What to Expect As a New Freelance Writer

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

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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How a Structured Writing Environment Makes You More Creative

How important is adaptability to a writer’s creativity?

I thought I’d stick with freelance writing full-time. That was my plan, when I set my 2017 writing and career goals. Then I accidentally got hired to write full-time somehow (impostor syndrome, is that you?) and realized I had a lot more to learn about writing than I thought.

In my mind, creativity required as much freedom as possible. I needed to be able to work when or where I wanted, with weekly deadlines and not much direction.

I look at creativity a little differently now.

In the beginning of this new branch of my budding career, part of me secretly wondered if I was making the wrong choice. Because working for a media company meant stricter, more frequent deadlines; more restrictions on what I was allowed to write about; a tighter pitching process, more self-editing, and having to follow a very specific set of guidelines for every single thing I wrote.

A small part of me thought, “Will this take away my freedom? Will it make me less creative?”

What they don’t tell you about working full-time as a writer online is that things change constantly. Every week we have to adapt to new strategies, test new ways of structuring our articles and headlines, do what we do best with a slightly altered — and usually more effective — set of guidelines. At first, this threw me off. I got worried. Because, after all, a strict number of pages per article, a weekly and monthly production quota, coming up with the perfect pitches — that was going to stifle my creativity. Right?

Quite the opposite, actually. Thankfully.

Because sitting in front of a computer, with no direction as to where you need to go with a piece, it’s very easy to fall back into your go-to way of doing things. You launch into autopilot, you write without really thinking about it. While that works sometimes, it won’t always. Readers get bored. They want to see something new, something worth clicking through.

Sitting at your computer with a checklist, you know where you need to start and where you need to end up. But everything that happens in-between, you have to actively think about. How can you make your subheadings less mundane? How can you present a fact or statistic in a way that’s hard to forget? How can you take something that starts out as a boring, skeletal frame of a piece of writing, and turn it into something worth reading? That takes creativity. It forces you to do something different than what you’ve done before, every single time.

I don’t like linking to things I’ve written outside this blog. But I’ll make an exception here, for the sake of showing vs. telling (see what I did there?). If you’re interested in seeing an example of what I’m getting at, look at this article. It’s meant to be informative, and it is. But it tells a story at the same time. It took a lot of brain power to figure out how to make it work. It took all the creative energy I had to structure it in more than just a formulaic listicle — and it was a worthwhile (still challenging) experience.

You have to be creative to stand out. Which might seem obvious … but autopilot isn’t always detectable.

Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way. Maybe I just thrive on structure and checklists. This definitely isn’t the right environment for everyone. But if you’re really looking for a challenge, something that lets you write but keeps you on your toes and pushes you past your perceived limits, this kind of structured environment will force you to think outside the box while sitting cross-legged inside one. Adhering to a formula, to make your product unique, you have to be able to create something that stands out. Even, from the outside looking in, that seems impossible.

How do you find writing environments like this? Write a lot. Create an online portfolio, freelance, make good connections. Someone I worked with during a magazine internship sent me a link to a job posting I never would have applied for otherwise — which is how I landed my first full-time writing job. The more experience you have, the more marketable you are — as long as you’re willing to build a versatile skill set and adapt to change, that is.

If you’re looking for freelance writing jobs, read this first.

Always remember that creativity isn’t always about doing what you want, the way you want. It’s about doing something different within a set of boundaries. If you can accept that, if you can learn to thrive with that mindset, it’s not going to take you long to start climbing the success ladder. I mean, it’s still a pretty big ladder, don’t get me wrong. You’re just going to be able to figure out how to climb it faster than a lot of other writers in your niche.

What do you think? Is adaptability essential for creativity? How do you blend structure with creative freedom? Do you, have you ever, or do you ever plan on working in an environment with more structure? How does it compare to writing your own blog, or novel, or working with freelance clients, all on your own time? Do you have a preference? Sorry. That was a lot of questions. (:

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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Is Freelance Writing Right For You?

Should you start freelancing? Here are a few things to ask yourself first.

