This post isn’t about making a full-time living as an author or writer. The only time I’ve been able to support myself solely on my writing income was when I was single and sharing living expenses with several roommates, but I’ve been able to supplement my income by writing, and worked on some fun and interesting projects in the process. Every freelance writer probably finds his or her own path to success, but here are some things that worked for me:
Develop a niche. It all comes back to “write what you know.” There are a lot of good writers out there, so you have to set yourself apart. I have graduate degrees in history and landscape architecture—a strange combination, but it gives me a unique and profitable set of skills. You don’t need an advanced degree to create a niche. Whether you love nature photography, or video games, or the mating habits of moths, if you focus on the things you know and feel passionate about, you’ll carve out your own space as a writer.
Network. Your niche is what you know, but who you know really does matter too. Tell people you’re a writer and you’re looking for work. Sometimes we’re shy to step up and say, “I want to write,” but once people know you have a talent for and interest in writing, you’ll start to find opportunities coming your way.
Put the “free” back in freelance. While your goal is to get paid, it doesn’t hurt to do pick up some volunteer projects on the side, maybe for local charitable organizations or other causes that pique your interest. It’s a great way to hone your skills and try new things, and it lets you meet people who may have paid work for you later.
Use social media. Start a blog, twitter account, or Facebook page devoted to more than sharing cute photos of kittens or what you had for lunch. Focus on your niche and connect with other people who share your interests. You can get paid for blogging, whether it be maintaining a successful blog yourself or writing content for the blog of an organization, but a professional-looking blog is also a chance to get your name out there.
Be professional. Even if you’re doing a job for free, or just maintaining a blog for yourself, always make it your best work. Think before hitting the “post” or “send” button. Proofread, or even better, have someone else proofread for you. Be honest—your reputation will make or break you, and you can’t afford to have people distrust you. Keep good records for your taxes; hopefully you’ll have some additional income to report at the end of the year.
Approach your writing with self-discipline. Writers are quirky creatures. We’re creative folks who often don’t conform well to regular schedules and chafe at routine. Because so much of writing happens unsupervised, though, it’s especially important for writers to be able to sit down and make themselves work. It can help to have a set time and place for writing, or just a general goal to write X number of hours a day, or break a project down into steps so it will be done by the deadline. Whatever method works for you, you have to love writing enough to be willing and able to follow through. Unfinished projects are the bane of a writer’s career, and will quickly dry up any potential work you might get from annoyed clients.
Try new things. Keep an eye out for writing jobs, even the part-time or temporary ones (which will be most of them). I’ve written everything from video scripts to field trip guides, and I’ve had a blast doing all of it. Some of the projects stretched and challenged me, but each one taught me new skills and opened further doors for me. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but also know your limits. Don’t take on a project if you know you don’t have the time or skills to complete it, and if you run into problems you honestly can’t solve, bring them to the attention of your clients as soon as possible so you can find a professional solution.
Most freelance writers don’t get rich, but if you follow these suggestions, you can turn your talent into a fun and profitable side job and pave the way for future successes as a writer.