What to Expect As a New Freelance Writer

Don’t expect to rely solely on your client income — yet.

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Being new at anything is tough. New freelancers definitely don’t have it easy. It’s likely different than most of the writing you’ve done before, both in process and in consistency. Things tend to move slowly, you’re almost always on your own, and all hopes of being able to afford take a vacation are pretty much zapped. Also, you don’t really know what you’re doing … which is kind of a problem.

I’ve been there. I’ve struggled. Your first year will be a rollercoaster, but here are some things you can expect.

Finding the work you really want to do is hard — maybe even impossible — at first

I did not start out as a health writer. I couldn’t — I just didn’t have enough freelancing experience for clients to trust me with such a delicate subject. So I started out writing in the productivity, self-improvement and (ugh) fashion spaces, until I logged enough hours to prove I could get my work done on time — and get it done well. You might be able to start out doing exactly the kind of writing you want to do — but it’s not a guarantee. Expect to complete a lot of ‘odd’ projects until you’ve built up the experience necessary to really go after your dream clients.

You might realize you’re really bad at time management

Freelancing isn’t like any job you’ve had before this one. No one’s chasing after you, asking how much progress you’re making. You’re not clocking in and out at the same time every day. Ideally, you create your own schedule — which also means you are responsible for meeting the deadlines your clients give you. If your workspace isn’t organized, if you’re not used to having to juggle multiple projects, you might struggle at first. That’s to be expected. If that worries you, start with just one project and go from there. You don’t have to take on a handful of clients your first week and try making it all work when you’ve never done that before.

You’re not going to make much money, so don’t ask for it

There’s a reason many writers slowly transition into freelancing from their full-time jobs, and not the other way around. No, you shouldn’t let anyone pay you minimum wage or below for your high-quality work — but you do have to understand that all freelancers start at the bottom and work their way up. You can’t start out making thousands of dollars every week — it’s just not feasible. You need to be able to prove you’re worth hiring and working with first, before you can take on multiple clients and demand higher compensation from each. Without the experience to match, asking for a high rate just makes you look bad.

At some point, you’re going to mess up

Things happen. Especially when text communication is the only daily interaction you have with clients. Sometimes, they’re just not good at telling you exactly what they want. Other times, you just do stuff wrong. This is part of the learning process. You’re still figuring out your freelancing strengths and weaknesses. I don’t think it’s fair for clients to expect you to be perfect. Should you turn in your absolute best work, every time? Yes. But don’t let the occasional misread direction or less-than-optimal performance bring you down. You’ll get the hang of it. Clients who understand you’re not a superhuman are worth keeping around.

But by the end of your first year, you’ll have it all (mostly) figured out

By my first freelanciversary, I was able to rely solely on client income to adult successfully (well, relatively speaking). I had a handful of long-term clients I actually enjoyed working with. They trusted me, and I trusted them. I had a better eye for clients that were going to treat me well and those who never would — before I even reached out to them. Most importantly, I’d found where I fit. I’d migrated completely over to my niche, and didn’t feel pressured to do work outside of that. I still sometimes struggle with time management, and wanting to do everything perfectly, and knowing when I can and can’t ask for a higher rate than I’m used to. It’s a constant learning experience. But if you want to write professionally, I’d say it’s a very rewarding place to start.


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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The Unwritten Rules of Freelance Writing

Take your role seriously, or your clients won’t.

I started freelance writing because I didn’t have enough writing experience to get a full-time writing job. I was the stereotypical post-grad millennial who, after six months of not being able to find a job, chose freelancing as a last resort. It ended up teaching me more lessons about work and professionalism than I expected — and eventually led to my first (real) job as a staff writer.

Freelance writing has rules, whether you know them or not. Here are the ones you should know before you launch your career.

Don’t expect to get rich quick

It’s not possible to start out freelancing one month and the next have enough income to pay your bills. If there are exceptions out there, I’ve never heard of them. Freelancing is hard to break into. It took me about six months to go “full time” (meaning I was working the equivalent of 40 hours a week most weeks), and even then, I wasn’t making enough to be able to afford, well, anything. But I knew that going in. I had a plan. Still, even freelancing on top of a full-time writing job barely pays those student loans, but it’s been about 18 months since I first started freelancing — it takes awhile to build up a decent client base and have the experience to be able to charge more per hour. You have to accept going in that you’re going to be making pennies per word at first (not for long, but to start). There’s no other way that I know of to get started.