I’m going to be completely honest with you here: I started freelance writing because I could not find another writing job.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I didn’t have nearly as much writing experience as I thought I did at the time I graduated college. If I would have known freelancing would launch my writing career, I would have started six months earlier. But I didn’t. Because it took me way too long to figure out if I was even ready to do something that seemed so “out there.”

Can you relate? Do you want to try your hand at freelance writing, but you’re just not sure if it’s the right move for you?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you start freelancing.

How disciplined are you?

Can you start, make progress on, and finish projects without being micromanaged? Can you juggle multiple assignments at once, all with different sets of guidelines? Can you just do a lot of things in a timely manner from the chaos of your own home? Because that’s often what freelance writing is like. You’re given a task, and you’re expected to finish it on time. Mistakes are frowned upon (if not unacceptable), and not getting things done means you don’t get paid, don’t get offered more work, or both.

Simply put, not everyone is built to be able to sustain a career in freelancing. It takes a kind of discipline I believe is part learned, part ingrained in your personality. You can become a more disciplined writer — but if you don’t already have this in you, you really might struggle to keep up. That’s not to say you can never freelance. You just might not be ready yet.

How skilled/knowledgable are you?

Some aspiring writers can begin their careers with freelancing with minimal experience — but it depends on the niche and what’s being asked and expected of you. Freelancing is not for learning how to write better (at least not directly), or being taught anything other than how one specific client wants things done. While you do learn how to write better by writing a lot, it’s not your client’s job to educate you. It’s your job to know how to do the work, and learn on your own anything you don’t already know or understand.

Anyone who wants to freelance can make freelancing work for them. Just know that if you’re calling yourself any kind of expert, you’d better have the skills and background knowledge to back that up. I say this coming from the health and wellness niche, but it applies for every field and niche. Know your stuff before you dive in.

Can you consistently provide quality work without expecting feedback?

Another thing clients usually don’t do: give freelancers feedback on their work. It’s one thing to correct small mistakes if it’s part of the client’s SOPs and you need to do it correctly for future reference. But freelance writing works like this: receive assignment, submit assignment, get paid. Usually, there is very little back-and-forth between writer and editor. It’s not because an editor doesn’t want you to do better — it’s just not their job to help you do that.

This took some adjusting for me, since I came into freelancing from an internship program designed to teach student writers how to be better writers. It was strange sending off my work and never seeing or hearing about it ever again. But with this adjustment comes an important lesson about self-evaluation. If you want to do better, you’re responsible for looking over your work and figuring out how to make it better. That’s a really useful habit and skill to have.

How good are you at dealing with people?

Think freelance writers are lucky because they don’t have to be social in an office? You don’t get a pass because your office doubles as your bedroom (or is that just me?). I’ve worked with many clients who have been trained as managers, who are professional, and who are easy (sometimes fun!) to work with. Not every client you cross paths with will be such a blessing. I’ve also had clients who don’t understand the concept of how long research takes, don’t respect my time, yell at me for not giving them exactly what they wanted, assume I don’t know how to do my job because I’m a freelancer/20something/woman/”nutritionist”, and micromanage me so forcefully that I’ve given them their money back and quit after a week. (Side note: do not do this. It is the one and only time I ever have, but in most cases, the money you earn is wholly yours).

Part of freelancing is having really good people skills, at least digitally and professionally. This ranges from sending short, concise emails to building up the courage to ask for more money. Being easy and even enjoyable to work with can completely change your freelancing experience — even if you get the occasional client that is anything but. Sometimes, they honestly just don’t realize their behavior is ridiculous.

Do you enjoy writing — like, really enjoy it?

Because you’re going to be doing a LOT of it. And it’s not always going to seem worth it. I can only speak from my experiences, but on the days clients were rude and things weren’t getting done and I wanted to quit, it was my deeply-rooted love of writing (and the topics I was writing about) that kept me going.

But it goes beyond enjoying the writing process. You also have to have an interest in/passion for what you are writing about. I once wrote 40 articles about men’s fashion for a client. I hated every single minute of it, because I just don’t care about men’s fashion. Kudos to people who do, but if that had been my only freelancing experience, I would have given up within the first few months.

