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What You Need to Become a Freelance Writer
A Question from a Neighbor
“What do you do for a living, Bill? You always seem to be home. Are you retired or do you work from home?”
A question from a neighbor last Saturday. After I told her that I was a freelance writer/author, she asked the follow-up question I knew was coming: “Can you make any money doing that?”
After I assured her that it is, in fact, possible to make a living writing, she didn’t disappoint me by asking the final question. “So, what does one need to become a freelance writer?” I think it sounds interesting and maybe I’ll give it a go.”
So here we are!
And here we go!
The Most Basic Need
As I prepare to write this first item I hesitate. Is it really necessary for a freelance writer? I hope so or heaven help us all.
In order to become a freelance writer, you need a firm grasp of proper grammar.
There, I’ve said it. Seems rather logical, doesn’t it, and yet give me five minutes and I’ll find you several online articles that appear to have been written by a five-year old.
I’m sticking to my guns. I think this is important. You don’t have to be a grammatical pro, but you should have an understanding of the basics and the ability to use them. You might be able to get away with poor grammar online and still get paid for it, but poor grammar will not fly when you are trying to get an article published by a magazine or newspaper.
Learn the language!
Starting out Basic Needs
These will no doubt seem terribly obvious but I’m going to mention them simply because there are those out there with no grasp of the obvious.
You need a computer. You need internet access.
You need time.
If your goal is to make money and, after all, that is the definition of a freelance writer, then you need to make time available to promote your business. If you are serious about making good money as a freelancer, then you need to make a great deal of time.
I work as a freelancer fifty hours a week.
A lot of time.
And that, indirectly, leads us to the other basic need: you need an alternative source of income while you start out as a freelance writer. Don’t do it the way I did it. Don’t quit your day job without a financial safety net. Make sure you can pay your bills while you pursue your writing gig on the side. There is no sense in starving if you can avoid it.
Check with the city you live in and find out about licensing requirements. A freelance writer runs a business, and a business may or may not need to be declared as such with your local government. In other words, you may need a business license.
Even if you don’t get a business license, you are going down the path of a sole proprietorship in the eyes of the IRS, so you need to get organized in advance.
That means some sort of bookkeeping system to keep track of expenditures and earnings. It means a spreadsheet to keep track of queries made and jobs bid upon. It means setting yourself up for success rather than failure.
It also means doing some research. Find out all you can about freelance writing. Join a writer’s group. Read books. Study online. Join professional organizations. Whatever it takes to arm yourself with knowledge, do it.
"In my later years, I have looked in the mirror each day and found a happy person staring back. Occasionally I wonder why I can be so happy. The answer is that every day of my life I've worked only for myself and for the joy that comes from writing and creating. The image in my mirror is not optimistic, but the result of optimal behavior."
Writing is a lonely profession. Obviously it’s not lonely for everyone but I think, for most writers, writing is an individual undertaking without co-workers to keep you company and boost your spirits.
So you need the ability to work by yourself effectively. You need to be a self-starter and you need to be a self-motivator. There will be no boss hovering over you giving you deadlines and demanding good results. There will be no outside quality control of your product. It’s all up to you. It’s up to you to rise early and write. It’s up to you how many hours you devote to your craft. It’s up to you how hard you work.
It’s up to you how you react to rejection…continual rejection….rejection that will bring you to your knees and make you question your very existence. It’s up to you whether you will curl into a ball and whimper to your mommy or keep pushing forward trying to land the next paying gig. It’s up to you whether you’ll wet your pants if an editor tells you your writing is pig swill.
It’s up to you whether you fold your tent like some carnival barker and go home to another nine-to-five shoot me job, or whether you’ll accept your 200th consecutive rejection as a learning tool that will eventually make you successful.
It’s up to you!
You’ll need willpower. You’ll need a strong sense of self-worth. A freelance writer starting out will face weeks without a single moment of triumph. Can you handle that kind of negative feedback and soul-crushing?
You’ll need some marketing savvy. Can you sell yourself? Can you make cold-calls? Do you know how to make social media work for you? Do you know how to make contacts in the industry and make those contacts work for you? Do you know how to start a marketing campaign without a marketing budget?
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I’m Not Here to Discourage
My neighbor decided she would be better off getting a second part-time job after her discussion with me. I agreed with her. Freelance writing is not for everyone despite its allure.
I have no desire to discourage you. I simply want your eyes wide-open before you start out. There are literally millions of freelance writers in the world today and the numbers are increasing daily. They are all after the same pie you are after. How are you going to beat them out and claim that pie for yourself?
I’ve seen far too many freelance writer wannabees fall by the wayside after giving it a go for six months. The going got tough and they tucked their tales between their legs and got a job at WalMart.
I want you to succeed, but in order for that to happen, you need to be aware that this is not an easy gig.
Now that you are armed with a little reality, you can make an intelligent decision.
How about it? Do you have what it takes?
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”