Never settle for less than you’re worth

You can’t feel guilty for demanding more money unless you don’t deserve it. I worked with a client for a year before I, very politely, started discussing the possibility of working for a better rate. I simply couldn’t afford to do the amount of work they were asking for at that rate anymore. Even though he never agreed to my proposed rate, and we stopped working together, having the confidence to bring it up was extremely important. You can’t undersell yourself, and you can’t agree to work if it’s below what you know you need to charge. It’s not fun letting what seem like amazing opportunities slip away, but you need to make a living — you can’t say yes to everything.

You’re under no obligation to put up with jerkfaces

We’ve all been in situations where we had to keep quiet and put up with terrible people because we couldn’t afford not to. This isn’t the case with freelance writing, even if you’re convinced otherwise. You might think that you need this job or are depending on a relationship with this client, but trust me, there’s always something better (and someone nicer) out there. Personally, I’d rather work for a lower rate with someone I enjoy connecting with than scoring a high rate with a total jerk. Yes, making money, building relationships — it’s all important. But if someone is treating you unfairly, or they’re just a garbage person, walk away. You deserve better.

They don’t mean it when they say “eventually I’ll be able to pay you more”

Don’t fall for the “as our business grows, so will your paycheck” speech. While many clients mean well, and might actually intend to increase your rates as time goes on, this more often than not won’t happen. I’ve actually had clients tell me this (and I believed them) only to eventually have to pause my contract because they couldn’t afford to pay me even the initial rate. I’ve also had plenty of clients end contracts because I asked for higher rates and they very quickly found someone who could work for a lower rate.

The client-freelancer relationship isn’t always friendly

However, that doesn’t mean all your clients will be cold, mean and abusive (if they are, get out). I have some as-needed contracts in which I only communicate with clients as they’re assigning new work to me. I don’t know much about them beyond the publication they work for. They demand, I deliver, they pay me, and that’s that. I also have clients who actively engage in conversation with me as we’re working together on projects. Some clients are warm and inviting; many aren’t. You never know what you’re going to get, so it’s usually best to focus on delivering the best work possible to keep them happy, and nothing more.

You are the expert — act like it

Clients are hiring you to write. Sometimes, that means you have to follow a very strict set of guidelines to give them what they need. However, your client is hiring you as a writer — you know what you’re doing. There are times when asserting your expertise is appropriate, and beneficial. Be mindful of that. Sometimes, it’s OK to give suggestions and feedback without being asked. Some clients won’t appreciate it, but you never know — some will. Through the work that you do, prove that you’re knowledgeable and competent enough to do what you’re doing. I’ve found that if you don’t do this, people are much more likely to push you around, dump more work on your plate without increasing your pay, and treat you with a gross lack of respect. Some people might not agree with me here, but freelance writers are part of the publishing process. Take your role seriously, or your clients won’t.

Sometimes, freelancing is fun. Sometimes, it feels a LOT like work. Take it seriously, but be an enjoyable person to work with, as much as you can. Understand that not all clients are nice, but there are gems. Most importantly, never forget that you’re doing this because you want to be a writer. No matter how tough things get, you chose this. Make the most of every moment.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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Back to Basics: 5 Things Editors Expect You to Fix BEFORE You Submit

You might not even realize you’re making these mistakes.

Writing on your own, it’s easy — and acceptable — to leave small errors and ‘iffy’ sentences alone until you decide to edit later (if you ever get that far — let’s be honest). This doesn’t fly when you’re submitting your work to an editor, though. There’s a certain level of “polished” editors expect from anything they consider for publishing, and if you’re not willing, or don’t know how, to get to that stage, you’re going to have a hard time getting published.

This goes far beyond basic spelling and grammar. (If you can’t fix these obvious errors on your own, you’re probably not quite ready to submit to editors — and that’s OK.) Here’s what to make sure you’ve revised/rewritten before you send off that piece of writing.

1. Unnecessary words

Fluff is not at all an impressive thing. For many people, it’s a leftover bad habit from meeting word count or page requirements in high school English class. Even if it’s something you still do automatically, practice correcting your temptation to add extra words to every sentence. An editor would much rather read 300 words of quality, easy-to-read content than 600 words of fluff. While it’s better to write too much at first and cut it down later, if you can’t fill a word count requirement with good information, maybe don’t submit that piece of writing just yet. Or at all.

2. Hard-to-spot errors

SpellCheck doesn’t pick up everything, but 99 percent of editors do. Unfortunately, even an innocent typo can make you look careless and unprofessional, even if your writing is phenomenal. Sometimes you just don’t catch things. But the chances of this happening decrease significantly when you take the time to read and reread your content before you submit it. It is not appropriate to submit a first draft. The most common yet surprisingly helpful editing tip you’ll hear is to read your work backwards, sentence by sentence. Read it out loud, too, if you can; this also forces you to pay more attention to what the words on that page actually mean.