Are you in it just for the cash?

Be honest here. Because — especially when you’re starting out with little experience — new freelancers don’t make much. Even more experienced freelancers who’ve gradually raised their rates, in the grand scheme of things, don’t make much. Can it pay the bills? Sure, if you answered yes to all the above questions. But freelance writing alone will not make you rich. At least not early on. There are plenty of people who make six figures freelance writing. You’re not going to do that anytime soon after starting. Many people never will.

If you’re doing it for the money, just understand that it’s not going to start pouring in right away. My first month, I made $40. You can begin freelance writing with a goal to make as much as you want to. But if you’re expecting thousands of dollars right out of the gate, maybe take a step back and really think about why you want to do this.

As always, your “why” is everything. Why do you really want to freelance? There are no right or wrong answers here. But your response says a lot about whether or not you’re cut out for this. Again — just because you might not be prepared now doesn’t mean you never will be. I wrote and edited for a magazine for free for 4 years before I started freelancing. I desperately wanted to start in college, but knew I wasn’t ready. It’s OK if you don’t start tomorrow. Freelance writing is not a job robots will take away from you. If not right now — someday. You’ll get there. If you truly want to do it, you will find a way to make it happen.

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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Write First, Earn Later

How important is making money in the beginning of your writing career?

I casually follow a number of “writing as a business” groups on Facebook. These groups can be great for meeting people, sharing ideas, and helping newcomers out with innocent questions/concerns. But sometimes my news feed gets clogged with multiple versions of a query, within days of each other, that goes something like this:

“I’m about to/I just started a blog, and I want to know how to monetize. Please help.”

A valid question, sure. We all want to know how people earn a decent income blogging full-time.

But there’s something that really bothers me about these kinds of questions. Because while I get that you might want to make a career out of writing ASAP, I think you have things a little backwards.

Writing comes first. Good writing. Money is only a possible, never guaranteed, side effect.

I don’t know of a writer who became financially successful without a solid foundation and years of content to raise them up to that level. Money is important — we all need it to some degree to survive. But when you focus on money first, and writing second, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Yes, setting up a blog in the beginning does sometimes require that you know how advertising and affiliate slots are going to fit into your structure. I get that. I get that a good business strategy includes plans for future monetization of your products (blog posts). But I wish more commenters would point to the most important aspect of monetization, which is making sure your content is good and plentiful enough for monetization to actually work — often even before you start trying to monetize.

I prefer a “write first, earn later” approach to writing. It’s how I built the necessary foundation for enough freelance writing clients to keep me afloat for 14 months when I couldn’t get any other job. It’s why I spent three years as a writing intern, publishing hundreds of articles, none of which I got paid for. Because exposure comes first. Without it, how do you know you’re writing well enough for the right audience to have earned the right to get paid for your effort?

My many years of blogging and writing for free have more than paid off in the past six months alone. It’s because of my writing internship that I decided to get a master’s degree; it’s because of my master’s degree, and many months of freelancing, that I got a full-time writing job. I still don’t earn a cent from this blog, and most days, I don’t even mind that much. Because putting you first — my readers — is what drives me to create good content for you. Not the money. Money pays the bills, but it does not get you loyal followers, who appreciate and respect you almost as much as you do them.

People who ask questions in Facebook groups are dedicated to their work, their profession, their earnings. Just because someone asks about monetization doesn’t mean they aren’t more concerned about their content; it’s just one question. But please always remember that it’s what you have to say, the wisdom you have to share with your readers, that makes you a successful writer. Not how much you earn in a year. Believe me, I fully appreciate being able to afford to pre-order John Green’s upcoming novel the second he announces it, but I don’t write to get rich. And neither should you.

And if it ever does happen to you, well, that’s just a pretty sweet bonus. You’re allowed to be proud of that. Just don’t make it a bigger priority than making sure your readers are taken care of. They’re the ones who are going to stick with you through it all, whether you’re flat-out broke or quite the opposite.

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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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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Looking Back on My Year Working as an Underpaid, Undervalued Freelance Writer

At some point, you have to stand up and say, “no more.”

