Almost every new writer faces this question at some point.
Unless writing is a hobby, it’s natural to wonder if you can make money from writing. One of the quickest ways you can make a living from writing is to become a freelance writer.
In this post, I explain what freelancing is and I provide practical tips for those who want to become a freelance writer today. I’ve also got details of an exciting new book for freelance writers at the end of this post.
What is a Freelance Writer?
A freelance writer is someone who writes blog posts, non-fiction articles and web copy for magazines, publications, companies and other organisations.
Unlike a journalist employed by a newspaper, freelance writers are self-employed, and they typically write for a number of different clients or publications at one time.
Freelance writers can work full-time or part-time at home or in an office. Some freelance writers have a contract with several different clients while others work on a commission basis.
I was a freelance writer (and a journalist) for a number of years, and I made a lot of mistakes and learned several hard lessons about freelance writing.
I don’t want you to make my mistakes, which is why I’ve compiled nine rock-solid tips that will help those who want to become a freelance writer today.
Plus at the end of this post, I’ve got the details of a new book that will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a freelance writer and getting paid for your work.
1. Prepare for Your Interviews in Advance
Interviews are an important part of the research process for freelance writers.
When I received my first 3000-word freelance writing commission, I interviewed five different people for over an hour each. I asked them every question I could conceive.
It took almost ten hours to transcribe these interviews, and I spent far longer on this freelance writing commission than it was worth.
I quickly learned it’s important to get to the point with interviewees faster (they value their time as much as you do).
2. Have an Idea or a Swipe File
When I was a freelance journalist, I didn’t spend enough time recording ideas, news stories and research for future articles.
Today, I’m convinced every freelance writer should have a swipe file where they keep interesting articles, research findings and other snippets they can use for their work.
Carol Tice even recommends keeping a future file of news stories and other articles that you’ve written or read. The idea is to return to these articles and write an updated version in three, six or twelve months.
3. Get Out From Behind Your Email
If you know how to manage email, it’s a great communications tool.
However, it’s also easy to misinterpret the tone of someone’s email, which is why real conversations with your editors, readers and clients are so important.
Like many freelance writers, I received lucrative commissions by attending events, by phoning editors and by getting to know people.
4. Learn to Touch Type
As a freelance writer, words are your trade and the keyboard is your tool. Tweet this
Yes, you may be able to rattle off a few sentences using your index fingers and muscle memory, but professional writers know how to touch type.
Learning to type is the single biggest productivity hack I’ve discovered as a writer, and it has enabled me to finish projects faster and ship them on time.
It’s also easy to learn how to touch type. Writers who want to get started should check out Lynda.com’s Typing Fundamentals course.
5. Take High-Quality Notes (That You Can Use)
Several years ago I studied journalism, and I learned Teeline shorthand.
One day, I was sent by my editor to report on a case in the courts. While covering this case, I tried to use shorthand to transcribe what the people in court were saying.
My shorthand wasn’t up to scratch, and when it came time to write my story my notes didn’t make sense. Since then, I’ve never forgotten how important it is to be able to record accurate notes quickly and accurately.
There’s nothing more frustrating than being unable to understand your own handwriting.
Today, I use a dictaphone or the voice recorder on my phone to record interviewees. If you do this, it’s a good idea to write notes too because you will think of ideas while your interviewee speaks.
6. Double Down On Your Niche
When I was a journalist, my specialty was technology stories. I picked this niche not because I’d an interest in technology journalism (although that helped), but because there were relatively few technology journalists in Ireland at that time.
Doubling down made it easier for me to find work.
If you do this, you can spend more time cultivating contacts, you will develop expert knowledge, and you can build a name for yourself as a specialist.
7. Develop Multiple Income Streams
If you’re a freelance writer, your job isn’t just to write. Part of the job description includes to be always thinking about the next job.
If you receive the bulk of your income from one employer or editor, you are leaving yourself vulnerable.
Companies sometimes have to make cutbacks and freelance writers—i.e those without contracts—are often the first to go.
I know this because one month my biggest and only paying client said they’d no work for me, which left me without a pay cheque.
8. Know What Your Editor (And Your Publication Wants)
Knowing what your editor wants in advance will save you a painful amount of editing and rewriting later on. Always ask your editor or your client for a brief that provides your:
- target word count
- topics to cover
- a deadline
- types of interviewees
- any other information you should include
Before you accept a commission, it’s also worth agreeing how many rounds of edits you’ll make to your work.
9. Have a System for Managing Your Writing Projects
Here are five things you need to keep track of as a freelancer writer:
- your time
- your income and expenses
- your deadlines
- your commitments or To Dos
- the status of each of your project
You’ll need a system for each of these.
I use a timer on my computer to track my hours, a spreadsheet to record my income and expenses and a a professional journal to record the status of each project.
I also use Google Calendar to manage deadlines and Wunderlist to manage my commitments.
How To Get Paid For Freelance Writing
There is just one problem.
You still need to get the work down and if you don’t have the discipline to sit down in the chair, make calls and do the work on your own terms, you won’t get paid.
If you’re going to become a freelance writer, your goal should almost always to be to get paid for your work.
Becoming a professional writer also means valuing your services and charging appropriate rates. Some aspiring writers may balk at writing for profit, but a plumber, an engineer or a web developer wouldn’t work for free, and you shouldn’t either.
The only real exception is if you’re writing to raise your profile and build your email list, for example guest blogging.
Because I know how tough freelancing writing is, next I am going to share details of a new book that will help you get started with freelance writing and make real money from this profession.