A Guide to Freelance Writing as a Career

Writing is an essential job skill. Businesses nowadays require writers in a variety of capacities, which has expanded the freelance writing field. If you are interested in working as a freelance writer, it’s time to begin setting your rates, marketing your services and managing your projects.

Writing pushes you to extend a line of thought beyond your first impression or gut response. Many enjoy writing and think they could make a career of it, but some burn out in the process. Getting in the rhythm of writing is a lot of work. Writing requires passion and a degree of seriousness.

This article will help you find a market for your writing, teach you how to take your initial idea to a first draft and through the editing and rewriting process, and provide you with pointers on how to improve your writing in general.

Why Write?

Writing enables us to share our thoughts and ideas with others, evaluate situations, challenge the truth, answer questions and understand subjects deeply. Writing down our thoughts refines them, allowing us to provide others with useful feedback. The ability to write and communicate well enables us to influence people and society. Writing systematizes and orders knowledge.

instantShift - Guide to Freelance Writing

Writing skills are essential to achieving career and business goals. Writing is vital in all of the following fields:

The academic world

Academic writing requires critical thinking skills: you must decide whether sources are credible and relevant to your topic. Determine what examples and facts will be the most meaningful to readers, and develop your research into a coherent, solid argument.

The professional world

When applying for a job, your language should be mature, objective and intelligent. Impressive credentials and unique content presented in elegantly and systematically will make a favorable impression on the recruiter.

Internet content

It’s the age of the Internet. The masses are browsing online job websites and social networks, and most of these people have a good head on their shoulders. To beat the competition, a writer should possess above-average writing skills in combination with a credible and relevant style.

The business world

Business is conducted not only verbally: project proposals need to be made, too. The content of documents should be clear, concise and lucid. Poor writing skills will transmit the wrong message and elicit a negative response from clients.

The scientific world

Scientific and technological breakthroughs are published in journals and white papers. Scientific concepts should be communicated in effective and sophisticated language; otherwise, the reputation of the organization or individual will diminish.

The administrative world

All activities in the government sector require filling out forms and writing applications. One must be able to write accurately and lucidly.

In global affairs

Important international agreements such as treaties, trade agreements and alliances require superior writing skills. Critical points must be related in a clear style so as to avoid misunderstandings.

Generally, writing standards have declined. Activities like watching television, emailing, instant messaging and texting have replaced the habit of reading and writing. Call centers have grown, indicating the importance allotted to oral communication. Mobile Internet access means that we are communicating with each other more than ever before, but the quality of this communication is questionable. Increasingly, we use acronyms in our emails and instant messages. We need to reform educational systems in order to counter these negative trends.

Build Yourself as a Freelance Writer

Anyone with enough motivation and commitment can become a freelance writer. Do you want the freedom to earn to your potential, the liberty to work from home and control how you spend your time? If so, freelance writing may be your best career choice.

Articulate yourself as a writer.

The desire to communicate, the drive to excel and a love of writing will help you on your way to being a successful writer. Freelancing is a great way to work on your own time, without the shadow of a boss. Writing is a talent. Some people are naturally better at it than others, but anyone can learn to write and communicate effectively. Writing is a skill that can be developed through training and practice.

Freelance writing is not for everybody, but if you can write in clear, solid English, it is likely you can make money as a freelance writer.

Position yourself as a freelancer.

Freelancing is an exciting and independent career path. A solid grasp of design, development and entrepreneurship is required. Freelancers are also entrepreneurs. Many freelancers fail not because they lack talent or skill, but because they don’t know how to run a business. You’ll need to be able to manage resources (financial and human), market yourself, write copy, plan and organize. As a freelance writer, confidence is an absolute necessity.

Be a Successful Freelance Writer

To succeed as a freelance writer, your work should be clear and concise. Concision means that every word counts. Write simple and direct sentences, and avoid showy, jargon-filled sentences. Don’t get caught in a web of words. Write naturally and directly. Writers need to be able to communicate their ideas to readers; when you explain something, your point should be clear the first time around or else the reader will get lost.

instantShift - Guide to Freelance Writing

Some guidelines to remember:

  • Avoid plagiarism. Don’t take someone else’s words or ideas and present them as your own. It’s unjust to the original writer and unethical in general.
  • Gather information. When you decide on a topic, begin to gather information. Acquire the necessary data, and then start writing. Always include your source.
  • Organize your thoughts. Group similar items under headings: this creates a skeleton for your paragraphs.
  • Broaden your horizons. Include articles that you have written for others in your portfolio.
  • Read. This habit is essential to your growth as a writer. Avid readers become inspired and skilled writers.
  • Write regularly. Write anything and everything. Find your voice, and sharpen your writing skills.
  • Be resourceful. Job opportunities are everywhere, but it’s up to you to be attentive and find them.
  • Don’t get disheartened. If your freelance writing career doesn’t take off immediately, don’t fret. As long as you have the desire to achieve your goals, there are ample ways to enhance and polish your writing skills.