I began my professional writing career “officially” in January of 2016. I had worked as a writer and later an editor for an online magazine for three full years before that, but as an unpaid intern for the majority of that time.

The first time I got paid to write an article, I was a sleep-deprived graduate student drowning in debt with big dreams and not quite enough experience to be considered an ideal candidate for a full-time position as a writer.

At the time, getting a job as a writer was a miracle.

Unfortunately, it’s as trying of an experience as everyone says.

I survived 13 months of working solely as a freelance writer — seven of those months full-time — before I realized how unhappy it made me.

The best way I can explain that statement is with a quote.

As “recovering entrepreneur” Alex Pearlman put it in her essay included in The Hustle Economy:

“The slightest good news can shoot me into a soaring seizure of maniacal self-congratulatory glee… but the slightest bad luck or dropped ball, and I am driven into a state of suicidal melancholy.”

Okay, so, it’s not quite that extreme, at least in my case. But it’s not all that far off for many.

Before I launch into the various sources of my former job dissatisfaction, I want to make something extremely clear.

I adore the clients I am currently working with. They are still my clients because we have managed to form respectful, professional, and worthwhile partnerships. I am grateful to be able to help them grow their businesses and make the writing on their websites look and sound nice.

But I am no longer a full-time freelance writer. Instead, I’m a full-time staff writer for an online company and work with several clients after hours, because I don’t want to abandon them. (Also, student loans.)

I would love to say that I was content with my work as a full-time freelancer — that a new job opportunity just appeared out of nowhere and forced me to make some tough career decisions.

But I would be lying if I told you that. Because it was not a tough decision to all but leave freelancing behind completely. A new job did not just appear out of the blue. After a year doing the best I could to make a living as a freelancer, I realized I couldn’t continue on the way things were. And it’s mostly because I felt it was time to work as a writer in a less toxic environment.

I also want to be clear about one more thing: I am a freelancer working through the Upwork platform. The majority of my experiences related to freelance writing (though not all) are loosely based on using this service to find clients and receive compensation for my work. However, Upwork is not to blame for their clientele. I think Upwork is an amazing place for beginners to get writing experience when they don’t yet have any (this is my own personal opinion). But I am neither here to recommend nor criticize this specific service for any reason. I just want you to be aware that what I’m about to discuss is not directly Upwork’s fault. (If it were, I would have stopped using their service.)

Here’s what I believe every writer needs to experience when it comes to earning cash for their creativity.

At the start, you’re not going to make any money. Nothing you can do about that. Then you’re going to make very little money. Also not much you can do about this. At some point, you’re going to have to demand a decent compensation rate — because by that point, you’re going to be worth far more than people are going to try to get away with offering you.

And here is what I experienced:

For the first six months, I asked for less than I deserved — not because I didn’t deserve it, but because the way platforms like Upwork operate, you really can’t ask for too much money in the beginning or you’re not going to get any work. That’s just how things go, and I didn’t really have a problem with it.

Once I went full-time (about six or so months in), I started charging more for my services.

Some clients were more than willing to pay a reasonable rate. (I am still working with many of those clients many months later.) A select few were wonderful to work with, but business-wise, could not afford to pay me a higher rate. Because I truly believed the experience was worth it for both sides, I agreed to work for a lower rate than I normally would have. (I am still working with both of those clients today.)

And, as to be expected, many clients opted to switch to freelancers who were OK with charging them less for their work. And once I raised my rates, I saw a sharp decline in the amount of clients who were interested in working with me compared to when my rate was half of what is currently listed on my Upwork profile.

I can accept all that. In a community where many overseas freelancers have a lower cost of living compared to mine in the US (and therefore tend to charge much less for their writing services), my higher hourly and project rates aren’t always appealing — and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that.

But there are many aspects of freelance writing I realized I could no longer tolerate. And those reasons are why I decided freelancing full-time wasn’t for me. Maybe none of these things would bother you — and if that’s the case, freelancing might be the best route for you to take to advance your career. But they bothered me — enough to share them with you now.

