How To Thrive As A Freelance Writer

Something different for today’s post. I’m frequently asked about being a freelance writer and working for myself. “How did you do it?” “Weren’t you afraid of quitting your job?” “Did you have a safety net?”
In answer to the above; with extensive planning, No, and Yes.. myself.

I’ve wanted to be a writer from the age of eight, and I have quite the collection of hand written, short stories to prove it. The most disturbing ones being; ‘Drugs Kill’ and ‘Dad hit mum with a wrench.’ (My parents let me watch Casualty with them on Saturday nights. Great for story material, bad for nightmares and the development of Hypochondria).

Writing was a passion, but very much a pipe dream. I’m from a working-class background and creativity wasn’t exactly encouraged. Neither was studying English at university, but that’s another story entirely. “English? But you already know English. You speak it!” Ahhh, people can be so drole.
I doubted myself and lost confidence. Writing as a career just wasn’t a sensible life choice.

So, I did the next best thing, I worked in the industry in which words are turned into books. Publishing. That satisfied me for a few years. But I was foolish to believe it would be enough forever.

In the end, it was a nervous breakdown that re-triggered the writing bug. I had a month away from work (forced, not chosen), with nothing to do except drive myself nuts. I wanted to document what was happening to me, with the aim of helping others in a similar position.

The success of the blog was unexpected and life changing. Maybe I wasn’t shit after all? My confidence in myself and my abilities started to blossom.

By the time I signed my book deal, I was seriously entertaining the idea of becoming self-employed. It would depend on the success of the book, and what money I could squirrel away over the following months.
The rest might be history, but it wasn’t an easy ride. I didn’t receive an advance from my publisher, (money upfront for writing it), and I had to negotiate hard for a decent royalty rate.
I wrote my book, whilst maintaining a full-time job AND planning a wedding. Crazy, me…? Never.

In the end, it was a stroke of luck that enabled me to quit my job two months before I planned. The stars aligned and all that jazz… and I knew this was my chance. The publisher I working for at the time went kaput, and I took voluntary redundancy, aka a one off payment.
The book was more successful than I ever could’ve imagined, which also gave me a modest cushion.

So as of December 2016 I was working for ME!

Top Tips – if you’re thinking of making writing your main hustle

Ask yourself the right questions

Why? Why do you want to work for yourself? If you want to be a writer, there are lots of ways to do this whilst working for an employer. (Journalism, content creators, editors etc). I wanted to work for myself because I like making my own decisions. I prefer working solo, rather than as part of a large team, and I like the freedom to set a working day that benefits me. It’s important to ask these questions before you commit. Don’t do it simply because you dislike your boss!

Don’t quit your day job

At least not initially. The exception to this rule is marrying a millionaire, winning the lottery, or inheriting a fortune from some distant aunt, who force fed you Tic Tacs as a child.
It’s important to test the waters before you dive in. This applies to all side hustles. Whether that be opening an Etsy shop, painting, or taking on graphic design commissions. Is this something that you want to do all the time? Could it really be more than a hobby? Would you be happy working alone? I did writing stuff on the side while I was still in full time employment. I wrote in the evenings, on weekends and yes, when my boss was at lunch!

Be Financially Savvy

Before I left the corporate world, I did nine months of shrewd planning.
I worked out how much money I would need, in order to provide myself with six months of financial stability. I also continued to work my day job, whilst touting for freelance work on the side. Making contacts in advance is important.

Have a few strings to your bow

I’m what Emma Gannon calls ‘a Multi-Hyphenate.’ I have multiple streams of revenue, rather than relying solely on one area. Along with freelance writing, I’m currently working on book two, and I’m regularly asked to speak at conferences. Public speaking isn’t my favourite thing, but it’s something additional that I’m good at and pays well. I’m happy to do it in order to secure other parts of my business. Btw, I would really recommend reading Ms Gannon’s book ‘The Multi-Hyphen Method,’ for more tips on this.
For you, another string can mean having a part time job at a coffee shop, or dog sitting in the evenings. Supplementing your income is just common sense.

Experience is good – piss taking is not

Do you have to write for free initially? In a nutshell, YES. However, once you have three articles under your belt (print or online), then you’re well within your rights to ask for payment, or some kind of mutually beneficial arrangement. Nothing pisses me off more than publications or websites that offer ‘exposure’ in lieu of payment. With the exception of Rhianna, who I’m pretty sure can secure decent exposure… everyone else can f**k off. It’s not unreasonable to expect payment for work.
The US are ahead of the game with this, a large amount of websites pay for content. It’s worth Googling and making a note.

Be brave

There’s always going to be an element of fear when making a life changing decision. Is this the right thing? Will you be miserable? Honestly.. I have no bloody clue. But if you’re not happy, then what do you really have to lose? As my granddad used to say, “no matter what, you’ll get a butty somehow.” Meaning, if it all goes wrong, you can always start again.
As a society, we’re pressured into making strict, conventional choices; Steady job, get married, buy a house, have kids by the age of thirty, attend PTA meetings and watch football at the weekends. (Or something along these lines). If that makes you happy, then great, I’m truly delighted for you and in some ways, jealous. However, this is my idea of HELL. It’s not what I want, and I don’t feel guilty about that.
Some people live their lives in tainted mediocrity, because they’re afraid to go off the beaten track. I’d rather make mistakes and be happy, than be safe and bored. (Rant over – and I mean no offence to anyone. We all deserve the chance to choose what’s right for us).

Keep your mouth shut  

Going off the beaten track can make other people uncomfortable. They might feel the need to sh** all over your plans and pepper you with ‘What if’ questions. Not necessarily out of spite, more likely because they love you and don’t want you to put yourself at risk. This is a perfectly natural concern. Therefore, until you have a plan and a schedule for executing said plan, I’d keep it under wraps.

Working for yourself can be incredibly fulfilling and if done correctly, a means of supporting yourself. Be brave, but be smart.


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