What Kind of Writer Should You Be?

Narrowing your focus is a fundamental marketing principle. There are many topics and genres, so which to choose? Carving out the right niche is one of the best ways to become a profitable freelance writer. Instead of trying to cater to every possible client, focus on a package of services that caters to a narrow target market. As a specialist, you will be able to charge more than a writer who writes anything for anyone.

As you delve into your niche, your expertise will become recognized. Expertise brings more value to readers and creates long-lasting relationships with clients. Good writers interact effectively with their audience, and it’s more rewarding to interact with an audience that you know. Choose what corner of the writing sky you would like to occupy!

So, how to choose a niche? Explore the industries and topics that interest you. This is important! If you are completely bored with a topic, staying motivated will be difficult. When discovering your niche, focus on your:

  • Interests and passions,
  • Knowledge,
  • Experience.

Now that you’ve identified a few options, check out the market for your niche and your competition. If a market is saturated, success will require a lot of hard work and marketing. Try to go for something that’s not so saturated.

Here’s a few things to consider when looking for a niche:

  • Style Your writing style will help define your niche.
  • Work Ethic The way you work can help you find your niche. Deliver quality content on or ahead of schedule, and satisfy clients in order to differentiate yourself.
  • Industry Define your niche by choosing a particular industry. For example, some writers specialize in finance or health. Choose a group of related industries to specialize in.
  • Supply and demand Perhaps you love writing about health and nutrition. There is certainly a high demand for it. But many writers might also be supplying this demand. The going rate in a health segment may be lower than you’d like. You can still be successful, but you will have to do some extra work to market yourself. Find a way to rise above the rest.

Choosing a niche simply helps you market your business more effectively. It helps you position your services and profit from them. A writing niche doesn’t limit your business—it elevates it.

Inspire Yourself

Writers are inspired by their outlook on life and field of interest. Any event, experience, fact or piece of information can be inspiration, with the potential to be cultivated into a story, article or book. What’s keeping you? Awaken your weary soul and let the inspirational breeze flow.

instantShift - Guide to Freelance Writing

Whether you are at work, at home or taking a vacation, be on the lookout for inspiration. Great ideas come when you are at leisure. Breaks in routine charge you with new ideas.

Inspiration needs no fixed agenda. Flip through a magazine or newspaper and see what comes. Go through your favorite books: when a person is immersed in familiar material, they may be able to think better. Music is a great inspiration. Listen to music to calm yourself: this increases your efficiency several fold. You’ll be able to put all your energy into one thing. Nurture a thirst for fresh ideas in everything you do and they will come.

These pointers will help get those juices flowing:

  • Prioritize. Make writing your first priority—it is your passion, after all—and schedule your time accordingly. Write in different places to inspire yourself. Read the biographies of writers you admire and meet them in person if possible.
  • Start small. First write small bits just for fun. Your first draft doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be there. Write down your ideas as they come.
  • Set a routine. Schedule your time. A creative routine maintains energy. The creative self needs a break: if you are constantly busy and burned out, your creativity will die.
  • Take a break. When your attention and energy fade, take a break. Go for walks or, believe it or not, do some housework to empty your head. Movement creates a sense of energy, which turns those creative wheels.
  • Release your unconscious mind. Writing is somewhat of an unconscious process, so when your mind is cluttered, writing is a struggle. The only way to release it is to sit still and meditate.
  • Browse around. When struggling for ideas for posts, browse through an archive and reread old posts. But remember, there is a fine line between learning and procrastinating.
  • Practice. Practicing is the shortest way to proficiency. Sometimes, write only for yourself, stuff that you’ll never show anyone. This allows you to find your voice and gain confidence.
  • Keep an inspiration notebook. To keep track of sudden inspiration, carry a notebook with you. An inspiration notebook is a great reminder that you’re a writer.
  • Seize the opportunity to write. Write whenever you can. Review your notebooks regularly.
  • Look outward. Bounce your ideas off others. Whenever your batteries are drained, meet up with a good writer; something about it will charge you up, and you’ll get back to work.
  • Look inward. The secret to inspiration isn’t getting inspired: it’s being inspired. If you’re serious about writing and want to make a career of it, remember: your writing is an extension of who you are.

