writers life

5 Steps to Becoming a Freelance Writer

Most people see my flexible hours and my Instagram photos showing me working from the beach or on the road and ask me how they can do the same and I've finally gotten around to writing about it.

You’ve asked so I’ll answer! I’ve been a full-time freelance writer for three years now, working part-time for over five years before that, and I have to say it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. Most people see my flexible hours and my Instagram photos showing me working from the beach or on the road and ask me how they can do the same and I’ve finally gotten around to writing about it.

It started with my need to get into a position where I’d finally have the time to work more on my creative writing. And not just an hour or two of forced and exhausted writing but the freedom to actually write when I was inspired and be able to dedicate an entire day to bang out a few thousand words. Because isn’t that our goal as writers, to have a job where we make enough money to live off of and be able to write what we’re most passionate about?

Here are a few things you should know before you attempt freelance writing full time yourself:

  • It’s really fucking hard
  • It takes a butt-load of time
  • It takes an enormous amount of patience
  • Success is never a guarantee

So, here are the steps I took to get where I am today:

Step 1: Get a Simple Desk Job

Becoming a Freelance Writer

For me, I felt like most office jobs I’ve had in the past required minimal effort. Other than showing up on time, which was always something I was rather bad at, there was hardly any skill involved. Desk jobs are usually more about having a body at a desk and “looking busy” so I just had to find the right one for my purpose.

See, the key here was to find a job that left me with a lot of free time. Since I tend to work quickly, I’d say I would have an average of 5 free hours during an 8-hour workday. My last office job was so dull that days would go by without having a single assignment, leaving me with ample time to work on building my writing portfolio. Since my position required a lot of writing, no one even thought twice about me having a word document open all day. It was the ideal situation.

Note: If you plan on doing this for real, try to find a mindless job that doesn’t require answering phones. The ringing tends to interrupt the writing process.

Step 2: Write, Write, Write!

Becoming a Freelance Writer

Practically banning myself from social media or any other distractions, I started creating freelance profiles on several websites (such as Upwork and Fiverr) offering services that I was comfortable producing. I started off small with short blog posts and proofreading college essays, but as I gained experience I would add a new service. Eventually, I was offering services that included creating content for landing pages, press releases, and white papers. I even started editing full-length novels.

These weren’t all things I had done in the past, but I felt confident that I could provide my customers with quality work and did extensive research. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely times when the work was sent back to me for revision, but it was a great learning process. I charged practically nothing and turned down no one, and both my portfolio and experience level grew rather quickly.

Step 3: Don’t Forget The Fun Stuff

kermit typing

After I felt I had created a substantial amount of profiles on freelance sites, I started submitting my more creative work to magazines and literary journals at times when the freelance work was slow. Writing marketing content, especially within industries I don’t necessarily care about, was exhausting and often frustrating, so taking the time to focus on the kind of writing I’m passionate about was a nice reminder of my overall goal.

It wasn’t long before my work was published in several literary magazines and online websites, even earning me a regular writing opportunity for a women’s entertainment website. It didn’t pay the bills, but it certainly helped gain the trust of my clients and possibly even encouraged them to choose to work with me over other freelancers. Having my work published also led to more stable writing opportunities, which brings me to Step 4.

Step 4: Find Stability

Becoming a Freelance Writer

For me, I loved having dozens of clients at a time, all requesting different kinds of content across a wide variety of industries. I loved it at first, at least. It kept things interesting and I learned a lot, but over time it became a lot to keep track of. Keeping track of deadlines. Keeping track of payments. Keeping track of each client’s brand and voice. So, I cut out the fat. I kept some of my higher paying clients and ditched the rest.

Using my built up portfolio, I was able to snag a steady writing position at a content marketing firm that allowed me to work from home. This made it easier for me to focus on the writing as they dealt with all the payments, invoicing, and client back and forth. I was also offered a staff writing position for a celebrity news website. As I continued to build my portfolio I also continued to send my published work to similar online magazines, getting higher paying work that appeared in more recognized publications. While going the freelance route will never be truly stable, it certainly has kept things interesting!

Step 5: Leave the Desk Job

Becoming a Freelance Writer

Probably the hardest part for me was leaving the stability of my desk job. I was nervous about how I’d pay my bills if things didn’t work out. Where I would live. How I would eat. Fortunately, I was fired for my habit of lateness, otherwise, I might still be there trapped behind that computer screen staring blankly into my coffee cup.

Now, I don’t need to drink coffee. Mostly because I can sleep in and work during hours that are best for me. I’m my own boss. I have deadlines and editors who I rarely hear from, and that’s how I like it. When it’s warm, I’m working on the beach. When it’s cold, I’m working on my couch likely in my pajamas under a fleece blanket. There’s no job in the world that offers as much freedom.

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