3. Passive voice

Editors are thrown off by excessive usage of passive voice. See what I did there? That is a horrible sentence. How many times did you have to read it before you understood what it meant? Passive voice is another one of those hard-to-kick writing habits, but it’s one you need to teach yourself to break. Always keep your writing active. Active voice impresses editors. They aren’t impressed by it. Words like “by,” “of,” and “from” are common warning sings that your sentence needs a quick makeover.

4. Complex language

Big words don’t make you sound smarter. Sometimes transitioning switching from academic formal to more familiar informal writing is challenging. But in general, you shouldn’t use words more than three syllables long if you don’t have to. Those of you whose first language isn’t English actually have a small advantage over the rest of us! You’re less “tempted” to use overcomplicated complex words because your brain is wired to use the simplest English term you know. (I wish I had that magical ability had a brain like that some days …)

5. Formatting and style

Each publication generally has their own style guide — usually a hybrid of AP Style and their own brand/company specifications. Not all editors expect you to have these rules mastered with your first submission, but it’s definitely an effective strategy for making a good first impression. Do pay attention to submission guidelines, though — if they give you a link to their style guide, or specify exactly how they want something formatted, follow their directions. I used to review applications for an online writing internship. After awhile, I started throwing out sample pieces that didn’t follow our style guide. Even if you don’t have their guide in front of you, at least follow the format of the content they’ve already published.

Good writing isn’t good enough if you continue making careless mistakes (whether you know you’re doing it or not). Impress your editors. Don’t give them any reason to doubt your skill. It’s not an editor’s job to “fix it for you later.” Never assume you have that kind of safety net. Ever.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

My Biggest Freelance Writing Mistakes (and How You Can Avoid Making Them)

Do not do as I do.

I’m not perfect. I make mistakes.

But I learn from them. Especially when it comes to my job.

I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I have. Your work is hard enough.

So sit back and read as I share my biggest freelance writing mistakes with you, dear readers.

Weirdly, some of these points, at least on the surface, go against everything I preach. Just remember: you gotta know the rules before you can disregard the rules.

Agreeing to write about things I wasn’t interested in writing about

I am a health writer — yet my first freelance writing job was in the fashion niche. Last year I wrote about personal development and tech, too. There were moments I loved the opportunity to learn new things and “expand my knowledge base.” But the busier I got, the more I realized: I needed to focus on my niche. Writing outside of it wasn’t worth the money or the experience after just a few months. I’m all for the idea that it’s not bad to write within the unfamiliar. But if you’re trying to establish yourself within a specific niche, stay in that niche.

Offering to do more than I was getting paid for

I’m an overachiever. I work to impress. But in the beginning, I took that a little too far — and as a result, it took me longer to be able to do better work for better pay. When it comes to freelance writing, there isn’t opportunity for advancement. Not in the way you’re hoping. Going above and beyond will get you re-hired (maybe) … but so will doing everything you’re asked to do, exceptionally well, and nothing more. You only have so much time. And dedicating more time to more projects than your client is willing to pay you for, you’re only using up time you could be spending doing more work for another, possibly better-paying client.

Expecting a pay raise

Prospective clients love to say, “I can’t afford to pay you this much RIGHT NOW.” As if somehow your writing alone will make their business so much money they’ll offer you double your hourly rate in a matter of months. Real talk, folks: it’s never going to happen. Your rate is never going to change. Never when I have asked for a pay raise has a client agreed to pay me a decent amount. They have a set amount in their budget they’re willing to pay for a writer, and there’s not much you’re going to be able to do to change that. Do what you have to do in the beginning, but once you have enough experience to work for more money, say goodbye to low-paying clients and move on to better ones. It’s nothing personal. This is business.

Expecting people to actually review my qualifications

I had a client once who hired me to write in-depth science articles before realizing I had several degrees in the subject.

“Wait, you have a master’s degree in this stuff? That’s impressive!”

Well, yeah, dude. It’s the only reason I’m qualified to do what you’re asking me to do.

Except clients couldn’t care less about you, honestly — and in no way can you expect them to. Freelancing is not a partnership between clients and writers. If a client sees you can write, and they can get away with paying you the least amount of money possible, you’re pretty much hired. I just smile now when clients assume I don’t know what I’m doing. They forgot to check my credentials. That’s their problem, not mine.