Discover a Solid Writing Process

Now let’s talk about the art of writing. Like most things, the more you write, the better you’ll get. Through experience, you will develop a process that suits you. The stages include: prewriting, writing, revising, editing and publishing. Let’s explore these in depth.

instantShift - Guide to Freelance Writing

1. Prewriting

A good writer never jumps straight into writing without creating an outline. Identify your audience, and then gather your thoughts. Prewriting is your opportunity to plan, and it includes everything you do before starting the rough draft. In fewer words, prewriting means coming up with an idea!

When you’re done thinking, add flesh to the bones of your idea through the following:

  • Free writing Write everything that comes to mind about your topic. Don’t stop to edit, even if you make mistakes.
  • Brainstorming Write your idea or topic in the center of your page. Jot down offshoot ideas that arise from it.

Once you’ve done one or both of these, it’s time to plan and structure your writing piece. During your free writing and brainstorming, you had many thoughts. Decide which of them belong to this piece of writing and which can be kept for another time. Order the ideas in a logical progression.

2. Writing

This is the time to compose your rough draft. Sit down with your plan and start writing. When writing a first draft, word count, grammar, spelling and punctuation don’t matter. Don’t worry if you’ve gone off topic; just keep writing!

All writers must go on a journey with their rough draft until it is a final copy: even renowned authors write multiple drafts before they’re satisfied. This is a normal part of the writing process. Writing requires concentration and energy. Get focused!

3. Revising

Writers improve their first draft by revising it. After reading the draft and sharing it with others, they make changes based on the feedback. The changes could be big or small. You might remove sections, rewrite entire paragraphs or add missing information that the reader will need. The revision stage requires the following:

  • Adding What else does the reader need to know?
  • Rearranging Even after you’ve planned your piece, sections may need rearranging.
  • Removing Perhaps you’ve gone over the word count and need to take out a few paragraphs.
  • Replacing See if you need stronger examples and quotations to support your argument.

4. Copyediting

Copyediting is the process of correcting mechanical errors. It involves getting up close and personal with individual sentences and words. Editing should be done after you’ve made large-scale revisions, or else you could agonize over perfecting a sentence, only to cut it in the end. When editing, go through your piece line by line to ensure that each sentence, phrase and word is as strong as possible.

Some questions to ask while editing:

  • Have you used the same word too many times in a sentence or paragraph?
  • Are any of your sentences hard to understand? Do you need to rewrite them?
  • Could words be removed to make a sentence stronger?
  • Are your sentences grammatically correct? Are there any run-on sentences?
  • Is everything spelled correctly? Don’t trust your spell-checker: proofread.
  • Have you used punctuation marks correctly? Commas often cause difficulties.

5. Publishing

Publishing is the final stage of the writing process. Publishing the final piece can be achieved in a wide variety of ways and depends on what you’ve written. Check guidelines carefully, and make sure to follow them. Your piece may never be published. That’s okay. Nothing you write is wasted, because it all contributes to your growth as a writer.

Writing Tips

Freelancers can’t take things as they come: they must scratch and claw. Put your best foot forward, and convey the image of a true professional in your field. Sometimes, though, we sabotage ourselves. Bad writing mistakes can be caught early if a conscious effort is made.

Grammatical Errors That Make You Look Careless

Breaking the occasional rule of grammar is fine in order to communicate effectively. But some mistakes will detract from your credibility. While we hope that what we’re saying is more important than some silly grammatical error, the truth is that some people will not consider your work if it contains errors. Silly mistakes will make them automatically rule out buying your work.

Here are some common errors:

  • Excessive use of the passive voice When you use a form of the verb “be,” you are writing in the passive voice. This is not technically an error, but overuse can make you sound unsure of yourself.
  • Too many adjectives The occasional adjective makes your writing colorful and effective. Stringing a long list of adjectives together makes you sound insincere.
  • Abbreviations Abbreviations are like slang: your readers’ understanding of them will vary widely. Be absolutely sure that your audience will be familiar with an abbreviation before you use it.
  • Quotation marks There are very clear rules for using quotation marks. Usually they enclose direct quotes and titles of short works, such as articles.
  • Long paragraphs Like sentences, paragraphs are most effective when kept fairly short. Start a new paragraph when exploring a new idea.
  • Too many big words Packing your writing with big words to impress isn’t the way to go.

