Lessons On Launching A Career As A Freelance Writer

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Nov. 27 2012, Published 4:12 p.m. ET

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I’m a freelance writer.


  • Spend a year or two building a portfolio, publishing articles for free or for next to nothing.
  • Work a job—you really don’t fancy—to supplement your income. Unless you’re a super editor at a really great magazine. One day.
  • Lose sleep. Well, most of it. Plan on cranking that keyboard until the wee hours of the morning.
  • Chase dodging editors down. “Did you get my call, email, snail mail, text message…LETTER BY OWL?!”
  • Fight for your own space. Tell your boyfriend, mother or dog that they’ll have to do without you for a few hours.
  • Scribe things you could care less about. Article on escrow? Coming right up. Bring on the lattes.
  • Write a book or build on a personal project in the meantime. Miss deadlines. Get yelled at through email in all caps. Sigh.
  • Prepare for your hobby to become a full-time job. Hate it sometimes and love it others.

Sound depressing? Yeah, I’m sure it does. However, if done correctly, it’s possible to have a healthy and successful freelancing career.

I’ve been writing all of my life, but only within the last four years did it dawn on me that this thing could actually be lucrative. After majoring in English and teaching for a year, I became bored with my personal blog and journal entries. I wanted to share my work on a grander scale while working on the book I’ve been pining over for almost a decade.

I scoured Craigslist for a writing gig and happened upon a listing seeking African-American women writers who’d be interested in writing on a variety of topics. I applied and waited for weeks. I was absolutely sure that my lingering prose would lure them in.

3 months.

6 months.


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It wasn’t until a year later, and several free stints with other online publications, that I finally received a message from the editor of the magazine I found on Craigslist. The next thing I knew, I was signing contracts and getting picked up by major sites.

However, it hasn’t been ALL gravy. Freelancing has its ups and downs and it’s difficult to maintain consistency. But it doesn’t have to be a horrendous experience. In fact, it can be quite rewarding. Back away from the caffeine, don’t cancel movie night with the girls and get ready to take notes. I got you.

  1. Patience. This is the most pivotal attribute you’ll need during your quest to be a writer of any sort. Editors take forever to email you, clients are annoying and life will get in the way of deadlines. You’ll need plenty of woo-sahs and stress balls on hand.
  2. Planning. I want you to create two lists. One that has short-term freelance goals and another with long-term goals. Your long-term objectives should scare the crap out of you. They should have the biggest “baddest” newspaper or magazine at the top of the list. However, your short terms should read a lot simpler. Examples: Write Everyday. Pitch Local Newsletter. Start a blog.
  3. Paper. I’m not just talking about the kind you’ll need to print on. I’m talking about money. Stash away some extra cash from that monotonous 9 to 5. Invest in some office supplies and ink. Also, plan on taking a few awesome people out to lunch for research, interviews or connects.
  4. Portfolio. You know that really awesome story you did for your college newspaper, the one article that was picked up by the Daily News and that copy you did for your dad’s company? Scoop these up. Get a beautiful leather portfolio, with some plastic dividers, and start compiling your stuff. The proof is in the pudding. I mean…your portfolio.
  5. Preparation. Never walk into writing an article blindly. Get to know your subject well, even if it’s yourself. Start an idea book and trash it. Scribble ideas everywhere, glue articles in, which intrigue you, and brainstorm like crazy.
  6. Placement. If you know working from home is not your thing, don’t do it. Sometimes when our bed, couch and television are too close, we ignore priority. Find a quiet café, library or invest in a co-working space.
  7. Package. Just because you work from home, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look professional. Show out when going to see a client, make sure your suit means business.
  8. Paychecks. Demand that they come on time. Some companies take advantage of freelancers. Avoid this by being firm about your money. Send professional requests that also have scary terminology embedded. First request: Please. Important. Soon. Second Request: Several weeks. Immediately. Thank you. Third Request: Inappropriate. Inconsiderate. Accountant. Lawyer. Court.
  9. Pay Grade. Honestly, you shouldn’t be receiving anything less than $25 for an article that’s 300-500 words. When the word count rises, you should be paid more. However, each company varies. Do the math and know your worth.
  10. Program. Be smart about your time. Make sure you schedule a time block to get your articles done every day of the week. It doesn’t look good when you miss deadlines. It also looks horrendous when you’re falling asleep at your day job.

This whole freelance thing? It’s difficult. However, the gift of doing something you love everyday is insurmountable. It’s a feeling that starts as a nudging notion and spreads like a blaze as you create wonders that will illuminate the world.

Burn bright.

Ambition Delivered.

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