Why So Many Freelance Writers Don’t Last

Prepare yourself.

As an editor, I’ve seen many writers come and go. I’ve worked with many of them who were good at writing — but very unprepared to work as freelance writers.

Unfortunately, I’ve rarely been in a position to ask writers who were unable to complete their assignments what their biggest struggles were.

But I have a feeling I know at least one reason why many freelance writers don’t last in online publishing.

Many of them expect freelance writing to feel a lot like blogging, or working on their own book. They expect to be able to set their own pacing and routines — and that once these routines are in place, they don’t have to change.

Unfortunately, these expectations fall short of reality. By a long shot.

I learned a long time ago — the hard way — that if you go into any job expecting the rules and procedures to stay the same, you are going to drown.

Big publications provide content for readers to consume. But in doing so, they must also ensure that every page that’s being read generates a profit. That’s how it works. That’s why ads exist.

The problem is, the way online advertising works changes CONSTANTLY. The most effective ways for publications to get people to click through articles changes CONSTANTLY. The reason it often feels like no one ever has it figured out is because as soon as they do, it’s already too late.

Internally, these publications have to stay as many steps ahead as they can. So their writers are subjected to constant updates that convey something along the lines of, “We’re experimenting with this new thing. It’s different than the way you did it yesterday. Do it this way today.”

Many people are not prepared for this.

They are not aware that they will be expected to stay on top of constantly shifting trends — not just in what they’re writing about, but the process by which they produce and publish their work.

I’m not quite sure exactly why this is. Especially on a case-by-case basis. And that makes it really hard to suggest a solution.

But it’s definitely helpful and essential to remember that as a freelancer, you usually have very little control over what and how you write. You have to understand that from the beginning. As a freelancer, you’re not running your own blog or writing your own book.

You’re playing by the internet’s rules now. If you aren’t OK with that, then this kind of writing might not be for you.

And that’s OK. Some people just aren’t willing to give up their need to control every part of the writing process. I understand why that might be the case for you.

This stuff is complicated. And that’s exactly why writers without enough experience simply can’t survive in this environment right away. You have to learn that two days working for the same publication most likely won’t be the same. You have to be alert. You have to know what you’re getting into before you dive in — or you just won’t survive.

Let go of your control. Accept that change is the constant variable. And hang in there.

It doesn’t get easier. But it does pay off … eventually.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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7 thoughts on “Why So Many Freelance Writers Don’t Last

  1. Good points, Meg. Freelance writers definitely need to wear a lot of hats, at the same time (please excuse the hackneyed phrase), and be ready to adapt to new voices and styles on the fly. I would add that this is going to look different depending on the niche a freelance writer finds themselves in. A blog assignment for, say, a San Francisco startup making treadmills might look a lot different—on the backend—than writing an About page for a new hipster clothing line. Still, what you wrote is very true: change is the constant variable.

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