Should You Take a Survival Job as a Freelance Writer?

I’ve seen a number of web sites recently that suggest freelance writing as a survival job for people who are in between employment opportunities. While I admit that I do find the idea that anyone who can string a couple of words together can get paid to write until they find something better to do with their time a little insulting, this post isn’t about that particular topic. I want to talk about people already working as freelance writers who may be faced with having to work for less than they are used to making.

Many of us are familiar with the feast or famine cycle that goes along with working for yourself. There are times when you are tempted to pull out your own hair because you have so much to do and there are other times when you find it hard to round up even one client who has work for you. During these times, do you keep looking for new work or do you take a freelance writing job that pays a lower rate than you are used to getting?

My advice would be to do both. Not every gig that you take on is going to be your dream job. If your priority is to (A) keep body and soul together, the lights on and not have to think about sleeping under the stars unless you choose to go camping, and (B) to continue to develop your skills as a writer, then taking a survival job makes sense.

Set aside some time every day to send out queries, contact prospective clients, apply for advertised gigs or whatever job search strategies you have decided to use and complete the project you have in front of you. It may lead to something better down the pipe; if not, at least you are working.

The valleys in a freelance writing business don’t last forever, but neither do the peaks (unfortunately). I’m all for doing what you need to do to keep bills paid and the money coming in, even if it pays less than what you normally charge until you find your next great gig.


4 responses
  1. Lyle Avatar

    Good advice Jodee, seems like these are hard times for many seasoned writers. With so many people joining the ranks of freelancers (through redundancy etc), it can seem like the jobs are harder to win, I like to keep a constantly updated portfolio of work ready at all times (on and offline). I’d also recommend applying for jobs that seem a little our of your reach in terms of experience – if you’ve been writing a few years then you are ahead of a large proportion of the competition.

  2. Lisa Avatar

    I can’t say I am finding work hard to FIND, but I am finding it harder to get PAID as much as in the past. A big part of this is that the publishers I worked for during the 90’s have laid off half their staffs – and there isn’t the same amount of money to toss around for quicky work-for-hire projects. In other words, I have to work MORE hours to make the SAME money.

  3. Jennifer L Avatar

    I don’t know…
    In theory, I agree that sometimes you have to do what it takes to pay the bills, even if it means taking on a load of low-paying work. But in practice, I think that can be problematic.

    I got a very polite email recently from someone asking me to write two articles per week for a total sum of $250 per month. Not two quickie blog posts, two articles. Articles requiring some interviewing or research, in addition to writing, it seemed. That would have meant that I would have gotten paid roughly $30 per article. Unless I would have been able to crank out an article (from generating the idea to doing the legwork to writing it and polishing it) in an hour or less, that would have been a LOT of work for not a lot of money.

    I said, thanks for thinking of me, but I would really need to get paid more than that. Was that a mistake? I guess only time will tell. I do know, though, that had I taken on that assignment, it would have drastically reduce my available time to look for other jobs that might have paid more. It just didn’t seem worth doing that.

  4. Rob Avatar

    In my case, it was literally survival that motivated me to start freelancing online. I’d had some magazine articles published in the past, but that was the only writing background I had. The first online writing gig I got paid $50 for 30 300 word articles, but I took it because it was either that or not eat. That was two years ago. I’ve learned a lot since then and am now making enough of a living to get by without killing myself in the process, but the first year was hell and I wouldn’t have gone through it if I’d had any other viable options.

    I feel for those of you who have started freelancing after having had lucrative careers in the past. It seems to me that the internet has destroyed more jobs than it has created, but that opportunities still exist if you can be resilient and adaptable. A global marketplace also creates global competition. A new jobs paradigm (if that’s the right word) has been created and in my opinion, looking to the past is not going to take any of us into the future.

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