8 Habits for Success as a Freelance Writer

Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

Living the writing life as a freelancer affords many benefits, not the least of which include flexibility in the schedule, the opportunity to practice one’s craft and the opportunity to make money on one’s own terms.  The downside is that the writing life demands discipline to be successful.  After nearly 20 years of living as a working freelance writer, I have culled 8 habits that have brought me success, direction and plenty of writing samples to show prospective clients.

Make writing your Alpha and Omega 

Ok- so God is the Alpha and the Omega, but for the writing life, making writing the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do in the evening creates the necessary boundaries for the life of a writer.  The value of writing first thing in the morning is that you have a chance to take stock of your mood, anxiety, inspirations and goals before the busyness of life takes over.  The value of writing at the end of the day is that you can provide closure to any stresses of the day and gain perspective on your own actions and efforts.  These time periods don’t have to be exhaustive-a mere 10 to 20 minutes is enough to create the momentum you need for the day and the closure you need for a good night’s sleep.   It has been said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  This is doubly true for writers.  Mining the joys and pains of the day will provide precious gems for future writing topics. 

Have a plan for tomorrow

Being a full-time writer is like standing in the middle of a desert oasis.  It feels comfortable.  Immediate needs seem to be met.  However, if you don’t have a plan for striking out, you may not actually leave the oasis and you’ll find yourself still in your bunny slippers and robe when dinner time rolls around and the rest of the family returns home from work, school, or whatever non-writers do with their days.  It is important to sketch out what your daily writing goals will be, just as you would errands and appointments.  Put your time behind the keyboard in your schedule and stick to it!  Some authors shoot for a minimum word count each day and don’t allow themselves a break until they reach it.  Other writers demand one blog-ready article per day before they can turn on the tv or scan their social media accounts.  Whatever your goal is, set it and stick to it.  The great author Ray Bradbury has recommended writing a short story every week because he believed that while it was possible to write 3 or 4 bad stories in a row, it was impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row.  Setting a daily writing goal and disciplining yourself to meet that goal improves your writing immensely.

Create a writing space

Having a place where you regularly immerse yourself in your work, is not only convenient, but also serves as a psychological reminder that, in this space you are to work.  Where you choose to work is up to you, but it should be someplace that you can utilize throughout the day-every day.  Some writers use the local coffee shop because it feels like stepping into an office and provides the separation from the distractions of home, such as the fridge, the tv, a place to nap.  Even if you live in a one room apartment with 3 other people, carve out a corner of the couch that is yours for writing.

Form a writer’s posse

Everyone needs a posse:  that group of like-minded people who understands the ins and outs of writing and can appreciate the ups and downs of your shared experience. Join a writer’s group, either online or at your local library.  Meet regularly with writers you know to discuss your current projects, share your work and get feedback.  This provides the often-isolated writer some much needed water cooler time- a chance to vent frustrations, develop camaraderie and help keep one another accountable to each person’s goals.  Acting as a sounding board for others and sharing your own ideas and insights is a great way to stay motivated in the writing life.  You will find that no one else quite gets what you are going through like another writer.

Open the floodgates of new ideas

Writer Juliette Cameron calls it filling the well.  How do you get ideas to write about?  Where do you go to mine topics that are interesting to your readers?  One of the best ways to do this is by creating experiences – especially new experiences, in which your senses are engaged.  Even just getting out of your writing space and people-watching can provide the stimulus needed to get the creative juices flowing.  Attend a school meeting, go to a Chamber of Commerce event, see a play, visit a nursing home, attend a party, or take a class at the local park district or community center.  These experiences are ripe with fodder for articles, blog posts, character pieces and vignettes.

Reach out to at least one person each day

Isolation is a dream killer and it makes for very insular writing.  Giving your time and attention to another person, even if it is just a phone call, provides the writer with ample experience and a sense of empathy that is needed to make our writing full and impactful.  Not only are you giving of yourself- which is the key to a happy existence, but you also benefit by gaining new experiences to write about.  Have a difficult person in your life?  Invite them to tea.  Folks who vex us make the best characters to study and write about.  Each of us has our triggers.  Examining them and turning them upside down makes for a great read. 

Read…a lot

Studying your craft is essential to learning the tips and tricks of the trade.  Immersing oneself in good reading material is more than enjoyable, it is how we develop as writers and content creators.  Read everything from bestselling fiction to classic works, non-fiction to self-improvement, hobbies to newspapers and magazines, and always read the content produced by top bloggers in your field of expertise.  Mine nuggets of wisdom from poetry and the Bible, from essays and political speeches, children’s books and romance novels.  Nothing is a waste of time if it is interesting to you. 

Get comfy with criticism

One sure way to determine if you are being impactful is by letting others read your work.  Putting your thoughts and experiences on the page and sharing them with the world creates a level of vulnerability most people aren’t ready for.  But for the writer, getting feedback on your written thoughts is essential.  Finding out what resonates with readers, both positive and negative, is a sure way to grow as a writer.  Even, and I would say, most especially, negative feedback can be a huge help when honing your skills as a writer.  There are many writers who we love to read because they so perfectly document the feelings of our hearts.  But equally impactful are the writers we love to hate.  Those bloggers whom we never miss because their ideas challenge us and drive us to shape our opinions and outlook in defiance of their outrageous views are just as important as those with whom we agree. 

The writer’s goal, after all is to create movement in the soul of the reader.  The only way to determine if your writing is moving someone is to invite criticism.  Inviting criticism can be painful, but just as an athlete needs a coach to guide them to excellence, writers need to hear and accept the impact their writing is having on their audience.  A few words to the wise:  Don’t take offensive criticism personally.  As a writer, you will need to develop a thick skin. When someone criticizes your writing, it does not necessarily mean you are a bad writer or that your dignity as a human being is being brought into question.  Let the criticism stand on its merit.  If you are triggered by the comment, try to understand why.  Is there truth to their comments that you are having a hard time accepting?  Are you able to see from their point of view?  Can you use their comments to improve your writing?  Are they just taking pot shots?  Analyze what is being said, use it to grow if it is helpful and toss out the rest.  

These are the writing tips that have made a difference in my career as a writer.  What do you do to keep your writing life on track?  I’d love to read your comments and maybe add them to my routine. 

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