  1. Non-writers telling me how to write articles. It’s one thing to ask a freelancer to follow a specific style guide when writing — that’s a given for any job, or it should be. It’s another thing completely to assume that someone doesn’t know how to write because they’re a freelance writer and not in your much more important position. I’ve come to assume that most people don’t look at my credentials or how big my writing portfolio is. (And I’m not saying that because I think I’m awesome — I’ve been writing online for four years; I have a lot of samples.) Look, I’m not judging these people for not writing their own content. I really don’t care if they’re even good writers or not. But if they’re going to ask me to do it … trust me to do it right. I promise, I know what I’m doing.
  2. Clients not understanding how much work goes into writing. I once wrote on spec for a prospective client who gave me two hours to write about 1,000 words. That might seem completely doable, until I point out that this was health science-based content. There’s a lot of research and fact-checking involved in even just a first draft. I did the best I could with the two hours I’d been given, but this person literally told me they were “disappointed” in my work. I had to fight the urge to “educate” them on how long it can take to write a near-perfect piece of writing (which is what they apparently expected in just two hours). (For the record, they did still pay me for my “disappointing” work — NEVER write on spec for more than a few hundred words if there’s no money offered to do so.)
  3. People just being horrible and rude. The ongoing problem I’ve had with freelancing is this: because you’re writing on contract, your client really (generally) doesn’t care about you. They’re under no obligation to treat you with any respect whatsoever. They want something written for them, and that’s all they care about. TRUST ME, I KNOW THIS IS THE REAL WORLD AND MOST PEOPLE DON’T CARE ABOUT ME. That’s not the issue (goodness gracious, if I expected every stranger I encountered to be nice to me, I’d legitimately be depressed — I’m not). The issue is that many people take this to mean that you and your work are one in the same. If someone isn’t completely satisfied with your product, whatever the reason, they tend to take it out on you. It’s your fault, sometimes, that pageviews are down (or whatever). And don’t even get me started on the micro-managers — people who hire you to do work for them, but might as well be paying you to sit and watch them do all the work themselves anyway. Only once have I had someone refuse to pay me for a one-hour micro-management session, and it was bad enough that I just let the money go and got out of there as fast as I could. After being yelled at for asking for money I hadn’t apparently earned, that is.

I don’t know what it is that makes some people undervalue freelance writers so much. I’m sure many clients expect to have bad experiences with people before even hiring them, and I suppose I don’t completely blame them for that. But I didn’t earn a master’s degree and spend three years writing for free to be pushed around and paid as little as possible. I (mostly) walked away not because I hated it, but honestly, because I grew out of it. It’s tolerable for awhile, but certainly not forever.

All that being said, please do not let this discourage you from trying your hand at freelance writing. I’ve had plenty of unfavorable experiences — but so has everyone else. I’ve also had, and still have, wonderful experiences with clients who are kind, professional, and genuinely excited to work with me. It takes time to weed through all the nobodies to find the clients that are worth working for, but they’re there. Be patient, and be strong: it’s not all misery and tears.

I tell you all this because I want you to know something important: I am so, so happy doing what I’m doing now. I don’t regret going through what I did to get here. If there’s anything that forces you to have more confidence in yourself and accept your full worth as a creator, it’s someone trying to convince you you’re not worth anything. No matter where I end up, I will always continue to advocate for writers who are feeling undervalued in their work — whether financially or emotionally. Just because I survived it doesn’t mean it’s right. Writing and writing well are two completely different things. Anyone can write. Only those with the right skills, experience, and drive to succeed can write well. And good writers deserve rational compensation for the hours they put into what they do.

No matter what, never forget that just because things might seem dreary now doesn’t mean it’s all misery and tears. There really is a light at the end of the tunnel. I found mine. I didn’t expect to, but it happened. Don’t ever let anyone tell you persistence and believing in yourself isn’t enough. It’s not all you need — but it will get you over the hill and closer to where you truly belong.

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.

What Changed When I Stopped Complaining About Work (and Why It Matters)

Your attitude changes things.

Everyone complains.

It doesn’t matter if you do it through a Facebook status or it stays inside your head (or you mumble it quietly to your giant stuffed panda, who does not respond).

