"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
As featured on: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Write to Done, Tiny Buddha, LifeHack, Technorati, Date My Pet, South 85 Literary Journal and other award-winning sites.

Monday, January 6, 2014

"Kids, Don't Try This at Home" Why Freelance Writing Ain't for Everybody

It's a mess in the Midwest.
The temperatures are frigid, we're buried in snow, and many businesses are closed or at a slow crawl.
It's on days like this that I feel particularly blessed to be able to work from home.

Which brings us to today's post...

The other day, while browsing books at a used bookstore, I picked up a paperback that I hoped would provide some useful marketing tips to enhance this year's efforts and start off on a "good foot."

Many of the chapters were interesting, and the author provided some good strategies for today's writers and entrepreneurs. But then one chapter really didn't sit well with me.
In fact, it was as frustrating as a child proof cap.

Let me explain.  It read something like this: "If you have an Internet connection, a computer, a home phone, and have good English skills, you can become a freelance writer."

Sure, you can start it. But you'll have as much success as that diet you started last year. Or that DIY project in your garage. Or that promise you made to start working out at the gym regularly.
Remember? :-)

Though a career in freelance writing isn't rocket science, it's certainly not for everyone. And it definitely requires more than an Internet connection and a command of the English language.
If only it were that simple...
I think that this type of mentality is why so many fail at this line of work, and why freelance writers continue to battle for better pay and the recognition deserved.

Not to be a "Debbie Downer" here, but "serious" freelance writing is not child's play.
With this being the case, I thought this would be a great opportunity to address what it takes to be a "successful" freelance writer who can go the distance.

Pencils ready...?

1. Discipline
Sure, it's nice to be able to work from home, make your own hours, and not have to deal with a.m. traffic, but can you produce without someone watching over your shoulders? Not everyone can.
Watching the daily soap operas can be lovely, but if you can't pay your monthly electric bill because you've mismanaged your time and resources, you'll be sitting in the dark. Hello? Anyone home?
Truth be told, many freelancers work on holidays and long after your typical "business hours" to get things done or meet a deadline.

2. A business mentality
Let's face it. Creative artists are not always as business oriented as we should be. It's the reason so many become true "starving artists." Don't believe me? Look at the many writers, actors, and singers that go broke because they spend lavishly, or let others mismanage their funds, or forget to save while they are having fun. Best-selling author Iyanla Vanzant admits to having a "welfare mentality" despite her fortune, and reportedly shared on Oprah Show that she had multiple bank accounts that she didn't even know what to do with. As a freelance writer, you'll need to know how to send out invoices, set rates, set up a Paypal account, pay taxes. Are you up for this?

3. Time Management Skills
Dividing 24 hours by family obligations, appointments, household chores, needed sleep, etc. can seem like one of those complex math equations back in school. But, real writers have this and more. It can be a struggle to juggle. Consider interviews, deadlines with editors, research, marketing...let's just say you better take your "Wheaties."

4. A Thick Skin
Even with the best of intentions, and words that you carefully carve out with the precision of a skilled surgeon, someone will have something negative to say about your work. Sometimes it's a blog reader. On other days, the heat could come from an editor. You've got to keep a level head, a clear focus, and stay in the kitchen!

5. Passion
You gotta' love it. Seriously, folks. If not, this gets old real fast.
Passion will carry you through low pay, rejection, fatigue, doubt, and weeks of surviving off Ramen Noodles. :-)

6. Smarts
Today's scribe must be smart. And not just book smart. You must also be strategic with a broad knowledge base. Why? Editors are becoming more demanding. Writing is becoming more competitive, and everybody is trying to do more with less. Can you be resourceful and come up with different ideas, week after week, month after month, year after year? Can you conduct research and know what to include to give your articles added value? Can you convince a publisher to invest in your book concept? Do you have the skills to engage an audience through blogging, to help build your platform? If so, move to the head of the class.

7. Curiosity
Though curiosity may have "killed the cat," it's crucial to your survival. A good, professional freelancer is always asking questions of others and self. He wonders what makes things tick. He imagines the possibility of things. He thinks outside the box. He's always probing and pondering. How about you?

Many find the idea of being a writer rather "glamorous." And it can be. But most days it's more grit than glory. If you're looking for a career that will bring you glamor, may I suggest the fashion industry? :-)

Despite the frigid weather, keep warm thoughts. Until next time...

Thoughts? Agree or disagree? Which category presented today poses the most difficulty for you as a freelancer?


