There are many writers out there who write for the sheer enjoyment of the process. Getting read and getting appreciated is a bonus, the pleasure is in the writing. Coming up with an idea and getting it down on paper or saved to disk is more important for many than it ever being read. Then along came the internet and blogging and everyone can have their own soapbox or opinion column. Then there are those who write for pay. With the closure of so many print newspapers in recent years, particularly in the USA, there are now thousands of talented wordsmiths out of work and looking to find a way to earn an income online as freelance writers.
Some are finding it extremely tough to adapt to not having a regular pay check, to not having an office and a support staff as well as all the facilities and resources of a corporation behind them. Many simply can’t adjust to working from home and miss the more social atmosphere of the office. This has been a problem for telecommuters for some years now and one of the biggest reasons people who were once so glad to be working from home were even happier to be back in the office, 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. Then came the GFC and they had no say in the matter. It was back to the office at home, the corner of the garage, the kitchen table perhaps. Now there wasn’t even the assurance of regular work to telecommute in to head office, they were now out of work and competing with all the other freelancers out there.
Worse still, when an industry suffers retrenchments and closures on a national scale, there are suddenly hundreds, even thousands of highly skilled professionals looking for work and there isn’t all of a sudden hundreds even thousands of new job waiting to be filled. The freelance, or outsource market takes time to adapt and in the interim, writers in third world countries willing to pump out 500 word articles for $5 are taking all the work that is on offer. People who can’t afford to work for $5 and hour, people who actually need at least $25 an hour to stay in their mortgaged homes are finding it tough and this is not restricted to professional writers and journalists. College educated sales, marketing and other professionals are finding their industry is swamped with resumes at the moment so they, too are turning to the Internet and thinking they can use their writing skills to make a buck, too.
This influx of new, possibly desperate writing talent is making it as hard for the existing freelancers as they make it for those trying to break into the game. Well, it is a dog eat dog world at the best of times and these might not be them. At least there is the Internet to turn to, imagine if that didn’t exist, what then? Everybody might have to write ad copy for mail order catalogues and how many of them can a civilized nation swallow? So what is the answer?
I think, and remember it is just my opinion, I think the would be freelance writer needs to really want to write for their living as there is every chance they can make as much, if not a lot more, doing something else. If you can retrain and career shift, then do so. If not, read on. First of all make sure you can write. You have to be able to spell and have good grammar, it is your stock in trade so work on those basic English skills if nothing else.
Then you need the tools such as a decent computer and word processing software and good, solid Internet access. I have a iMac i5 with 27 inch screen as my main unit working Office 2011 for Mac. I recently leased (tax deductible) a 13″ MacBook Air that is a dream to work with and I have a four year old iMac 23inch unit as first backup and a 10 inch Smasung Netbook PC for going out on jobs and as extra back up. Speaking of backup, I use the Time Machine automatic backup feature on my Mac to back up every hour and then every 24 hours. I have my main cable Internet access as well as a 3G set up on the Netbook and of course my local library gives me one hour free wi-fi every day if I want it or else I can wander down to McDonalds or Starbucks and get online there for free, 24/7. You are only as good as your last job and if you can’t deliver because of hardware or software malfunction or lost internet access then that is not the client’s fault or problem, it is yours. That is part of what being a professional anything is all about.
I also work from home and have a pretty well equipped office in my garage with phone, printer (with scan and copy functions and a back up printer) and even an Adler portable typewriter. It’s a 1979 classic and my iMac uses it as a stand to bring the screen to my preferred height but if duty calls, it will type out an invoice or even a report. My office is a sanctuary where my kids are tolerated briefly, given a hug and a cuddle and sent on their way. It is a place of work. I work from home true, but I also have set working hours and I stick to them unless I really need to do something else. Then I don’t have to ask the boss for personal time but I try and make it up anyway. I have a writing schedule and handle creative writing projects int eh mornings and web site maintenance and other logistical tasks in the afternoons with evenings and early mornings set aside for handling correspondence and communication. Since I live in Australia and my clients are in Europe or North America (for the most part) this means I am always online for them when they are at their desks. It also means if there is a problem at the start of their working day I can stay up over night and sort it out before they go home the next morning,my time. I can always sleep during the day if need be but the client has been given the best service and attention I can provide.
The working schedule is split between working in the business, doing the jobs for clients and working on the business, getting the work in the first place. By far the hardest part is working on the business and getting the work to do. Too many writers (and too many self employed people overall) neglect this vital aspect of their business. They can be the best writer in the world but if they don’t market themselves and get the work, who will know? Word of mouth is all well and good but it is over rated and depends on people hearing of your talent needing you right then and there or remembering you later when they do need you. Keeping the business running in a business like way takes time and effort and very often a freelancer is their own everything. Advertising, sales, marketing, research, accounts clerk and CMO, or chief motivational officer.
Few writers run their writing businesses in a truly businesslike way but it is essential to do this as well as write well. Many mediocre writers make good incomes because they churn out fair, workmanlike copy but they know how to market and sell their services. Working for yourself is a noble ideal but the reality is that it is often lonely with long hours and little support to be had. Professional forums like LinkedIn are great networking opportunities and even just as a place to go and let off some steam among people who share your work and frustrations. Nonetheless, when I weigh up the pros and cons, I know for me, working for myself as a freelance writer, with a little college lecturing and some tutoring during term time on the side, certainly beats working for a living and definitely beats working for ‘Da Man’, whoever that mythical figure at the big end of town might be.