The fact that you’re reading this post tells me that you’ve already discovered one secret of freelance writing for yourself: it’s not easy. Before you even get started, then, here are some other things you need to know:
1. You won’t make a living from it right away
That’s not to say that you won’t ever make a living from it. Many people do: myself included. If you think that you’ll be able to quit the day job and immediately start pulling in a full-time freelance wage, though, you’re in for a shock. Building a freelance writing business takes time and effort. There are no shortcuts.
2. Qualifications won’t help you
One of the questions I’m asked most frequently is whether it’s worthwhile investing in one of the many writing courses on offer, either online or through colleges and universities. While I’ve no doubt that these courses will help you hone your writing skills and understand the business a little better, though, they won’t help you find freelance writing jobs.
The fact is that freelance writing just doesn’t work that way. It’s not like other careers where you gain the qualification and then walk straight into an entry-level job. In the world of freelance writing, it’s experience that counts, rather than qualifications. I’ve yet to be asked what kind of qualifications I hold, and very few employers have even wanted to see my resume. (The ones who did were interested in my experience, not my qualifications anyway).
The “secret” you can take from this: do a writing course if you think you need to brush up on your technical skills. Just don’t expect your qualification to open many doors for you.
3. Freelance writing is the classic catch-22
As mentioned above, the people who employ freelance writers aren’t interested in your qualifications. A magazine editor who’s considering commissioning you to write a feature for her doesn’t care where you went to school, or what kind of qualifications you have. All she cares about is whether you can deliver the type of article she’s looking for, and whether you can do it in the time scale she’s looking for it.
In order to establish whether you’re likely to be able to do this, she’ll probably want to know what your experience is: what else have you written, and whom have you written it for.
And there’s the rub. If you haven’t yet written anything for anyone, you won’t have the experience to show her. But if no one will commission you can’t get that experience.
Of course, this is no secret. In fact, it’s probably one of the reasons you’re reading this site. Before we help you work around the Catch-22, though, there are some other things you should know about freelance writing…
4. You’re going to need a thick skin
Make no mistake, freelance writing is not a career for the faint-hearted. You will get rejections: in fact, you’ll probably get a lot of them, and no matter how many light-hearted jokes you try to make about wallpapering your bathroom with them, the rejections will hurt. Sometimes they’ll hurt so much that you’ll feel like giving up.
This is another of those hard facts that you have to deal with if you’re determined to make a career for yourself in this business. If you don’t have a naturally thick skin, you’re going to have to develop one. Not everyone is able to do this. Ask yourself carefully if you can do it before you make the leap.
5. Not everyone will support you
By starting a career as a freelance writer, you’re following a dream. You’d think, then, that people would be happy for you – and, indeed, some of them will be. Not all of them, though. Freelancing as a career is a far riskier option than settling down to a nice 9-5 job. By deciding to do it, you’re taking a risk, and not everyone will think that risk is worth it. When I first started freelancing I lost count of the number of times people asked me when I was going back to work, or why I didn’t have a “real” job. The fact is that some people just don’t understand. Be prepared for this.
6. You will work harder than you did in your “regular” job
Many people cite “time” or “freedom” as a major factor in their decision to start freelancing. Quite simply, they don’t have enough of either. They get sick of working long hours for other people, never having time for themselves, and going largely unrewarded for all their hard work. They see freelance writing as a way out of that trap, imagining a blissful existence where they tap away at their laptop while seated in front of a roaring fire, or on some exotic beach.
Of course, it’s not like that. The reality of freelance writing is that it’s a lot of hard work: probably harder work – at least at first – than the job you left in order to do it. It’s long hours, weekends, evenings, holidays. It’s far less financial freedom than you’re used to.
It’s also highly rewarding and, if you love to write, probably the best job you could wish for.
Hold onto that thought.