What’s your writing process look like? Are you productive and efficient, or do you spend a lot of time spinning your wheels?
Stop right there.
If you’re dreaming about the days of crushing it as a full-time freelance writer, you’re probably wondering how to dial in your writing process, find clients, get work done, move up, and earn more.
When I was new to freelancing, I needed to hit the reset button on my writing process and mindset, but I didn’t fully understand that until years later.
If you want to be a successful freelance writer, make an appointment with Mrs. Discipline.
Why? Freelance writing isn’t for the faint-of-heart, easily-defeated type. It’s hard. It requires a long-game mindset, commitment, and the ability to deflect distractions to get work done.
Making some commitments to yourself and your freelance goals can be a total game-changer. I only figured that out after a lot of stops and starts and second-guessing myself. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Want to be a successful freelance writer? Adopt these five no-compromise rules:
Want to land an assignment with your dream magazine? Or score a copywriting contract for a dream client? Be persistent.
You may need to reach out to the editor or marketing director more than once. Your pitches may get rejected or go unanswered. But if you’re persistent, you cannot fail. Carol Tice puts it this way:
Become an unstoppable force and don’t give up until you find the clients you want, and have all the work you need.”
Tip: Still chasing that dream magazine assignment or client? Create a calendar or set reminders to follow-up on pitches. Be persistent, until you connect with the editor or marketing manager.
Blame it on Google, fast food restaurants, and the 24/7-always-on Internet. We’ve been conditioned to get what we want, when we want it. But building a successful freelance writing career takes time. Some things may take a lot longer for you to learn, master, and complete than others. But it’s worth the effort to take the time to:
- Write an effective query letter or letter of introduction
- Find the right person and email address to send your pitch to
- Follow up with prospects
- On-board new clients and learn their business
- Market yourself as a freelance writer, consistently, until you’re fully booked
- Write engaging content to wow your clients and readers
- Learn new skills and strategies to move up and earn more
Tip: Feeling frustrated freelance success isn’t happening as fast as you’d like? Stop, and take a deep breath. Maybe a couple. Reach out to your writer community for support. And remember pro writers didn’t achieve success at instantaneous speed, either. Be patient.
Pay your dues
At the beginning of your freelance writing career, expect to pay your dues. When I was itching to get published, I pitched a column in my local newspaper. The editor was thrilled but couldn’t afford to pay me, so I saw it as an internship.
I wrote the newspaper’s weekly column for over a year…for free. At the same time, I was pitching other places to land paid assignments. Eventually I did, and then something crazy happened. I used that paid assignment as leverage to turn that weekly-column gig into a paying client.
Tip: Writing for free for a year might be a bit much. But if you want to move up and earn more, sometimes it’s part of paying your dues. If you’re trying to break into a new niche, or get your first clip, pitch a pro bono project. Start, then keep going.
Make time to write
You can say you’re a writer all you want, but unless you actually write—and write regularly—you’re simply an educated human.
To make it as a freelance writer you need to make time to write. If you’re a wealthy recluse who lives alone, you’ve got all the time and money in the world. But for everyone else, you’ve got to figure out how to make freelance writing fit in with the rest of your life. For example:
- Wake up an hour or two before your day job to write, complete an assignment or send a pitch
- Set up a day-care trade with a friend, so you can write without mom-or-dad-duty distractions
- Work the eight-to-midnight shift on your computer, and work on writing once the kids are asleep (something Carol Tice did for years)
Tip: If you’re just starting out, or you’ve hit a slump, spend all your writing time working on query letters and letters of introduction. Once you’ve got assignments, don’t procrastinate. Make time for writing to get the work done.
Make freelance success your priority
This is the most important no-compromise rule in my opinion. To succeed as a freelancer, writing has to be your priority.
I recall a conversation with my aunt, a successful artist, when I was first started freelancing. I had engagements after work every day that week and was complaining about not getting writing gigs.
She looked at me and plainly said: “Well, it looks like socializing is more of a priority to you than your writing career.”
I was floored. I wanted to retort, but how could I? She was right. If your priority is writing, you will skip other tasks to accomplish your goal.
Tip: In order to make freelance writing a priority, take hard look at your current schedule, priorities, and responsibilities. Can you commit to this? Are you willing to put in the work, and stick with it until you’re successful? What are you willing to give up, or move down on your priority list to make room for writing?
Follow the rules to move up, earn more
Freelance writing isn’t easy. But it’s also not impossible…you just have to want it. And not just want it, you have to be willing to adopt a few no-compromise rules to make it happen. If that means waking up extra early or staying up late to make a writing deadline or stick to your writing plan, then so be it. That’s the path to freelance success.
What are your no-compromise rules for freelance success? Let’s discuss in the comments below.
Sally Baho is a freelance writer based in Monterey, California. She loves food and people and writing about both.