A little bit of complaining here and there is normal – maybe even healthy, sort of. But if you know someone who seems to not be able to open their mouth without complaining about something, you know how destructive this habit can be if you indulge too much.

The most destructive kind of complaining, I’ve found, is complaining about work.

Work is inevitable. You have to do it whether you like it or not. Many people do not like it, and don’t hesitate to shout that loud and clear.

I’m one of those people, naturally, for a lot of reasons. When I’m not happy about something, the first thought that usually pops into my head is a complaint.

I realized, about six months into a very frustrating career as a freelance writer, that complaining didn’t actually solve anything. I could complain about the sometimes outrageous demands of my clients as much as I wanted to. That didn’t make anything better. I still had to do the work. I still had to struggle. I still had to find a way to make it work.

Eventually, I stopped complaining. At least, as much as any sane human being can.

That’s when everything changed.

The work didn’t get any easier. Writing rarely does. My income didn’t increase the moment I stopped whining, even to myself, about every little thing throughout my day that didn’t go right.

When I stopped complaining, I actually started paying more attention to why certain things upset me. The sources of my dissatisfaction became much clearer: I was tired of working the equivalent of a full-time job without getting paid what someone with my amount of writing experience deserved. I was frustrated that some of my clients spoke to me as if I didn’t understand what they were asking me to do (far from it).

Mostly, I realized that dedicating all my work hours to freelancing, at least the way I was doing it, wasn’t working. I complained about my job(s) because I was mad at myself for acting so ungrateful to have a steady income in the first place, which many, many people my age did not have.

I was literally complaining about how much I was complaining about work.

It took breaking that habit to understand that my work was making me unhappy.

Don’t get me wrong – I love to write. I love working. I legitimately enjoy what I do, and always have. But the first six months of freelance writing for anyone is more often than not a train wreck. I didn’t even notice how emotionally draining and stressful some of my projects were (or, maybe the people in charge of them). Until I did.

That was what inspired me to start searching for the kind of work that would make me feel energized instead of drained. It took almost eight more months of freelancing to find that work, but it flew by. Because I stopped, as much as I could, complaining about having a job.

Your attitude toward writing makes more of a difference than you think. If you’re not happy about where you are, complaining – a lot – isn’t the right solution. That frustration, that exhaustion, should inspire you to find and work harder to earn the kinds of opportunities that bring you joy.

I’m a much happier human being overall now that I complain less. I’m still going to complain here and there – we all do. But at least now I know that with every complaint, there’s an underlying, unresolved issue that needs my attention. It’s up to me to focus on fixing that – not spending all the remaining energy I have stomping my foot when things don’t go my 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.

The In-Between: Why It’s Good to Daydream (How to Earn a Career in Writing, Part 7)

Be open to new ideas.

You can picture it in your mind. All of it.

It’s different for everyone – maybe you see yourself sitting at a table, signing some books. Maybe you picture arriving on a website and seeing your story on the home page. Maybe you can see yourself just living comfortably, making a living doing this writing thing, happy.

We all daydream. We think about what we want, what it will feel like when we finally get there.

What are you doing as you’re losing yourself in these imaginary futures? Struggling through late nights so you can get enough writing in before you have to go to sleep, only to wake up before the sun tomorrow so you can get to your day job on time? Wondering why you have to take this random class you don’t care about just so you can get a degree? Submitting pitch after pitch, always hearing nothing or having to face rejection – again?

Maybe you try to keep yourself busy … because the thought of never actually getting what you want is just too much to deal with.

Maybe you need to just take things slow … and let your brain work its magic.

Because while it’s true that you can’t succeed without first working harder than you ever have before, you can end up crushing your creativity under the weight of your stress if you aren’t careful.

You need to give yourself time to think, time to plan, time to dream.

Television writer Emma Koenig puts it like this:

“When you give up external stimulation for a minute, your brain is freed to stimulate itself… That is exactly when you are going to have your amazing idea. That is when you are going to decide you want to try something new. That is when you are going to talk yourself into doing something you are afraid of.” (Hustle Economy, p. 67)

So it’s late at night, you’re tired from your job, you’re too wired to write – yet your mind is racing and you can’t sleep. Daydream.

