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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast about writing that I started in 2017 and that ran, more or less weekly, until April 2022. This is a republication of the issue about freelance writing tips. The post first ran on March 23/18.
Welcome to The Write Question, I’m Daphne Gray-Grant. Today we’re talking about freelance writing tips.
I’m answering a question from Jim Homme in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Here’s what he asked via email.
“I sometimes think I can write better than the communications specialist at my office, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I can become a freelance writer. That leads me to the following questions: How do I know if I write well enough? How do I evaluate if I am the right kind of person in terms of personal and business traits when it comes to freelancing? What can I read to learn about the freelance writing world? How to evaluate myself and learn the ropes?”
Thanks for the questions, Jim. You are wise to consider the freelance world carefully before you try stepping into it. It’s probably harder to be a successful freelance writer than it has ever been in the history of the printed word.
Well, let me phrase that more precisely. It’s easier to get published than ever before, but it’s much, much harder to get paid for it. Our society reads a lot right now but it generally expects that writing to be free. There are more than 440 million blogs in the world and while some of them are poorly written or inept, many are excellent and they don’t charge you a cent. And, the other source of revenue for freelancers — advertising — is currently going mainly to organizations like Facebook, which has led to the collapse of newspapers and magazines around the world.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to write for money, but don’t quit your day job too fast. Now, I’m going to answer your questions one at a time:
How do I know if I write well enough?
Your email to me was clear and articulate. Based on that alone, I’m guessing your writing is fine. In any case — and I know this will sound counterintuitive — be aware that writing skill is not the number 1 requirement for a freelance writer. Instead, you need to be able to analyze the needs of other publications and figure out a way you can meet them. It’s all about finding paid publishing work. Some people might call this marketing. I’ve put a link below to a blog post I wrote on the topic recently.
How do I evaluate if I am the right kind of person for freelancing?
To be a successful freelance writer the main characteristic you need is determination and incredible persistence. Also, you need a thick skin, to be able to handle rejection. These traits are far more valuable than writing skill. In terms of business skills, you need to know how to handle your money and how to negotiate the inevitable cash flow crises you’ll encounter when clients are slow to pay.
What can I read to learn about the freelance writing world?
There are lots of books published on this topic. Here are two you might want to look for:
- The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell, and
- The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman.
Links below. Most experts will suggest trying to ease into the business so that you do your writing on the side while you’re also working at another job. I strongly endorse this suggestion, too.
If you’re a freelance writer, you’re essentially self-employed. To succeed at this business, you need to be both organized and determined and you can’t be a procrastinator. Being a good writer comes about fourth on the list. It’s important but far less important than other attributes.
Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from English writer, political commentator and TV personality Will Self: “The life of the professional writer — like that of any freelance, whether she be a plumber or a podiatrist — is predicated on willpower. Without it, there simply wouldn’t be any remuneration period.”
Thanks for your question, Jim. I hope you understand that you should never worry about your own talent. The far more important issue is whether you have the determination for this type of life.
How to pitch stories editors will want to publish
The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell
The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowman