Many people want to know how to be a successful freelance writer. They love the idea of setting their own hours, working from the comfort of their home and maybe even wearing their bunny slippers to work each day. I understand the appeal. That has been my reality for the last 15 years, and I love it.
I remember talking to a friend during a daily bout of speed walking about my dream. At the time, I was a DINK (double income no kids) working in marketing and advertising at an international non-profit. I told her that my dream job allowed me to work from home while caring for the kids I hoped to one day have.
Within five years, I had accepted my first freelance job. Over the years, I’ve learned some keys for how to be a successful freelance writer. Here are five of my faves:
Freelance Writer Key #1: Focus on the Craft
There’s no way around developing your craft as a writer. If you want to become a successful freelance writer, you must grow and develop. You must never, ever stop learning and growing. Here’s a few ways to get your started:
- Read writing books
- Join online groups
- Attend local writers’ groups
- Travel to writers’ conferences
- Take classes
- Write and edit
- Rewrite and edit even more.
Commit to improving as a writer. And yes, there’s always room for improvement as a writer. No one has attained perfection.
Freelance Writer Key #2: Say Yes
When opportunities come your way, say yes. Sounds simple enough, right? But I have met people who, when faced with opportunities, pass them by out of fear or laziness or simply because they assume similar opportunities will come along at a more convenient time.
But the truth is, a missed opportunity can set your career back by years. They don’t come along every day. When you turn an editor or client down for a job, you are telling them that you aren’t interested. Your name will not be the first they think of in the future. Instead, they may assume that you don’t want the work or are too busy to accept a similar assignment.
I understand the temptation to pass on an assignment out of fear too. Years ago when an editor called me to write my first ghostwritten article, I froze. Questions flooded my mind. Could I do it? Could I capture the speaker’s voice? Could I structure the article correctly? Could I make the deadline? What if the editor hated the final piece?
Thankfully, the editor gave me the nudge of encouragement I needed. That one yes turned into regular monthly assignments. It also opened the door for me to work with other editors and land other assignments. If I had turned the assignment down, it could have taken me years to recover.
Freelance Writer Key #3: Pay Your Dues
I remember Cousin Eddie from the movie Christmas Vacation when I think of paying dues. If you haven’t seen the movie, let me give you the 10-second recap. Clark Griswald strives to create the perfect Christmas vacation. Out of nowhere, Cousin Eddie shows up with his family in a rat trap of an RV with no money and no prospects. Cousin Eddie is holding out for a management position. He hasn’t had a job in seven years.
Becoming a successful freelance writer means paying your dues. You can’t expect to start out with the highest paying or most desirable jobs. When you first start out, you may even have to produce some pieces for—gasp!— free or on spec.
One of my first jobs was writing a one-page flyer for my mother-in-law’s real estate business. I was thankful for the opportunity because it was another reference and another chance to grow.
Freelance Writer Key #4: Find Support
Writing is a solitary act, but good writing is perfected with others. I can’t begin to express how thankful I am for those writers and editors who have supported me. They’ve given feedback, brainstormed ideas and helped me hone my craft. They’ve given me tips for conducting better interviews and cheered for my successes. They are part of my success, and I would not be where I am without them.
Freelance Writer Key #5: Make Your Deadlines
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised. I’ve worked on both ends of the writing world—as a writer and as an editor. There is no minimizing the importance of making a due date. Editors and publishers want to work with talented writers they can count on to turn in their assignments on time (or even early). Writers who treat due dates like suggestions will soon find themselves out of work.
Becoming a successful freelance writer is like building a fire on a December night. You start with the proper kindling of craft and business training, ignite those materials with a strong work ethic and nurse the spark with word-of-mouth connections. It takes time and dedication, but if you commit to excellence, you will be on your way to becoming a successful freelance writer.