You’re bored during class, you feel like you have a decent grasp on the material yet you still have to sit there and wait. Daydream.

It’s lunch time, you have about 20 minutes to submit another pitch to another busy editor, but you’re feeling low on ideas. Daydream.

Don’t just sit around and wonder what success might look like for you. Think about what you need to do to create it. There’s a Big Idea in there somewhere, waiting for you to notice it. Take a moment to sit back, to let your thoughts run around. It will appear. You will recognize it. It will change everything.

I get my best ideas for posts and articles when I have a slow freelancing day. Ideas pop up when I’m working, too, but I give myself a lot more down time than I used to. It’s necessary for creativity to thrive.

You know where you want to be – and if you don’t, you need to give yourself time to think hard about what you really want. It takes time to figure out how you’re going to get from where you are to whichever daydream sticks the most in your mind. It takes strategy and pro-con lists and all this brain power you’re using up just trying to make it through the day.

I know it’s frustrating. I know it’s not what you want to hear – but maybe instead of always worrying about what you’re supposed to be writing, and complaining about how you’re spending hours upon hours doing something other than writing, you should just stop. No TV, internet, phone – just stop. Just exist. Face your thoughts. Be open to new ideas. Be honest with yourself.

If you really want this to work out, it’s going to take some serious balancing of effort and brain stimulation-only time. Can you do that? The better question is – will you try?

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.

I’m Sorry You Can’t Afford Me

How are we going to fix this problem? I wish I knew.


I had been freelancing for six months before I started raising my hourly and world count rates. The first time a potential client admitted they couldn’t work with me because my rates were too high, I felt disappointed. Not because I took it personally, but because I still think people don’t understand that hiring the best writers is going to cost more money. Or they do … and they just don’t know how to handle this dilemma. It’s fine; neither do I.

Only several times have I lowered my rate for a prospective client. Sometimes you just know there’s already a decent client-writer relationship and both sides are going to benefit immensely from working together. But most of the time, that isn’t the case. You choose less capable writers because they are cheaper – meaning they are less experienced or they for whatever reason just don’t charge more for their services. You often sacrifice quality because you don’t have another choice. And that makes me feel awful for you.

I would love to be able to help you. I would love to be able to use my skills and experience to help you get your message out there in the simplest, clearest way possible. But that takes time. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on my education the past six years. I’ve spent countless hours writing for free, for “exposure,” for not much benefit to my name thus far. I cannot afford to write for you if you cannot afford to pay me a higher rate. I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but it does. And I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that it’s getting harder and harder to make money online (depending on the niche). I’m sorry more experienced writers can’t give you what you need for less money. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m working with seven clients right now, over 40 hours per week, just to make the equivalent of a yearly full-time salaried employee doing what I do but for only one company. I’m not exaggerating. After almost a year of doing this, I’m going to have to raise my rates again. I don’t want to. But like you – you, who is just trying to do something meaningful for the world – I don’t have a choice. This is what I was afraid writing professionally would turn into; business is business, and money somehow always gets in the way of us doing what we’ve dreamed of doing for years.

I never walked into this profession thinking I would be able to make a ton of money doing it. Of course not. I don’t expect to ever be able to afford things people with “normal” jobs might have if I continue down this road. It’s not about that. It’s about the value of my experience. I’m no longer in a place where I can sign a contract that will benefit me more in experience than it will financially. I love to write, and I would love to be able to write for everyone who asked with good intentions. It’s just not possible. Not anymore.

It’s unfortunate that writers are so undervalued. Communication is so, so important in so many different industries. SOMEONE has to write all the copy for emails, web pages, etc. It’s unfair to ask people for more money so we can do these things, when we know it’s not easy to make money doing it. So really, we can’t win. I love my clients and I will continue assisting them as long as it is feasible to do so. Being a freelancer in particular – working independently in most cases – is especially a tough road. There is some kind of balance between working to earn a living and not letting anyone undervalue you. If I ever find the trick to that balancing act, I’ll let my readers know.

