 😀

    1. Terreece Clarke Avatar

      I’m starting to think it’s like becoming a Jedi, there’s no clear way, just general steps. Shoot if I had a quick fix I’d be a millionaire!

  6. Jennifer L Avatar

    I completely agree with Kathryn. People sometimes think there is One True Way to becoming a writer. A friend once emailed me and wrote something about how his sister wanted to be a writer and could I just tell her what to do? I laughed for a good long while. I mean, I know he had good intentions, but…

    1. Terreece Clarke Avatar

      Now Jennifer, you know we only really work a little bit and spend the rest of the time watching Oprah and drinking coffee while Tweeting… Ha!

      Specific questions are cool, the really broad ones are killer. I used to write pages of stuff in response. Then I realized I wouldn’t be able to keep doing that and get any work done.

  7. allena Avatar

    I don’t know about the whole “leaving the house” thing. I live in a low cost-of-living area. Local clients will NOT pay me what my publishers in NYC pay me! In addition to that, they often want tedious meetings at the local starbucks… I don’t have time for that, I have 6 hours a day to get in 10 hours of work. NO thanks, I’ll keep it virtual.

    1. Terreece Clarke Avatar

      Allena, you’re right, you do have to weigh your options. On of my friend’s channeled her inner supermodel and doesn’t meet with a client for a project under a certain amount in person.

  8. Holly Bowne Avatar

    I agree with your tips! The hardest one for me personally was to get out in the “real world,” but doing so did lead to some lucrative connections and some great writing jobs. (And how sad that someone felt the need to share all that negativity!)

    1. Terreece Clarke Avatar

      That person to person connection really helps, and that’s the toughest one for me as well. I’m a homebody and then after I go to an event or meet with a client I’m energized and wonder why I don’t go out more!

  9. Lily Archer Avatar

    I find it extremely ironic that a blog post about how “not to suck at freelance writing” has tons of grammatical errors, not to mention the poor punctuation. Wtf? A site full of wannabe “writers” and people act as though this is normal? Might explain why people have a hard time keeping clients/getting higher paying jobs.

    1. Terreece M. Clarke Avatar

      Hi Ms. Archer!

      I appreciate your concern, I also understand your frustration. Initially, my post did have a few unintentional errors. Charge it to a ”never say die” attitude and a house full of sick people, not my heart or skill. I addressed another reader’s concern over on our Facebook page and didn’t address the same person here.

      To keep it short, I updated the post above to remove my errors, anything else is pretty much how I wanted it to be. The breathless run-ons in particular, however I do understand if you don’t like my writing style for this post.

      Thanks for the feedback!

  10. Jaymie Zoss Avatar
    Jaymie Zoss

    While I agree that punctuation and sentence structure are very important, content really supersedes these things. We would all like our writers to be proficient in their syntax when putting ink to paper, or in this case, times new roman to Microsoft word, but let’s not forget that this is about helping those of us who are still undiscovered, pathetic dreamers. No offense to the other dreamers out there. This is a self speculation.
    Someday I would like to make money with words. For now, I will continue to babysit felons and write on the side. Thanks for the info, though. I think it will help.

  11. YourFriend Avatar

    You are so right 🙂

    Freelancing or Freelance writing is a proper Job, the only difference is you don’t need to leave your Warm Chair.
    On the other hand , it is as tough as working offline.

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