How to live as a freelance writer

Written by tracey chandler Google
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Essential tips for a successful freelance writer...

How to live as a freelance writer
Working as a freelance writer in the 21st Century is a viable option (Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images)

In theory, anyone can call themselves a freelance journalist because there are no rules or qualifications for entry. Generally though, talent will prevail and those with the appropriate experience and skills are most likely to succeed.

— Jemima Kiss, Journalism.co.uk

The freelance writing community is huge and the variety of freelance writing jobs available is infinite, particularly now that we live in an Internet-focused world where information is needed every minute of every day and where physical office spaces are no longer essential. Living as a freelance writer can be stressful at times. There can be moments when very little work is coming in, weeks when you have too much to handle, months where you are having to write about something you hate in order to pay the rent and years where you have to work for free in order to build up your experience in a certain area. Having said all that, working as a freelance writer in the 21st Century is a viable option and there are a number of different things a hopeful writer can do in order to make their writing dream a reality.

1. Consider your options

How to live as a freelance writer
Options in the freelance writing world are never-ending. (Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

The first thing to think about when it comes to being a writer is that you have an incredibly large spectrum to choose from.

Are you interested in blogging, writing content for websites, writing promotional material for businesses or how-to articles for popular community websites?

You might want to be a journalist and write feature articles or report on breaking news. As a journalist you might want to specialise in sports, music, arts, politics or local communities.

You might want to work as a creative writer - short stories, comic strips, novels, TV and film scripts or plays. You might even like the idea of being the person who writes the silly messages that we all like to read when choosing the right card to buy a friend for their birthday.

Options in the freelance writing world are never-ending. Therefore, the first tip to surviving as a freelance writer is to consider what it is you are good at, what you enjoy, what you know about and which area of freelance writing you would like to begin working in.

2. Developing your CV - internships

How to live as a freelance writer
You will need to develop your CV and get your writing published. (Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

If you have little or no experience as a writer at all, then expect to have to work for free for a while.

You will need to develop your CV and get your writing published. Until you are published, don’t expect payment (but don’t turn it down if it comes your way, naturally!) and get in on as many projects in your chosen area of writing as possible.

Invest some time in internships, develop relationships with editors on magazines that interest you and keep sending in your work. When you have enough experience on your CV and enough writing published, you will be able to begin searching for paid jobs.

3. When to stop working for free

How to live as a freelance writer
At some point, you will have to take the decision to avoid working for free (Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

The “working for free” dilemma as a freelance writer doesn’t have a specific end point.

At some point, you will have to take the decision to avoid working for free on projects you love just because you love them or just because the work is then published for a really well-respected source. Everyone needs to eat and if you want to “work” as a freelance writer, you need to leave your day job and get paid writing gigs.

However, more than the basic issue of buying food and paying rent, if you continue to work for free forever editors will always expect you to write for free. The idea of paying someone who has always worked for nothing will be difficult for editors to take on board, so don’t let them get happy and comfortable with the situation.

Having said that, you might find that after three years of working as a paid freelance writer a particularly interesting job comes along and the only way to get in on it and make contacts is to go back to working for free. Therefore, you may find yourself working for free for some people, for steady, paid work for others and for one off gigs for yet another.

4. How to charge for your work

How to live as a freelance writer
Stay aware of what other freelance writers in the area where you live are charging (Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

On that note... how does a freelance writer charge for his or her work. At the beginning, you might be in the mood to simply take what you are offered, but as time goes on you can make the decision as to whether you charge by the hour or by project.

Stay aware of what other freelance writers in the area where you live are charging to begin with. The writing community is so big that once you are working within it, getting access to this kind of information will not be hard. However, also take into account your particular needs.

Think about how long a feature article will take you to complete (you will begin to learn how to judge this in time and with experience) and then weigh the pay for that article against the hours you work and the cost of your living expenses.

As a freelance writer, you also need to make an extra effort to develop positive relationships with your clients because your clients’ situations will vary greatly too. If you are writing for a huge, multi-national company, for example, you might be able to charge a little more for your writing (you might even be offered it) because the company has the capital to pay you. If you are blogging for someone who has a small site and needs help with daily content, you might want to make your fees relative to their financial situation. This is particularly true if you love what you are writing about.

5. Developing your reputation online

How to live as a freelance writer
You should have a blog or small website with all information about you (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Even if you are hoping to work as a freelance writer in print, your online reputation as a freelance writer in the 21st Century is essential.

You should have a blog or small website with all information about you, your writing, your experience and your contact details so that when prospective clients search for you they find the information easily and they find out about all the great things you have done as a writer.

The Internet is extremely powerful and as a freelance writer you need to make it work in your favour. Link to your writing online, if you have any, list your accomplishments off line (take photos of the work and upload them) and counteract and bad press you might find about your writing by delicately defending your work on your site.

6. Advertising

How to live as a freelance writer
Get your profile on networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Craigslist. (Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Once you have your home office and a CV to die for, the only thing left to do is advertise yourself and your services.

You might be the best writer to ever walk the face of the earth, but unless you tell people about it nobody will ever give you the job you deserve.

Get your profile on networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Craigslist. Put your own advertisements up on classifieds in writing magazines. Try contacting companies or blogs you would like to write for directly too. Nothing beats the direct approach.

Tips and warnings

  • Living abroad... Many freelance writers live abroad, earn in either US$ or UK pounds and manage to live better than when choosing to stay living in the UK and working freelance. However, living abroad is not for everyone and it should be more than your work situation that forces you to leave home. Consider this option carefully.

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