The Non Traditional Freelance Writer’s Approach to Freelance Writing

path less traveled

Every now and then it’s suggested I’m doing this wrong, that my approach to freelance writing isn’t traditional and that the tips shared here are incorrect. It’s even been hinted that perhaps I don’t look out for a writer’s  best interests because I don’t follow the old-school rules of journalism or insist you follow the same path as all the other freelance writers. Those insinuations don’t bother me at all. I admit I don’t necessarily do things the right way – if there is a right way. I kind of like marching to my own drummer.

There’s a reason the rumors don’t upset me. It may seem like a big stinking pile of ego to say this, but I don’t mind the criticism because I’m successful. I don’t feel as if I’m going about this the wrong way because my bank account and my list of satisfied customers are convincing me otherwise.

So there it is. I found success as a freelance writer even if I didn’t necessarily follow a well-worn, traditional path.

Should it matter?

I don’t think so. To me,  there’s something to be said about breaking the mold and finding your own way even if others might not approve. It doesn’t matter what others feel I should do if it doesn’t match my vision for achieving success. For me it means taking a less flexible approach to a freelancing schedule and using a cocktail of opportunities to maximize my earning potential. For someone else it may mean taking two hours out of each day to seek out and query $1 per word writing markets.

If it’s alright with you, I’d like to toss out a few suggestions for approaching your own freelance writing success. When I’m done, I’d love it if you can add some of your own methods into the mix as well.

Define your own freelance writing success

Figure out what you want early on. That doesn’t mean you can’t change your approach later or redefine your goals and visions. However, having an idea in your mind of what it means to be a success will give you a starting point. Success might be a monetary goal, seeing your name in a particular publication, or achieving a certain status. Define success first, and the rest will follow.

Plot goals and strategies needed to achieve said freelance writing success

You know what you want, now how will you get it? If your goal is to write the great American novel, you know you have to start with an outline, research facts and figures, develop characters, write a certain amount of pages each day, and eventually create a kickass proposal and shop it around.  Create your path to success by plotting obtainable goals and milestones.

Keep an open mind

In 2010 opportunities for freelance writers abound. One doesn’t only need to rely on magazines or newspapers. Depending on expertise and experience, the same writers who create web content can become copywriters, article writers for magazines, newsletters and newspapers, ebook and traditional authors, bloggers and more. Creating a cocktail of opportunities might prove to be more beneficial than sticking with one tried and true form of writing. You don’t have to accept any opportunities you’re not feeling, but looking around at what else is out there couldn’t hurt.

Create a schedule

I don’t know about you, but if it’s not in front of my face it doesn’t get done.  After plotting out my goals I write them down. I put them on my calendar and work them into my daily, weekly or monthly agendas. Now I have no excuse for not achieving my goals.

Take action

It’s easy to talk about defining, scheduling and plotting but it’s all meaningless if I don’t take action. All the freelance  bloggers can offer tips and advice until the earth stops moving, but we can’t force you to take the first – or any steps.  So now it’s your turn.  How will you take action?

That’s it – that’s my non-traditional approach to freelance writing success, now tell us about yours. What are your goals and what steps are you taking to achieve those goals?


19 responses
  1. Heiddi Avatar

    Hi Deb! Once again a great post. I feel that people ultimately need to do what works best for them. I have to work around my son AND my day job. For me, I’ve found that writing on my lunch hour helps as well as writing while I travel for the day job. I also depend on my Blackberry to write all of my ideas and quick notes. I also founf that making a to-do list doesn’t work for me because I can get overwhelmed and then put things off. What works for me is an accomplishment list. I check hits on my blogs every morning and get excited when the numbers go up. I also list anything writing-related I’ve completed each day. Blogposts, articles or interviews – all of that is listed in my planner. At the end of every month I put my accomplishment list on my portfolio. It’s very uplifting and motivating to see everything I’ve done even with my crazy schedule. 🙂

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Hi Heiddi – Plotting and analyzing goals is very rewarding and a terrific motivator. Thanks for sharing!

  2. allena Avatar

    Deb, I can’t get past #1. Sometimes I want a 6 figure income, and sometimes I look around and realize how many hours my peers work and even my husband- and resolve to stick to my 20-30 hours. Must.Choose.
    .-= allena´s last blog ..Forum Updated! Freelance Writing Jobs Posted in There! =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Hi Allena,

      I know what you mean. I think it’s OK to reapproach goals now and then and fine tune. I used to want to be able to match my “office job” income. Then my goal was to exceed that income. Now my goal, one in which I’m quickly achieving, is to be self-sufficient and earn the bulk of my income more from my own projects than client projects.

  3. Christopher Avatar

    It’s nice to see this. I have a hard time doing the same thing as everyone else. As you said I tend to march to my own drum as well. At least I know I can still succeed even with my awry ways :). Great post though, you really have to find something that works for you. Thanks.
    .-= Christopher´s last blog ..Sell Your Writing Online Now Review =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      It’s all about choices, Christopher. Not mine – yours. Glad you’re making the choices working best for you.