Your Bright Future as an Author

Every freelance writer dreams of being an author. Being an author has its rewards, but they are not always monetary. You may be closer to authorship than you think. Never be satisfied, and keep pushing yourself to shoot for more. There will always be authors who are better known, more successful and better selling than you. So keep driving yourself to be the best.

instantShift - Guide to Freelance Writing

Your formula for success could include writing to make a positive change in people’s lives, guiding and encouraging young authors or writing simply for the joy of it.

Here are some tips to become a happy and successful author.

1. Be friendly with other authors

Other authors are not the enemy. In fact, they often prove to be motivators and guides. Learn to work cooperatively, and you will benefit from incredibly valuable information that will allow you to thrive in the marketplace. When we don’t cooperate and we refuse to share market information with one another, publishers end up with all the power.

2. Invest in yourself

Your entire career depends on you and your ability to protect and renew your creativity, ideas and energy. You are the resource, the source, the supplier, the distributor, the factory, the product and the package. Nurture, enrich and expose yourself to new ideas and new ways of thinking, and treat yourself as a precious commodity.

3. Plan

Sketch out a business plan, even if it’s just a rough page of notes to yourself. Your business plan is a road map for the coming year: without it, heading out on a road trip is quite dangerous. Unexpected challenges are a part of any journey, but your map keeps you grounded.

4. Be choosy

Make it a policy to work only with people you genuinely like. Life is too short to work with divas and people who are unethical or just plain mean. Work with honest, trustworthy, reliable and ethical people.

5. Discover your niche and work it

Think of all the ways to work your niche. Expand your territory. Explore international markets. Get the maximum mileage out of your existing material. The sky’s the limit.

6. Be contract-savvy

It’s what’s written in the contract that counts. Don’t sign the first version of a contract. Educate yourself about contract issues and copyright law. Work with writers and professional organizations to guarantee and protect your rights.

7. Pay for good advice when you need it

Sometimes trusting the experts is best. Don’t be afraid to pay for good advice when you need it. Don’t be an amateur lawyer or accountant: avoid any major career and financial mistakes that could cost you.

8. Love what you do

Make writing a significant part of your life. If you’re not writing but are totally in love with the written word, or if you are writing but falling into the trap of writing only to pay the bills, find ways to free up time to do the work that you love. Remember, you can’t work without passion.

9. Define success on your own terms

Dare to define what it means to be a successful author on your own terms. Know when to be satisfied and when to push yourself to hunt for more. There will always be an author more famous, successful or salable than you. You can drive yourself crazy trying to be the “best” or trying to make it to the top of the bestsellers list.

Writing Resources and Tools

Writing is an essential skill, not just in business but in life. Many resources for improving your writing skills are available online. Some require payment, and some are free.

Resources on grammar and style:

Blogs about writing:

  • Copyblogger – Teaches you the basics of writing. These regular posts are darn good.
  • Men With Pens – Useful tips for writers, freelancers and entrepreneurs.
  • Problogger – Darren Rowse has a great resource here for copywriters and tells you how to generate income online.
  • Copywriting – Many resources on generating profit, including tools and articles.

Writing tools:

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Find Something Missing?

While writing this article, it’s always a possibility that we missed some other great writing tips and resources. Feel free to share it with us.

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  1. Bookmarked this article. Anders, thank you for the great reference links and intersting and informative read. I Love what I do!

  2. Thank you for sharing, i appreciate your efforts!

  3. Great article…Thanks for sharing. I will definitely take some points and improve myself as a freelance writer.

  4. Excellent Guide.. You have explained every bit of Freelancing.

    Thanks for share.

  5. All agree, but you have to have motivation

  6. This is a wonderful article, motivation and belief are the key to freelancing.

  7. Very Informative. I have bookmarked this article for future reference

  8. Excellent article as per usual.

  9. I appreciate your efforts… Thank you for sharing…

  10. Excellent post! I believe motivation and dedication are truly important aspect of every freelance career.

    Thanks for sharing!

  11. A wonderful list of resources on grammar and style.

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