How to Be a Freelance Writer

Freelance writing – possibly two of the most alluring words found in the English language. Freelance writers in books and movies are often portrayed as exciting, glamorous individuals who live a life of excitement and danger, but, in reality, freelance writing requires a lot of motivation, hard work, patience, and persistence.

A freelance writer is a self-employed writer who often writes for several different publications at once. There is no regular income, holiday pay or sick leave, but the benefits of the job itself are invaluable. The freedom of being able to create your own schedule, work for a variety of clients, and to choose where you want your office to be for the day – whether that be your lounge room, a café, or library – are all what makes being a freelance writer one of the more appealing jobs of today.

freelance writer

How to start out as a freelance writer... Image Credit: Stefan via Flickr Creative Commons.

Starting Out

Starting out in the writing industry and not knowing who to write for, who to talk to, or what to expect can be daunting for anyone. It’s easy enough to imagine yourself as a successful writer, but actually forming a plan to arrive at that point is a completely different story.

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As a student studying Professional Writing and Editing, I was surrounded by teachers and students who were passionate about the industry and ready to offer me, and others who needed it, the best possible advice they could. I believe, and have found, that it’s important to build relationships with other writers, especially those who inspire and motivate you.

Starting out, you can’t expect to gain a job that will pay you straight away without experience. Search for local, not-for-profit organisations and alternative presses to volunteer your time to, as many of these organisations are very open about accepting new writers. Even if the articles you’re writing aren’t what you’re necessarily interested in, the more experience/contacts you generate, the easier it will be. Don’t despise humble beginnings or think you’re “above” writing for a certain organisation or about a certain topic.

Director of Writers Victoria, Kate Larsen, says it’s vital to learn and perfect your craft:

Build your skills, do a writing course, write every day. Become the best writer you can be. There are as many freelance opportunities out there as there are other freelance writers trying to get them.”




Just get out there, write as much as possible and about anything. Attend local writer’s events, festivals, support groups – whether that be online or in person.

Presenting Yourself Professionally

Know that the industry is constantly changing. It’s important that freelance writers – and writers in general – have an online presence. Create a website to gain coverage and build your portfolio, and become familiar with sites such as WordPress and LinkedIn. You don’t need anything fancy, just a basic site that demonstrates your writing ability, includes your contact information, and, as your career progresses, testimonials from clients. Freelance writers who have no online portfolio can come across as amateurs – especially if they are trying to write for online markets.

Meeting deadlines is vital if you want to earn yourself a professional, reliable reputation. Current editors or employers aren’t going to give you a great reference or testimonial if you’re lazy or miss your deadlines.

Kate Larsen says that the most important skill a freelance writer can have is the ability to work on several projects simultaneously:

A freelance writer needs to be able to manage several projects at the same time, each with different deadlines and requirements. Multi-tasking is the name of the game.”

Pitching to Editors

Keep your pitches to Editors brief - they are busy people and just want the kernel of your idea so they can make a judgement of whether it's right for their publication or not. Tailor exactly to their publication. The editor of Frankie once said if she had to scroll down through an email she wouldn't keep reading, so make sure it fits the screen! Spoon feed your pitch to the editor so they don't even have to think about pros and cons of publishing you.

Can I make a decent living from being a freelance writer?

As a freelance writer, there will be times when you have plenty of work and times when you don’t have any. There is no way to guarantee that you will be able to secure a consistent income in the industry. Be prepared to have a day job and accept that your writing is a hobby until people are calling you for an interview – then you can retire from your real job. Successful freelance writers who earn a decent living are constantly on the lookout for well-paying, reliable clients, whether they be print or online publications or companies looking for promotional material.

The aim is patience and perseverance. Do it for love, not for money, and show potential employers how passionate you are.

Be clear about payment, and send the invoice with the article. Some freelance writers ask for a pre-payment so they know for sure they will be paid for their work. Find out up-front how much you are being paid, as well as the method of payment.

More and more, writers are being asked to write for free or for ‘exposure’,” explains Kate Larsen. “While you may choose to write for free early on in your career to help build up your portfolio, it's important to remember that your work has value. Follow @paythewriters on Twitter to join the conversation about writers being adequately paid.”

Resources

  • LinkedIn writer groups. Click here for writer’s offering advice and support for free on LinkedIn.
  • The Melbourne Emerging Writer’s Festival is a "not-for-profit organisation whose foundations are built on supporting emerging writers".
  • Visit the Writer’s Victoria website – a fantastic website for emerging and established writers.
  • Express Media is great for young writers. Check out their website here.

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