All you need to do is prove you can write. Everything else is just glitter and rainbows (and most people really don’t care to notice). Credentials and experience sounds fancy, but if you can’t deliver on those talking points, it’s going to become obvious so, so quickly. (That’s me speaking from my experience as an editor, who has seen writers talk themselves up then fail miserably when it came time to perform.)

This whole freelance writing thing? It isn’t easy. But you can make it at least a little easier on yourself. Don’t be like me. (:


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

To Some, You’ll Always Be a Magical Automatic Word Processing Machine

Is that all I am to you?

I don’t know how “typical” my freelance writing experience has been. When I discuss the downsides of agreeing to write for people who for whatever reason cannot write their own content, I am basing 90 percent of what I say off of my own experiences.

Not all of my experiences are horror stories. But there are plenty of those, too.

My favorite is the one where a client blamed me for their content’s lack of success.

Before you roll your eyes, let me explain, in as little detail as I can (because I’m a nice, respectable person, and I don’t like tearing people down).

Here’s what often happens when you start to negotiate terms with a client. At least for my niche, more often than not, they have a website. They need content for their website. They use vague terms like “well-researched articles” to describe the kind of work they want. If you can come to a reasonable rate agreement and they deem your writing samples worthy, dingdingding! You get to write for them.

Sometimes the work is published under your name. Sometimes it’s not.

In the vast majority of cases, there is one primary reason you are being asked to write for a client: they own a business, they need money, and your articles will, theoretically, bring them all the ad revenue they haven’t been able to get up to this point.

At first — because I’ve kind of been doing this a long time, and I have a few degrees, and I have a pretty good idea how to stand out to the kind of people posting the jobs I want — clients usually trust that I know what I’m doing, and are overall pleased with how well I can follow instructions and create decent content.

Except this one client.

First, there was the over-explaining thing. Everything had to be explained three times. Once over a voice message, and twice through instant messages and/or emails.

At first I thought that’s just how this person communicated, and I really didn’t mind all that much. Until I started to wonder if they didn’t trust me … as in, they didn’t think I actually knew how to do the job they’d hired me to do.

That wasn’t the major issue — at least, that’s what I tell myself to avoid getting angrier than I ever have at another person before. No. The issue was that their content wasn’t getting as many page views as they wanted … and it was apparently all my fault.

They were too “nice” to say that, though. So they just kept sending me more and more “explanations” of how things needed to be done “right.” Not better. RIGHT.

This is when I stopped feeling like a person who writes, and started feeling like a presence that existed only to make words appear on a screen for profit.

Which is never how you should feel, creating content for someone. Ever.

It started to feel like this person was trying to program commands into my brain. It was as if, once they typed the exact instructions for how they wanted things done, they were confident I could produce not just the content they dreamed of, but the explosive results they thought they deserved.

I can interpret commands and I can do what I’m told and I can do a pretty good job, too. I’ve been writing for a long time. I actually do know what I’m doing, thank you very much.

But there is not an exact formula for something going “viral.” And if I write something, and it doesn’t go viral, that is 100 percent not my fault. There are a handful of factors that go into whether or not the article I wrote for you that went up on your website was popular, and I can guarantee, the quality of my writing is not the problem.

How do I know? Because I write for a living. I know what I’m doing.

You see, if this person had been posting all my articles on their social media channels — actually putting in the effort to promote them to their audience — maybe things would have been different.

The articles weren’t bad, it turned out. They just weren’t being seen.

AND SOMEHOW, THAT WAS MY FAULT.

I do not write to make money. At least, not beyond what I need to survive. I do not write to make lots and lots of money, because I know I wouldn’t be able to even if I tried. And why is that? BECAUSE I AM NOT A WORD PROCESSING MACHINE. 

I am a person who has dedicated her life to creating quality content on the internet for the benefit of real people who are searching for information. Not everything I write is going to go “viral.” Not everything is going to have the best keywords and adhere to a strict SEO formula. I try so hard to care about that stuff, but I just don’t. I care about people, not about numbers. Maybe that’s wrong. I don’t know. But I refuse to let people assume I don’t know what I’m doing because I can’t do it the way THEY would have.

I understand why some people need help producing content. I do. But if you’re going to ask someone to write for you, DO NOT blame them for all your business problems. Isn’t not FAIR. Writers have ENOUGH garbage to deal with on a daily basis without you IMPLYING they’re only useful until something better comes along. WE ARE NOT ROBOTS. We work SO HARD and the frequency at which we are undervalued is RIDICULOUS.

