By November 22, 2013 8 Comments Read More →

Rules for the Freelance Writing Life

bootcamp_bannerThe first rule of freelance writing is that there really are no rules; repeat this a la Tyler Durden. Every freelancer who sits at home writing to earn a living will do things differently. I did have rules at first but I found they changed day by day because you can’t plan for some things.

You can’t plan for someone arriving unexpectedly during the day with a bottle of single malt, which will no doubt eradicate your plans for the next day’s work, and the day after that. You can’t plan for that point when you’ve just had enough of the daily chore of writing and the laptop accidentally smashes against the wall and you wonder, “How the hell did that happen?”

Seven years ago when I first started freelancing I had to tell people that they could no longer just turn up at my door during the day, they had to phone first to see if I was available. This of course was greeted sniffly by, “Oh so important, have to phone first” and then zero visits for the next six months. When it got to the point where I was practically begging people to visit my words were thrown back at me, “Oh but you didn’t want to be disturbed, we know not to visit you anymore.” Good work on the passive-aggressive thing there but I’d like to see your reaction if I just strolled into your office with a bottle of whisky at three in the afternoon.

Good and bad employers

The next rule, I said there were no rules but this is easier, is about money. If you are freelancer writing every day for a living it’s all about the money. Unless you are writing about something you have a passion for and getting paid well or even doing it for free for the love of it then freelance writing will become just a full-time job like any other. You may call the editor you are writing for ‘your client’ but really that’s just a wanky word for employer and like any other business there are good employers and then there are the bad employers. The bad employers are the ones who will squeeze your brain until it bleeds, for their benefit.

I’ve been lucky enough not to have to deal with many bad employers although one or two have pushed my patience to the limit (strangely, most of the really hideous employers I’ve known have been outside of freelance writing). If you want to avoid the bad employers then stop writing for low wages and by low wages I mean wages that do not offer an income you can live on. If you take up the offer of writing a 500 word article for $3 or even lower then how much time do you expect to spend each week writing to make enough to pay the rent or the mortgage or even eat. Would you sit with an employer at an interview who said, “I’ll pay you three bucks an hour to work for me. What do you think about that then?” I’m figuring you would assume they were pretty much taking the piss and I’m assuming you wouldn’t say, “That’s fantastic, I needed to go on a diet anyway.”

If you want to work out how much you need per hour to make the amount of money you need to live on then use this freelance billable rate calculator to give you an approximate idea.

Set yourself a financial limit, a limit you will not venture beneath when considering writing work. Yes, the competition out there is immense but if you start taking the minimum because times are hard or through fear of not getting another job then you’ll keep taking the minimum and you’ll begin to believe that the minimum is your worth. Certain employers keep offering these incredibly low rates per article because a huge number of writers keep accepting them. In the end you will simply be writing so much for so little that you will end up hating the job and it’s a job that does have its perks if you can get the balance right.

Know your limits

One of the perks is the ability to set your own hours. If you’ve been a freelance writer for a good few years you will begin to instinctively know your limits. You will know how long it’s going to take to write a 500 word article and how much research time you will need before you begin writing, and you’ll be able set out your daily hours in your head. You will know not to go to the pub mid-afternoon thinking you’ll only have one drink before finishing off that article because you will have learned through experience that the barman laughs at your ‘one drink’ fantasy world.

Knowing your limits is an important rule because you need to take breaks. Don’t sit for 10 hours straight in front of the computer. Stressing out about finishing a job can make you work stupid hours just to get the job finished and then, then more work comes in. Know your limits and stick to them to avoid freelancer burnout. Freelancer burnout, woe is me.

The internet is full of articles telling people the rules of being a writer, freelance or otherwise (and I’ve just added to them, as I did a few years ago) but there really is no secret formula. Start off with smaller, low paid articles (and I don’t mean ridiculously low rates) until you have enough experience and enough articles with your name on them to start heading for the higher paid jobs and if you specialize in something so much the better. Don’t believe these companies on the net who will charge you cash to show you the secrets to making millions from writing at home in your pajamas.

I don’t even own pajamas.

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About the Author:

Garry Crystal is a freelance writer living in the UK. His short stories and articles have appeared in print and online including Expats Post, The Andirondack Review, Turnrow Journal and Orato as well as business writing for US and UK companies. Garry has two sets of short stories available on Amazon entitled The Last Busker in London and Other London Tales, and A Relationship, in Pieces. He says - "Never sleep with your arm hanging over the side of the bed. Have you never seen Paranormal Activity?" They say - "A bear of scotchman with little brain" - An insult that made Garry's year. View My Profile

8 Comments on "Rules for the Freelance Writing Life"

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  1. Garry, I bow down to you for being able to scratch out a living by pounding out words for others day in and day out, and for being obsessed enough to stick to it and get it done. Because the obsession is the real motivation behind being able to write that much and eat at the same time. Thanks the stars for OCD.

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    • Thanks Dan. I think the ‘obsession’ may come from not wanting to go back to some of the jobs (or employers) I’ve had in the past. If I had your level of specialist knowledge in tech I would be in demand that’s for sure, always see notices for tech writers wanted.

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  2. Snaps to you, Garry, for being willing and able to support yourself by writing. I think I’ll stick to writing for my own (and I hope others’) enjoyment. Of course if someone Wanted to pay me I wouldn’t turn it down. Bravo, you’re a better man than I’ll ever be!

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    • I’ve had many lean times (and no doubt will again) since I started freelance writing, ups and downs but it still irks me to go onto certain freelance job sites and see employers offering very low rates, basically treating writers as if these low rates are all they are worth, as if they are throwing them some scraps from the table. When times are hard, as in economic recession, then lowering your rates is a way to go but not to the point where your are working for lower or in some cases even half of the minimum wage.

      Keep writing for your (and other people’s) enjoyment Melody and your love of writing will never diminish.

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  3. avatar Cher Duncombe says:

    Garry, you deserve to be a well-paid writer, and your tips for free-lancing are truly interesting. I believe there is a market for such writers and you have obviously found a good niche. Few, however, have the tenacity and dedication you have and perhaps aim beyond the reach of their abilities. For you, there are no limits. Your innate talent will take you as high as you want to go! We are so fortunate to have you sharing your thoughts and talent on this venue. May good fortune follow your pen always!

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    • Thank you Cher, I am working right now at 11pm so obviously haven’t taken my own advice on working ‘stupid hours”. The curse of the freelancer is the deadline, we need to get rid of those. Happy Thanksgiving to you.

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  4. avatar Anya Pham says:

    I’m getting you pajamas for Christmas.

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