After over 15 years as a freelance writer, and many more years writing for a living as a staffer, I’ve concluded that I’m weird.
There are things other people hate that I strangely seem to like.
I’m kind of addicted to taking on seemingly impossible assignments, for instance.
That got me thinking about what it takes to be a freelance writer, personality-wise.
I asked my audience on this blog’s Facebook page, too, and got an earful.
If you’re wondering if you could make it as a freelance writer, consider whether you’ve got these 10 useful personality traits for successful freelancing:
- Self-discipline. Some people will sit down, all by themselves, in their own home, without a boss standing over them, and work all day writing an article to meet a deadline. But they are few. Most people, left to their own devices, will binge-watch all of Game of Thrones, go for walks, fold laundry, visit the post office…anything but write. The rest of these traits you may be able to fake it a ways without, but this one is a must-have.
- Love of learning. If you love to learn new, arcane stuff, it’s a big plus. From learning how to use Twitter or how to write a great query to researching odd topics, your love of learning will serve you well. Personally, one of my most lucrative recent projects involved advanced washing machine technology. And honestly, I found it fascinating. Yes, I know I should be embarrassed by that. But — new stuff I didn’t know! Brain…wants…more.
- Inner confidence. Your feeling that your writing skill has value shouldn’t depend on an editor’s compliment, or a lucrative assignment. It should come from within, and be unaffected by outside input. I meet too many writers who tell me they can’t charge much now, because they won’t feel confident enough to do that until they get some paid writing where editors give them good feedback. No, no, no. Don’t give the power to make you believe in yourself to anyone else.
- Persistence. You gotta be committed to sticking with this, or you’ll have one dry spell, and give up and take a day job.
- Curiosity. Burning to know what happens next? What happened behind the scenes? What’s happened that nobody else has figured out yet? This will help you generate loads of story ideas, and drive you to ask prospects all the questions you need answered to create a stellar first draft.
- Boldness. Yes, like in Star Trek! Fortune favors the brave in freelance writing. If you’re willing to do things like accost customers in store aisles to ask how they like the shopping experience, pepper top CEOs with uncomfortable questions, or take a flier on writing a query to a big magazine, you’re going to have more work. I get questions every day from writers too shy to speak on the phone to people, much less do interviews in person, about whether they can succeed at freelance writing. I’d say it’s a long shot.
- A passion for self-improvement. Freelance writers move up and earn more by striving for continuous improvement in their writing craft. Always asking editors what you could change to create a cleaner first draft in future? Good, because that is the #1 way good writers develop into great writers.
- Good listener. The majority of what I do is listen carefully to what clients tell me. Then, I execute on that, and never have to do rewrites.
- Openness. Good freelance writers are egoless. They stay open to client input and are willing to work collaboratively with editors to create the writing that best serves the reader. If you are deeply attached to your precious, perfect first draft and don’t want to hear how it could be improved, you’ll have a tough time.
- Inner calm. It’s easier to keep it professional and deal with difficult clients when you’ve got this trait in your arsenal. Remember…your client’s immature behavior is not about you.
I usually like to be all upbeat and positive, and always want to encourage writers to get out there and do it. But if you’re an undisciplined, incurious prima donna who’s quick to snap at people, the freelance writing life may not be for you.
The good news is, you can cultivate the traits that make for freelance writing success. My recommendation is to pick one trait a week and focus on it, thinking and journaling about ways you could develop more of that quality.
What traits do you think make for a successful freelance writer? Add your ideas in the comments.