Thankfully, I don’t have to depend on low-paying freelance jobs anymore, where these things happen much too often. But I know there are many of you out there who do. And I’m so sorry. Not that you’re making a living doing what you want to do — but that stuff like this happens.

I will never understand why people don’t treat writers with more respect. Probably because I am one. But maybe one day this will all change. Instead of being in demand and thrown around like we don’t have souls, our hard work will be appreciated.

And if all this just sounds selfish and whiney to you, well, I’m happy you’ve obviously never had to deal with anything like this as a writer. Good for you. Sorry I didn’t have any relatable content for you today. This is how writing goes. Sometimes, instead of yelling at people, you have to write to calm down the angry monster stomping around inside your chest. It’s sleeping now.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How Hard Do You Need to Work?

How much is too much? How much is enough?

What does it take, to be a writer?

Or, the more pressing question: how much work is required?

How many hours do you have to put in every day to make it happen?

What happens if you don’t work hard enough?

On the surface, these questions comes off extremely lazy. So, you mean, I have to actually put in effort if I want to build a career? It’s … a challenge?

It’s not that simple, though. Some people work very hard and don’t ever “make it.” Some people seem to be able to make money writing not working very hard at all, at least from the outside looking in.

That’s why writing, as a profession, is so complicated. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition of “doing everything right.” You could spend five hours a day writing for 10 years and nothing could come of it. You could write one blog post a week and grow to millions of monthly page views in a matter of years.

So is luck part of the equation? Maybe.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do any work at all. So how do you know you’re doing enough? How do you stop yourself from working too much?

My best advice for you is this: pick one thing.

Decide to start a blog or start writing a book or choose English or journalism as your major. Pick one thing you are going to focus on for a set amount of time — a year, maybe more. Put all the time and energy you can into that one thing. Learn to balance that one thing with all your other responsibilities — friends; family; work; health. See where that one thing takes you.

And while you’re working on that one thing, learn. Learn how you work. Figure out your ideal writing schedule. Discover what inspires and motivates you. Understand your greatest barriers and master how to overcome them.

It’s during this time you will figure out how hard you personally need to work in order to get things done. Some people can crank out worthwhile blog posts in 30 minutes. For others, it takes hours. You don’t know that until you spend many, many hours figuring all that out.

Only then can you take on another kind of writing project. And another. And another.

When you know how to balance it all, when you know your working style backwards and forwards, that is when you become eligible, as they say, to begin your journey toward succeeding as a writer. Whatever the heck that means for you.

What does it take, to be a writer? How hard do you have to work to make all your dreams come true?

I don’t have the answer to that question, because I am not you. I don’t know how your brain processes information. I don’t know what times of day you’re most productive, what your greatest writing struggles are, where you want to end up or how long you’re going to give yourself to get there. But you do. Or you can, if you take the time to figure it all out for yourself.

There is no magic formula that will tell you how many articles you need to write, how late you need to stay up, who is going to be the most responsive to your posts. It’s trial and error for every single one of us. As long as you’re aware of that, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to learn how this is all going to play out for you, trust me: you’re going to be just fine. How hard you have to work won’t be a chore or a disappointment. It will just make sense.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

All Writers Mess Up, Big Time (How to Earn a Career in Writing, Part 5)

Oops.

Disappointed.

That’s what they told me – that the spec article I’d worked so hard on left them “disappointed.”

I won’t get into how I feel about that choice of phrasing right now (people say things, it’s not personal, blah blah blah). Anyway.

This was a prospective project that was meant to challenge me, yet when I failed to deliver exactly what the client wanted (not always an easy thing to do in the health space), their response stirred something dark and unsettling inside me.

I write to impress. As you can hopefully guess, I don’t always impress. Who does? I’m just a human. I make human-like errors.

We all fail – yes, even me. It really sways your confidence, though, when you almost grab onto that bar you’ve set so high – your fingertips touch it, you almost have it – but you still end up facedown on the ground, red-faced and wanting nothing more than to crawl into a bottomless hole and never emerge.

I was bored. Freelancing hit a mundane patch for me, so I decided to stretch myself a little – thinking, of course, that I could do just fine.

That particular piece of feedback really messed me up. Not for long – not to the point where I considered quitting and settling for a different career path – but doubt is not friendly. It twists things around and makes you feel like you’re doing everything wrong, even when you’re not.

It scared me. Really. I remember thinking, “Are people just lying to me? Am I a terrible writer, and people are just being nice because they don’t want to hurt my feelings?”

