The life of a freelance writer is not an easy one. There’s the constant hustle. The pressure to come up with fresh ideas that are both newsy and original. The late paychecks from delinquent clients. The ways in which you open yourself up to public criticism from everyone, including anonymous commenters who seem hell bent […]
The life of a freelance writer is not an easy one. There’s the constant hustle. The pressure to come up with fresh ideas that are both newsy and original. The late paychecks from delinquent clients. The ways in which you open yourself up to public criticism from everyone, including anonymous commenters who seem hell bent on crushing your very soul.
I’ve experienced it all but, when I eventually launched my own business — — I was regularly surprised by the issues that were holding them back the most.
What follows are the five most common problems that come up among my clients, and what you can do about them.
1. Fear of sending out the pitch
This one baffles me. Especially considering that the ones who mention it the most seem to have no problem generating new ideas or writing up query letters. Nay, their fears don’t lie in preparing their pitch. Rather, they let their perfectly good query letters languish in their draft email folders for weeks on end. Why? They worry they’ve made a mistake or left out a crucial bit of info. They worry that their letter is just not perfect enough to land them the assignment. They worry that —with their weak portfolio — they don’t even deserve the assignment.
Here’s the thing. While a strong portfolio, or strong connections, definitely help, you can still land an assignment if you have a strong idea and strong writing ability.
And if you don’t land the assignment (or hear back from an editor within five minutes of sending out your award-worthy query letter)? You can’t take it personally. Editors are busy and overburdened. Timing can be off. Your idea may be too evergreen for them, or a better fit for someone else. The only thing you can do to conquer your fear is to change your mindset and remember: a rejection is not the ultimate reflection of your abilities as a writer.
2. Inability to negotiate, or to say no to poorly paying work
When I first started out as a freelancer — struggling to land assignments and make new contacts — it seemed crazytown to turn down work, no matter how insulting the pay. And so, I said yes to publications that were paying in pennies, telling myself that the exposure was good, and that it would strengthen my portfolio.
And while the exposure was good, and I eventually got to a place where the work was coming to me, my low rates were holding me back and, oftentimes, attracting the wrong kind of interest. Which is why I had to become a .
Have the courage to ask for what you deserve, from the very beginning. Push for more and, if they say no, be willing to walk away. Know that, in saying no to the riffraff, the higher-paying work and higher-quality clients will follow.
3. Issues with scope creep, and poor time management
Sometimes, we experience scope creep because a crafty client keeps throwing new tasks at us… and we let them. Sometimes, we wildly underestimate how long a project will take. And sometimes, we spend four hours retweeting video clips of kittens and sneaking in time with the latest Top Chef marathon.
All things that will only cause panic attacks and Xanax binges as due dates creep ever closer.
How can we avoid this? Keep detailed records of how long past projects have taken, so as to aid you in future time estimates. Make sure that all aspects of a project are detailed in writing before you start work on it, with the understanding that adding on extras will increase your fee. With your due date in hand, draw up a projected project schedule, down to the very hour of each day. Find someone to provide you with a bit of accountability. (For example, I email someone with my daily goals every morning, and they ask me how I fared at the end of the day.) And for the love of god, keep the kitten videos to a minimum.
4. Income-related agita, and self-doubt
Before jumping into freelancedom, you should be clear on the fact that your chosen career provides no guarantee of a steady paycheck. It’s all on you. Can you handle this?
The successful ones can… at least most of the time. But some of the time, they’re powerless to do anything more than track their dwindling bank account with mounting horror, paralyzed by fear, and wonder: WHY DO I SUCK SO BAD!?
I’m pretty sure you don’t suck. You’re just experiencing a totally normal crisis in confidence. I have those . Booze helps.
You know what else helps? A detailed budget. The ability to hustle. And the willingness to diversify. If you remember not to put all your eggs in one basket, you’ll end up feeling a lot more secure.
Of course, our greatest enemy is ourselves… something that pops up in all of the aforementioned problems. But the worst thing we do? Deprive ourselves of downtime. Such behavior can eventually cause burnout: fatigue, illness, depression, lack of motivation, damaged relationships, etc. And that’s when freelancing stops being fun, and starts being… totally sucky.
So in addition to scheduling out your work, schedule out your downtime, too. Your meals. Your social plans. Your exercise. Your sleep. Make these things as much of a priority as your work, and you’ll find yourself leading a delightfully balanced life. That and you won’t burn out early, forced into early retirement and/or the nuthouse.
Looking for some more in-depth help? You could always for some one-on-one coaching.
Or you can get some advice from me and chat it up with fellow freelancers during Brazen Careerist’s monthly . This month we’ll be discussing your greatest challenge as a word nerd.
is a for writers and other publishing professionals. Her work has appeared in Playgirl, Time Out New York, Nerve, The Frisky and other publications. She invites you to visit her or stalk her on .