  4. Kivi Leroux Miller Avatar

    Hi Deb,

    I have to say this post made me laugh out loud! Thanks! Here’s why I laughed: I’ve met so many freelancers writers who are obsessed with doing everything the “right” way. I guess maybe it comes from working in a field with some many rules (grammar and otherwise). But the problem is that being an entrepreneur, which all successful freelancers are, is all about taking risks and doing things a little bit differently than everyone else.

    I suppose it might be hard for some people to embrace both elements — the rules and the freedom — but ultimately that’s what makes me successful, and you too, I assume. I just find the idea that people would criticize you for talking about a non-traditional freelancing path hysterical!
    .-= Kivi Leroux Miller´s last blog ..Getting Work: It’s Not Who You Know, But Who Knows You =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Hey, glad to provide a giggle.

  5. Genesis Avatar

    I really agree with this post! If you’re successful, who cares what other people think. In my writing course, I ask people to decide at the end what they want to do with their writing. Some want to work full-time and get rich, of course, but others tell me that they just want to earn $200-300 a month as a little extra spending money and that’s fine, too.

    For me, a big part of it is writing goals down and posting them where I will look at them on a daily basis. That means they are always in my mind and I will keep working toward them.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Genesis – You’re right. It’s important to write down goals and refer to them often. Otherwise, if you’re like me, you’ll forget.

  6. Carson Brackney Avatar

    Who’d like a cocktail?
    Make mine a double.

    Exceptional post–the kind that would usually compel me to write The World’s Longest Comment. Fortunately, you’re safe. I’m too busy for that today!

    I hope those who read this really do take the lesson to heart.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Well darn it, Carson. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a brief response from you.

  7. Jennifer L Avatar

    I don’t see how setting goals, plotting a strategy, setting goals and being realistic about your expectations ar untraditional, actually! I’d say these are all good ideas for anyone who wants to be successful at freelancing, on whatever level they choose.

    I mean, I think I started freelancing as someone coming from a traditional journalism background, but I use these strategies now to pursue a freelance career. Er, that is, I usually do. It’s probably time for me to revisit my goals and plans and do a little revising and editing… What I need is a big old corkboard or bulletin board, I think, so I can print these things out and keep them right in front of my face–and prevent them from being buried under all the files (and er, packages of dried mango and dried cherries from Trader Joe’s) on my desk!
    .-= Jennifer L´s last blog ..Snowbound! =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      I think the traditional pat (and the part that earns the most criticism)) is the keeping an open mind part. I’m supposed to be telling writers they have to find certain types of jobs paying only certain amounts of money. I don’t necessarily feel that’s true.

      I have a corkboard over my desk and I have Outlook and Google Calendar to offer reminders. Works like a charm. I’m like you, if it’s not in front of my face, it doesn’t happen.

  8. Lucy Smith Avatar

    This is something I think a lot of people in this industry would do well to remember. We’re all individuals; therefore, what works for one might not work for another. What one defines as success won’t be the same as what someone else does. And so on and so forth. If you’re where you want to be, or on the right road at least, then congratulations. Don’t judge your successes or failures by someone else, and vice versa.

    And yeah, the bar moves as you grow and learn. That’s true in life as well as in work.
    .-= Lucy Smith´s last blog ..Why are we not content with web content? =-.

  9. Kevin Freeman Avatar

    Though amusing, it seems somewhat contradictory for someone to criticize you about your methods! I mean, you make a fairly good living doing exactly what you love, and you get the perks (most of the time) of being around your family and home while you do it. Sure, nothing is perfect, but I don’t see a whole lot of missteps to call you on, lol. Thanks for the great post, Deb; good info, and a good laugh too.
    .-= Kevin Freeman´s last blog ..Why Use Freeman Writing Services? =-.

  10. LIsa Avatar

    Fascinating to me, because I’ve never actually experienced what you are experiencing: a “freelance writing community” that worries about how freelance writing should be done.

    I’ve seen books about freelance writing. I’ve been aware of the National Writers Union and organizations like SAG and the journalists’ unions. But freelance writers, up until recently, always seemed like a bunch of free spirits off doing their own thing.

    What’s really amazing to me is that the “new” freelance writing (that is, based on the Web and Web 2.0) is so rule-bound. I mean, good grief, the entire genre of web writing is younger than my ten year old kid! How could there possibly be a “right” way to manage such a brand new, fast-evolving medium?

    Bottom line: they call it “free” lance for a reason.


  11. Sonya Avatar

    Hi Deb,

    You’re spot on there as far as I’m concerned. We’re all different. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter which approach we use as long as we’re successful. There’s no wrong or right as long as our clients are happy.

    It’s the writing that matters, not your professional background or using the “right” method. Great post, thanks.


  12. Karen Swim Avatar

    Hi Deb! I love this post and the advice that you offer. I cannot agree more that one of the most important things a freelance writer can do is be true to yourself. How many people did it “all wrong” and became a mega success? There is nothing wrong with testing the advice of others and finding your fit but in the end you really do have to chart the course that’s right for you. This of course, also means not being defined by another person’s rules – if you are happy with what you do and how you do it, then you are a success!
    .-= Karen Swim´s last blog ..Smacking Down Resistance to Embrace Opportunity =-.

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