I mean, for all I know, that could be true. Ignorance is bliss. I just don’t like doubt being the one thing that forces me to think about potential realities too hard.

Fear and doubt and self-consciousness brought on by negative commentary – these are the most dangerous obstacles for writers. They’re manipulative and suffocating. Bad, bad, bad.

But leave it to film editor Farah Khalid to say exactly what we all need to hear in situations like this:

“Fear can be an indicator of when you need to push yourself harder. When were you last afraid/uncomfortable? Not recently? Well then, are you really growing as an artist?” (Hustle Economy, p. 49)

Oh. OH. So I was on the right track, then? I did a good thing, even though I almost burst into tears because I started having flashbacks about that one time I disappointed my mom in like, middle school?

(Understand, this is the way the brain of an Anxious person works. I know a client’s feedback has actually nothing to do with me personally. I can’t think rationally when I’m Anxious.)

I was nervous about that spec assignment for days. I put it off for over 48 hours, something I never do when I’m writing to impress. It wasn’t that I was in over my head – it was just stretching me beyond what I was used to.

You see, you get too comfortable when you spend too much time at the same level of writing. I write for a few blogs, which, honestly, means they’re not always too picky about how many scientific studies you mention in your posts. I got a little lazy. I got a little cocky, maybe. And when I thought, “I need a challenge,” I sprinted headfirst into a brick wall of shame and disappointment. Awesome.

You can’t grow unless you work harder than you did yesterday. But you also can’t grow unless you fail – and unless you’re willing to look your mistakes in the eye, learn from them and move on.

I probably could have pushed myself a little harder to impress that client. I could have spent more time on that article. I could have asked more questions, could have put what would have felt like excessive effort into a trial assignment (I’d already spent more than two hours on it – more than usual for cases like this). There are plenty of things I could have done differently. The reason we fail is because we remember how much failing hurts – and we, hopefully, don’t continue to make the same mistakes when something like this comes around again.

I messed up. My biggest fear is messing up. So I’m really glad it happened. I’m not saying you should go out there and purposely make mistakes just to learn how to be a better writer – it’s never purposeful. Just don’t get discouraged when things like this happen (because they will).

We think we’re working as hard as we can, right up until it’s suddenly not quite good enough anymore – oops! Failure is a chance to return to your last checkpoint and evaluate whether or not you did everything you could have before you missed the bar. You’ll try again. Maybe you’ll fail a few more times. But you’ll work harder and harder each time, until you succeed. It’s how you earn the title of ‘writer.’ It’s not always fun. But it teaches you a lot about yourself along the way.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Agreeing to ‘Write for Exposure’

How to writers make money??!

It gets a bad rap. Writers, myself included, cringe at the idea of writing for free. This is completely understandable for someone who has enough writing experience to turn their nose up at the idea of writing for exposure – but many new writers are in dire need of a reality check.

That’s right – it’s tough love time once again, and the topic is – gasp – writing something, knowing you are not going to get paid for it.

Writing for exposure = having a piece of [hopefully] original work published online that you do not get paid for; your only reward is ‘getting your name out there.’

Here’s the reality many people reading this are not going to like: you can’t expect to get paid for writing right away if you don’t have experience. Not well, anyway.

Writing for exposure might seem ridiculous and unfair, but writing for free does not mean you spend all day every day writing without getting paid for it. That’s just not smart.

It means you likely have a stable full-time job or you’re in school, and you contribute several articles per week to various mediums for which you are not compensated – for the sole purpose of building an online portfolio, forming relationships with editors/publishers in your desired writing niche and starting to share your work on social media.

I see a LOT of complains in writing groups from people who are having trouble landing freelance writing jobs. (I really need to leave some of these groups … but I can’t … I JUST WANT TO HELP …) While there are many factors that might be contributing to each individual in different situations, I assume that at least a percentage of them do not have enough relevant experience to qualify for even basic level freelance writing contracts. And they’re just not aware of that.

How do you get that experience? By writing. For free, most of the time. But if you’re at all hesitant about doing this, here are several questions you can ask yourself before agreeing to write for exposure.


What is your level of expertise?

I’m going to use health writing as my example here, because that is what I have the most experience with. In applying for health writing jobs at first, the clients willing to pay higher rates were all looking for good writers – who had experience writing in niches related to health, nutrition, fitness and similar areas. Someone who had little to no valuable experience doing this would not get picked for these jobs. A client needs to see not only writing samples, but that you have a deep understanding of the topics they are going to ask you to write about.

