First of all, I never set out to make a living as a freelance writer. That all happened by accident. In fact, I have a graduate degree in real estate development, not English or journalism. I have always loved writing, but it seemed like an impossible dream so I went for the more “practical” path.
But then things changed. I won't go into details, it's not important. But desperation will lead you to do anything to pay the bills... and for me, that anything happened to be writing. Not I'm no expert on the subject, and I hate to jinx myself by bragging too much... but I have been able to make a decent amount living from writing and I can say, it's not impossible. Heck, I don't even consider myself that great of a writer... I think I'm decent enough, and I put out work I'm happy with. I have one book of short stories published, and I have a few publishing credits to my name, but I'm by no means as good as many writers out there. So if I can do it, so can you, trust me.
Many people look at websites like The Huffington Post, and when they realize many of those don't pay their writers, it can get pretty discouraging. Of course, the HuffPo is great for exposure... but exposure won't pay the bills. So what do you do when you need to pay the bills, and you can't wait for the exposure to pay off?
I'm here to answer a few questions about freelancing, and hopefully offer some tips that'll help those of you interested in getting into as well. It's easy to get discouraged when you see big journals who won't pay for your time, or clients who expect you to work for pennies on the dollar, but it doesn't have to be that way.
So first off, how did I break into the freelance market?
I happened to know someone who was writing for a celebrity gossip site and she hooked me up. The job paid $10 an article and I was expected to write two articles a day, every single day. At first, it was a slow process and I was frustrated... $20 a day for a day's work? But I had no other choice and it was my only income at the time, so I stuck with it. Before I knew it, I wrote faster and faster articles so I could take on additional work.
Now, I know not everyone knows someone who can get them into a job like that. My advice to you is to sign up for Elance.com or any number of websites devoted to freelancing. I specify Elance simply because that's what I experience in. Sure, there are jobs that pay nothing and expect a lot of work. Skip over those. Those people aren't looking for quality writers, they're hoping to get something for nothing. Not worth your time to stress about them. However, if a job sounds interesting and relevant to you, apply with what you'd be willing to do the work for anyway. You may be surprised and get the job at the higher rate... or you may not. But it never hurts to try, right? It costs nothing to apply.
There are decent clients on Elance however. Yes, you need samples. And yes, having a blog helps. But one other way to nab jobs is to build up your reputation on the site. That means, find some small projects that pay $20-30 or so and apply for those. In my case, I wrote a Christian romance short story (I'm not Christian nor am I a romance writer, I write horror, but hey, I did it). It paid $30. Easy peasy. I also worked on another project writing content for an app, and because of how quick it was for me to do, it came out to about $60 an hour in the end.
Now, I get invited to several jobs a day. Some are terrible, while others are actually really, really good.
And I've been doing this full-time since January. That's it.
But writing job boards aren't the only way to find work either. I found one regular writing job by searching indeed.com for “writing jobs”. Sounds so simple, doesn't it? I was bored and figured nothing would turn up... but not only did I find the job, I got hired at a very decent rate. I get paid more than double what I was making on the celebrity gossip site per article now. And from here, I'm applying to more jobs, some of them full-time, some of them not. I've decided my goal is to be an editor one day, or perhaps just find a full-time writing gig. The jobs are out there... they require experience, sure... but that's what I'm doing right now. Building up the experience, bit by bit, while paying my bills.
Some tips I've learned from my experiences...
1) If a job says they'll test you out at a lower rate and then raise it to something really, really good? Likely they won't hire you back. How do I know? Experience. Some of them don't even bother to leave positive feedback.
2) With Elance, it helps to have a paid account. It's $10 a month, but you can see what others are bidding so you can price yourself accordingly on the jobs you really want, and you get more connects per month to apply for more jobs and to also provide another benefit that I'll mention next.
3) If it's a job you really want, use the extra connects to sponsor your post. It will be placed on top (only four proposals are placed on top). The good clients get a ton of proposals, so make yours stand out by being on top. Also, it shows you're really serious about the gig too. I find I'm more likely to get a job if I sponsor my proposal. And with 120 connects, I can afford the 4 connects it takes to do so.
4) Get better at writing FAST. Currently, I've been known to write 10,000-12,000 words in a day when I need to (and for me, it's about a 5-6 hour day with breaks now). The more you can write, the more money you can bring in.
5) Be down with ghostwriting. Sure, it sucks to write fiction and not have the world know it's yours... but I tend to get paid more for my fiction by ghostwriting than I do if I publish, at least for now as an unknown. I actually make more money writing fiction than nonfiction, and even when I have to write a genre that isn't my favorite, I still have a ton of fun. And I get paid for it, so double yay.
6) Don't assume that just because you're not an expert on something, you can't write about it. That's what research is for. I couldn't care less about celebrity gossip, and I avoid reading about the spoiled, pampered elite as much as possible because their antics annoy me... but when it came down to getting paid for it... I did what I had to do and still enjoyed it over anything else I could be doing at the time.
Now here are the pitfalls I've personally experienced.
1) Procrastination is always on the horizon. You know you can write fast, you have all the time in the world, so why not play some Candy Crush, just for a few minutes. Oh, and you forgot to send an e-mail to so and so, that'll only take a minute. Gosh, I'm so tired, my brain can't possibly write... It might be time to nap. Napping on the job is too easy when you're freelancing, trust me. This can lead to so many problems... If your life is anything like mine, unexpected issues always crop up. I get sick. I have guests who show up at the last minute. You run over a screwdriver on a quick trip to the grocery store and end up losing an entire day of writing the day before a deadline. You name it, it can (and does happen). I speak from personal experience.
2) It's unstable. One month, I rake in the dough. I get several high paying jobs and it feels too easy. The next month? Nothing. It's scary when you live month-to-month and don't have a guaranteed paycheck which is why I have a part-time job at a bookstore... just in case. I live in Southern California where my rent is ridiculously high, so I take guaranteed money where I can get it. It wouldn't hurt to work part-time while trying to get off the ground.
But it can be possible to make a living off it. Sure, you don't always get to write what you want to write (err like romance for me, but I've come to enjoy it), but there's something about being paid, and being paid well, for your writing that satisfies me like no other. It's not for everyone, and if you're the type of writer who needs to be inspired to write, well... it's probably not for you. You can't wait to be inspired or work through writer's block when you have a deadline on the line. But for me, I've learned that there's no such thing as writer's block... it's just needing to push myself to sit down and write. What better motivator than a deadline and a client willing to pay you for your work?
And besides, it was either that or find some lousy desk job that made me hate my life day in and day out again like I had before... One where I dreaded going into work everyday. I was chronically depressed, always wishing I had more time to write or at least do something I enjoyed. I have that now. Sure, there are pitfalls like the pay being unstable, but after being fired from a secure job, and then watching my boyfriend get fired from a job he had for 13 years (neither of us were given a reason), I've come to realize that nothing is stable in life... Not even the job we've dedicated our lives to.
And personally speaking, given the choice between a mind-numbing job staring at spreadsheets all day, I'd rather write.
If this sounds like you, it I say go for it. If you can write on command, write content that isn't always your cup-of-tea, then go for it. Perhaps start out small and keep your day job if you want to, but look into sites that are hiring for content writers. Maybe they aren't huge like HuffPo, but many sites do pay for content... and they pay fairly well too.
Trust me when I say it can be done.