Want to succeed at freelance writing? Kudos to you. I sincerely envy you the journey you’re undertaking: I wish I were starting out today.
Your opportunities today are truly unlimited. It’s a big wonderful world for today’s wordsmiths.
Here’s my first and best tip: consider yourself a business owner, with all that that entails; also consider that there are two arms to freelance writing.
Freelance writing: the two arms of your new profession
- Writing… Your default setting is writing. However, very little of all the writing you do will be published, but all of it is necessary. You’ll spend your life researching, thinking, interacting, and writing, writing, writing…
- Marketing yourself and your writing.
Here are two tips which will speed your journey from beginner to pro.
1. Write every day (as soon as you can. It seems impossible in the beginning)
I know you’ve heard “write every day” before, but it’s more than a cliche.
Is writing every day essential? I suggest that it is — BUT you need to build your writing muscles first. Daily writing takes muscle, because writing is stressful.
From memory, it took me several years to develop a daily writing habit so that I could achieve my goals. After I grew the habit, I stopped thinking I must write today. Writing became automatic; I didn’t need to think about it.
Here are some thoughts on how to develop a daily writing habit:
- Start small. Aim for 50 words a day, or five minutes a day of conscious writing. By “conscious” I mean that you sit down to write. Answering emails doesn’t count, but writing in your journal does;
- Think about why, to develop your motivation. Why do you want to write? What’s in it for you? If you don’t know why, but you’re compelled to write, you have a calling;
- Read. Writers read everything, including spam email and the back of cereal packets.
2. Mourn your failures and persist (without doing anything drastic)
Writers keep showing up. They bounce back from failure.
Five years after I began writing professionally, we moved house. The day before the movers came, my editor turned down a book proposal.
Usually I gave myself time to mourn a rejection, so that I wouldn’t do anything drastic. But the movers were coming…
In those days writers used typewriters. And paper. Lots of paper. A four-drawer metal filing cabinet, crammed with drafts of short stories, novels, and ideas for nonfiction books, lurked in a corner of my office. I asked my sons to empty the cabinet and incinerate the paper. (We lived on a farm; no recycling in those days.)
I’ve mourned the contents of that cabinet for 30 years. Sigh… But I learned this lesson: never DELETE anything, especially not when you’re disappointed.
Of course, I’m not the only writer to do something foolish.
One of my author friends almost did it too. She was about to hit the delete key on years of writing and ten novels when she received the magical, much longed-for and anticipated phone call from an editor. Not only did the editor want her current novel, she asked: “What else have you written?”
When I spoke to my friend, she paled when she told me how close she came to deleting her new career as a mystery novelist. “Can you imagine?” She asked. “My editor said I might get a multi-book contract, but if I’d deleted all my work…”
When you fail and misery hits: mourn. Give yourself a few days. And don’t delete anything.
Keep your nerve, and keep writing.
Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If, helped me to keep my nerve. For many years a framed copy of the poem hung on my office wall.
The poem may help you to keep your nerve too.
“If…” by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting…
If you can, you’ll make the journey from beginning writer to pro. Good luck, and Godspeed.
(A version of this article was first published on Medium.)
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