Do you have a college or master’s degree in a field related to writing, OR a specific discipline in which you are attempting to write about? Have you worked as a writing intern for any publications at any point in the past two years? Do you have any certifications or licenses? Do you run any personal blogs that produce credible content in your niche, reflecting your knowledge and detailed understanding of certain topics?

These things matter – and if you do not meet these qualifications, you need to build up your credibility by either studying or writing about the topics you wish to get paid for writing about. Yes, probably for free.

How much real-world writing experience do you have?

This is EXTREMELY important when considering whether or not you need to scope out more free writing opportunities. Real world writing experience is very different from writing essays for a class, or sometimes even blogging. Prospective clients need to know that you can write well on a variety of topics, that you can turn around assignments very quickly, that you are quick to communicate and that you understand how to adapt to different audiences and writing styles/voices. You learn all of these things by writing in the real world – often, for free.

Some don’t count writing for a university, student-run newspaper as relevant writing experience, but I disagree. Student journalism is a really valuable way to learn how to and not to work with editors, especially when it comes to pitching, following instructions and meeting deadlines. Most publications like online magazines are always looking for unpaid interns, many times remotely. This is about as real world as it gets – you get to work with real, experienced staff. You’re at the bottom of the food chain, but sometimes, that can be a good thing. It’s very easy to exceed expectations, impress people and learn what you are capable of.

What is your end goal?

In small increments, there is nothing wrong with writing for exposure. I have not gotten paid a cent for blogging daily for the past 18 months, but that hasn’t bothered me. Some people want to write to have a decent presence on social media, and that’s fine. I just think way too many people come into this industry thinking they can make money. If you look at top Upwork profiles, yes, these people charge usually over $100 per hour of work. But they have hundreds of hours logged, they’ve worked with dozens of clients, and most of their ratings are a full five stars. These people didn’t get onto Upwork one day without any experience and start making thousands of dollars a year. They came in with portfolios. And they built those portfolios with experience – likely, sometimes, free experience.

If you want to write to make money, then realize in MOST cases writing for free is a prerequisite. It’s not because you aren’t a good writer. It’s because there are people out there willing to pay writers what they are worth – IF you can prove you’re reliable enough. I’m not saying you have to have years of experience behind you – but maybe you do. I can only look at this from a very limited perspective at this point. So feel free to enlighten me if you’ve experienced something very different than what I’ve described here.


In all honesty, I do not know the success rate of people who attempt to get freelancing jobs without relevant writing experience. I did not apply for any writing gigs until I had several YEARS of unpaid writing and editing experience, evidenced by a tangible portfolio. But the reason I was able to do this was because I did not have time to work while in college. This was the period of time writing for exposure made the most sense for me.

Writing for exposure as a student is what I recommend most people do if they are interested in pursuing a writing career directly out of school. At that level, you usually do not have enough experience to qualify for well-paying writing jobs. Between the time I left my “real” full-time job as a graduate and started freelancing, I also spent six months writing for exposure. While it was not ideal, it is the main reason why I started landing freelancing jobs only weeks after I started looking.

What’s your argument? Is there a point at which writing for exposure is acceptable (for students? For bloggers)? Where do you draw the line between writing for exposure serving as a reasonable way to get experience, and the point at which it becomes insulting to a writer’s worth and skill level?


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

3 Benefits of Writing What Other People Tell You to Write

The more topics you can research and write about, the more in demand you will technically become.

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There’s this misconception in the writing world that all writers make up their own rules. They’re their own bosses; they write what they want, when they want. They never write anything they don’t want to write.

This may be true for some, especially those on the more successful side of the profession, but it’s certainly not the case for everyone.

There are plenty of writers out there who swear they could never stand being told what to write about, as freelance writers often do. You might be one of those writers. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to write what you want to write, there are also a few benefits to training yourself to write about anything pretty much on command.

You need to prove you are well-rounded

It doesn’t matter if you write novels or articles or essays; being able to showcase your ability to write about a variety of topics is more of an advantage than you might think. While it does pay to be an expert on one subject, that doesn’t come easily; it takes a lot of time and a lot of publishing experience (and probably an academic background of sorts) before you can technically call yourself an expert. The more topics you can research and write about, the more in demand you will technically become. Basically, you’re only helping yourself.

Let’s be honest: you need a little discipline, too

Discipline is what gets you writing consistently and keeps you writing even when you don’t feel like it. Being on assignment, having instructions for exactly how to write something for someone else, and a deadline by which it needs to be finished, is a major wake-up call. Doing it over and over and over again is, essentially, a life lesson – in terms of life as a writer, at least. If you’re anything like me, you’re not always the best at following through on deadlines and getting things done on your own. This gets better the more you take orders from someone else (along with the knowledge that, someday, you’ll be able to do it all on your own again).