  1. THANK YOU for this! I've been a full-time writer (working from home, 40+ hours/week) for more than 10 years. It drives me crazy when people assume they can do it without a second thought. I just posted something yesterday about people saying they could "write a book if only they had time." Real writers find a way!

    1. Wendy,
      A pleasure to have you here, "Query Queen." :-) Good feedback...and you should know. :-) Thanks for your thoughts today.

  2. With that business mentality, you have to always be marketing, which sounds intimidating, and it is. The easiest way to do this is to always mention that you are a writer in conversations. If you have editing skills or are great at researching, mention this, too.

    You have to always be networking. Social media makes this so much easier and less scary. Just reach to people in complementary professions and ask if they need help. If not, ask them to recommend you to their peers.

    1. Networking is indeed a part of the equation. Thanks for adding it, Marcie.

  3. Great post, Jennifer -- and so true. I'd add that there is also a specific personality type that works well alone. I've seen writers go freelance and then return to in-house jobs, because they really didn't like the whole "Lone Ranger" lifestyle. I love freelancing, but still there are times I miss being able to step to the next office and say "does this sound right to you" -- or just having someone with whom to celebrate the end of a project.

    So definitely not for everyone. And definitely not simply "knowing English and being on the Internet." (Though, having worked as an editor, I've seen what comes in when someone believes that this is enough. Ugh.)

    Thanks for sharing this. And Happy New Year.

    1. Cynthia,
      Good point; I couldn't agree more. Not all personalities work for this way of life. I value your input. Thanks.

  4. Excellent points. There are so many of those misleading ads: If you can draw this, you too, can be an artist. Ha, never as easy as it seems. I know college grads who enter early childhood thinking they will play and babysit, then when they find out the job requires motivation, planning and willingness to continually learn, they give up. I think if you want something badly enough, you find a way to get it, but one has to be realistic.

    1. Linda,
      You're right. These ads are more "hype" than help. Right? :-)
      Thanks for adding to 'da mix. :-)

  5. Jennifer--Since I teach full time, time management is the biggest fly in my ointment.

    However, I DO admit to wasting time on things--sometimes--when I could be writing instead.

    Hunker down, stay warm, and write...

    1. Sioux,

      Time management is a biggie for many writers. But, I think you have a decent handle on it, based upon your publishing record and winning "Chicken Soup" recipes. Thanks a lot Sioux, for stopping by and weighing in.

  6. Jennifer: Thank you for this timely piece. I am trying to deal with the time management issue. I find it challenging.

    1. Hi there,
      Welcome back! Keep at it. Rome wasn't built over night. :-) Thanks.

  7. I agree! It takes hard work and determination to stay this course. I once heard someone say that being self employed (in any field) meant that you got to choose which 12 hours of the day in which you could work. :) I think sometimes we work even longer than that, don't we?

    This is a wonderful list to help us count the cost and keep us on our toes. Thanks so much for your insight and wisdom.

  8. Jen, You are spot on with every one of these. Freelancers need to have imaginations on steroids these days and always be looking for the next story. Great list!

    1. True, right? :-) Word Woman to the rescue...!
      Thanks for hopping over and sharing your thoughts.

    2. The next story...And the next gig. :-)

  9. All seven can be a challenge at times, for what Time Management Skills is concerned, in a post about Inspirational Blogging About Books you can find a link to a Book Review I wrote about a Great Book on this Topic.

    I read that Book at the beach last Summer, and It offers an interesting insight ful and slightly different way of thinking about Time Management than many of the other books you can find about this topic.

  10. I was so sorry to hear about the frigid weather conditions in Chicago. But I enjoy how you were able to incorporate the weather and the topic together so well. The suggestions were very helpful. I think Discipline was really helpful. Lord knows on cold days it's easier to sit and do nothing, but on the other hand they can be very productive. Great Post!

    1. They can be indeed. Thanks so much for chiming in here. :-)

  11. Hi Jennifer. Great post. The writing lifestyle is certainly not for everyone. In addition to loving the craft, it takes a lot of determination to succeed when you are working for yourself. The business side of writing is just as important as the writing itself.

    1. Hi Joel,
      Welcome! I couldn't agree more; without the business side of writing essentially you have no business. :-) I greatly appreciate your visit and comment today.

  12. Once I thought about things like: why such information is for free here? Because when you write a book then at least on selling a book you get a percentage. Thank you and good luck on informing people more about it!
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