I’m sorry you can’t afford me. I wish I could change the way things are so you could have an even better chance at succeeding in your business. All I can do right now is continue writing, until I’m “experienced” enough to qualify to work for larger organizations that can fit me financially into their budget. If I didn’t [technically] have a master’s degree in communication, if I didn’t have going on five years of professional writing experience, if I hadn’t worked as hard as I have to advance my career, then yes, I could write for less. But this is where I stand. No hard feelings. This is, for now, the way things must stay.

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.

6 Months Into Freelance Writing, I’ve Made a Decision

The most valuable thing I have learned over the past six months isn’t how to negotiate higher rates.


I finished up three very big projects for clients this week. A few of them had been ongoing for a few months, which is a new thing for me. At the beginning of the week I was feeling burned out and frustrated, especially knowing that I still had a ton of work to do. I finished one project and felt okay. Then my long-term client told me it would be a few weeks before he had more assignments ready, to which I promptly responded, “No problem – take your time!”

Indirectly, my hard work paid off in the form of an almost-vacation … for the first time in the six months since I started freelance writing.

Six months without a vacation, Meg? Are you crazy??

Nah. I mean, not any more than any other writer/recent graduate/20-something.

What’s hard for people to understand is that I ENJOY working! Writing itself is an overall positive experience for me regardless of the subject matter. I am a freelance writer not just because I am desperate for an income but ALSO because I like to write. Yet that does not mean I don’t put any effort into what I do, or that it doesn’t completely wipe me out by the end of a long week.

Lately I’ve been struggling a lot with frustration and burnout. My fault, but it’s still hard on me physically and mentally. So as I was finishing up these big projects this week, I went back and forth in my head, wondering if it was time to ease back on freelance work and start pursuing a “real” job.

After a lot of tossing and turning and icing my hands (yeah … typing for a living hurts), I knew I had to make a decision. Continue freelancing as close to full time as possible, or start hunting for a job with regular hours and paychecks?

As you probably already know, Im not much of a quitter. Especially after only six months of trying something. So I’ve made my choice, and I’m not looking back.

I figure … let’s give this whole freelance writing thing another six months.

Because yes, there are days I wish I had a nine-to-five desk job. There are moments I wish I didn’t have so much freedom to work when and where I wanted (it sounds glorious, but when your office is also your bedroom, trying to staying motivated on Friday afternoons when there’s still work to be done is an absolute nightmare). I still keep an eye out for full-time writing and editing jobs, just in case.

But for what it is – being able to write and pay tuition and student loan debt with my earnings, no matter how small – freelance writing is a pretty sweet gig. I’m lucky to be able to do it, and to have formed good relationships with a few long-term clients over a six-month period. Not everyone can say they’ve been able to do that. Everyone complains: it’s human nature. I try to focus on the benefits and take those rough days one at a time, hour by hour, word by word if I have to.

I suppose the most valuable thing I have learned over the past six months isn’t how to negotiate higher rates or how to develop a better sense of which clients are acceptable to work with and which aren’t. I think the most important lesson I have taken away from the first big step in my professional writing career is that this really isn’t for everyone. Saying you want to try freelance writing without really knowing what you’re getting into isn’t smart. You have to have enough discipline to set and stick to your own hours, make time for research and rewriting on top of just writing and submitting. You have to be willing to take on extra projects (still for $$, of course) to show clients you are reliable and worth their time. And deadlines. If you can’t meet deadlines, I can tell you right now, freelancing is not for you. Not yet, at least.

Work has been a mix of fun, challenges and growth – all things we really need as writers in order to keep from getting bored. The more hours I work and the more contracts I complete, the more opportunities I will have in the months to come (which is why I love, and will always recommend, using Upwork when you are trying to start a freelance writing career).

I’m excited for those opportunities. But for now, I’m going to take the weekend off from writing (don’t worry – posts will still be going up while I indulge in a long and much deserved slumber). I’m in the middle of watching all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies right now – for the first time ever. Sometimes, watching other writer’s stories come to life on screen is pretty inspirational, even if, at least for the next few days, I will NOT be getting back to writing.

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 pixabay.com.