Staying comfortable means an early demise for your career

A little dramatic? Of course. The longer you stay in your comfort zone, the more slowly you will progress in your writing career. I wrote 40 articles for a men’s fashion website as one of my very first assignments as a freelance writer. It was hard and I went into it knowing nothing about any of the topics they asked me to write about. But I came out of that experience with the belief that, if I ever needed to, I really could write about anything. It stretched out my comfort zone. As long as you let it stretch, and don’t let it shrink back down to its previous size, you’re going to notice a difference in your confidence level … and a much more promising writing career.

In the real world, we don’t always get to write what we want to write. But it’s the lessons we learn along the way, and the creative strength and versatility we build along the way, that make this reality worth it.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Image courtesy of pexels.com.

How I’m Utilizing (and Prioritizing) My White Space

Spacing out your writing, and allowing yourself to use your brain in other ways in-between, is the best recipe for a successful writing career.

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A little less than a year ago, I published one of my very first posts on Novelty Revisions.

I told a little bit of my story, how I over-committed myself in college, stopped writing and pretty much lost myself for awhile. It was a good lesson, which was why I shared it.

The odd thing about some lessons is that we don’t just learn them once. We learn them, and are then placed in situations in which we have to apply what we have learned … over and over again.

The good news is, after a year of struggling to figure out where my writing skills could best serve the other humans of the Earth, I’ve finally started freelancing part-time (you know, the kind that actually helps you pay for things like graduate school and student loans). HURRAY!

Except now I have a lot less time to do all the things I’ve come used to doing in all my free time over the past nine months of not having a sustainable job.

And while this is the epitome of first-world problems and I am ABSOLUTELY NOT complaining about it, I suddenly find myself in an all-too-familiar place: searching for white space in my life, not finding very much of it and starting to panic a little (er, literally).

Over the past week I have been experimenting with time-management, optimal working habits (how to space things out, take breaks and not lose my mind) and how not to get distracted by all the things I’m not getting paid to do (but still really want to do).

I’ve certainly learned a few things.

1. A to-do list and a must-do list are not the same thing

On Wednesday I stuck to my usual to-do list, got all my writing done for the day and ended up putting off my homework until the last minute later than I planned. I wrote two articles for work and then started a third one when I should have done one of my homework assignments instead. If I would have had a must-do list, the first two articles and homework would have come before the extra article I wrote for Women Daily, which could have waited until Thursday.

Never forget that, no matter what stage of life you’re at, you will always have something just as important as more more important than writing to do, and prioritizing is essential. And if you literally add white space into your schedule (write the word ‘relax’ if you have to), you will not regret it.

2. Some writing takes an hour, some takes an afternoon

It’s hard to know exactly what you’re getting into until you’re almost halfway through it. Sometimes the point you’re trying to make is already very well researched, and sometimes you’re trying to say something that hasn’t been proven but has evidence that could, if you spin it the right way, potentially lead to something. Which is time-consuming … and frustrating even when you’re a student with free access to databases and full-text research articles.

You have to space things out throughout your day or you will lose it. I wrote one article that took me about an hour and a half, had lunch, came back and spent an entire afternoon on another and watched a few YouTube videos before moving onto the next thing. Not because I was procrastinating (not entirely …) but because my brain needed a break. I needed some white space, and I let myself have it. It ended up being a good decision by the end of the day.

3. Start and end the day with your thoughts

For a long time I have started my day off journaling, which really helps me organize my thoughts and figure out exactly how I’m going to tackle the day ahead. (It works for writing or just work in general, and for the record, really helps if you’re anxious.) But I’ve also started ending every day with a few TED Talks. I might read, if it’s a lighter book, but I’m reading Angels & Demons right now, which gives me insomnia if I read too much before bed.

You can’t just wake up and start going 500 miles an hour, the same way you can’t jump right from writing an article straight into REM sleep. White space is like the bookends of your day. Start and end with a slower transition into and out of deeper thinking and work.

The truth is, you don’t automatically lose your passion and enthusiasm for writing the minute it becomes work. That has always been my fear, but I can assure you it’s not a worry you need to keep holding onto. The hardest part is finding the time to keep doing other kinds of writing, and things you really enjoy, in-between the work. Just like any other kind of job, if it’s all you ever do, you’re not going to last.

Good luck on all your projects this week (whatever you’re working on, big or small), and happy writing!

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Sarah Reid/flickr.com.

Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.