This time one year ago, I had just quit an unsatisfying office job that was stressing me out much more than I even realized at the time. It was the kind of underpaid, 24/7, thousands of emails, pointless meetings, and taking lunch orders kind of gig. In other words, I was an editorial assistant at a big magazine. I shouldered my boss’ worries as though they were my own, dealt with gossipy coworkers and a hoarder of a seat mate…I could go on, but let’s just say I was not a happy camper.
When I finally screwed up the courage to quit, it was with the dream of making a living as a freelance writer (hello New York cliche!). I had the dream, but no idea how to make it a reality. Now that it’s been a year since I made that fateful decision, I wanted to share a bit about what I learned along the way. These days, I’ve got a pretty sweet freelance writer/editor/librarian gig over at Oyster, and I’m finally starting to write my own creative stuff again. Though I haven’t made much progress on writing the next Great American Novel, I’ve come to accept that maybe that project just isn’t meant to be right now. My heart is pulling me toward blogging, personal essay, and op-ed writing, which all sound pretty cool, right?! In honor of my one year quitting anniversary (and 1 year birthday of this blog!), I thought I’d share a few tips on making the freelance dream a reality. If you’re also figuring out the freelance puzzle, please share what’s worked for you in the comments below!
Four Freelance Writing Tips
1. PITCH, PITCH, PITCH
You’re not going to get paid writing jobs just because you know you’re a good writer. You’ve gotta put yourself out there, be your own biggest advocate, and build a portfolio to show potential clients why they should choose you for that project/article/assignment. Pitching can feel like shameless self-promotion, but it’s part of the job. Recently I pitched two fun stories to xojane.com and they were accepted the same day. Knowing I can write in that site’s tone of voice, I plan on pitching more stories there. Check out the sites you read on a regular basis, and see if they’re looking for new writers. Or try for one off gigs on places like Elance.
2. BE PROACTIVE
Along with pitching, seek out those areas where you think your expertise could add something to an existing platform. When I started freelancing for Oyster (which is basically like Netflix for ebooks), I was excited to bring my knowledge of literature (you could say I like to read) to help build out their library. Given that I’ve taught memoir writing classes for a few years now and also wrote a memoir, I felt pretty confident about making some cool new memoir sub-genres for Oyster’s library. Sports & Adventure Memoirs shouldn’t necessarily be housed in the same set as, say, political or addiction memoirs. Hence, I made my expertise seem valuable, and from there, my duties at Oyster have grown. So be proactive and prove yourself, and more will come your way.
3. PRIORITIZE YOUR TIME
Being a freelancer is not the same as going to coffee shops every day, online shopping, Facebook stalking, procrastinating, sleeping in, or binge watching your favorite shows on Netflix. If that’s how you’re thinking of it, it’s pretty much destined to not work out as a viable job (of course we all have days like this once in a while). Remember why you wanted to freelance in the first place. Was it to have time to finally work on that creative project? To have a less toxic work environment? To set your own schedule? Even more than traditional office jobs, freelancing is a balancing act. I’ve found that devoting mornings to one freelance job, then taking a lunch/yoga break, and then using the afternoon for my own article/story/blogging breaks things up nicely.
4. BE REALISTIC
Just because you’re not commuting to an office every day now, don’t expect yourself to be cranking out gorgeous pages every day a la Hemingway. And don’t expect freelance jobs to buy you a wardrobe like Carrie’s on Sex in the City. But if you’re making small steps toward living your life in a way that feels right to you– clearing the clutter out and bringing creativity in– I’d say that’s a success. Best of all, it’s a lifestyle shift that you can build upon, whether by setting creative goals for yourself or exploring new projects. Don’t beat yourself if it doesn’t happen all at once. The accomplishments we’re most proud of? Those are the ones that take dedication, tenacity, and time.
I will never look like this while I write, and I’m okay with that.