How to Become a Freelance Writer (the Right Way)

By Hasan Saleem of Pakwired.com

Freelance writing is a trending job nowadays. Everyone wants to become a freelance writer, start a blog, and get paid simply for having an opinion. But like any other career, it’s not for everyone. There is a common misconception that freelancing — especially freelance writing — is something everyone should delve into just because they can. And while yes, we all know a language, this is not the only pre-requisite to a freelance writing career.

There’s not a soul who isn’t enticed by the idea of working from a tropical beach with a completely flexible schedule. But very few people actually live this dream more than a day or two out of the year. A degree of stress and hard work are inescapable at any job, and freelancing is no exception.

What Separates Good Writers from Bad

Before you even consider becoming a freelance writer, you must hone your craft. While we’re not always focused on it, we can all spot a bad writer from a mile away. Rambling paragraphs with no structure, a slew of minor grammatical errors, and bland, uninspiring content are just a few giveaways.

Just as everyone is capable of bad writing when we’re distracted, blocked, or in a hurry, everyone is also capable of good writing. It’s necessary to a. understand the rules and b. practice consistently. Much like with any other skill, the more time you put in, the more accelerated the learning curve.

Phrasing

Precision and clarity are always present in good writing. Any reader will tell you that navigating dense, wordy text is exhausting. So go ahead and remove “due to the fact that” from your phrase vocabulary. Editors will thank you.

Ideas

A lot of successful bloggers complain about “me too” blogs, or blogs that regurgitate everyone else’s ideas. Bloggers do this in hopes of gaining readers and profits safely. However, if you truly don’t have anything new to add to a discussion, it’s best to not get involved. You’ll never be a great writer in the wrong niche. When you do find the right niche, coming up with content ideas will be a breeze because you will be in your comfort zone.

Reliability & Professionalism

Responding to clients and editors quickly is an invaluable habit. Never assume that because you work for yourself, you can get away with missed deadlines or ignored emails for days at a time. Having typos, broken links, or poor samples on your website proves to potential clients that you just aren’t that serious about writing.

De-jargoning

Writers aren’t really revered for their lofty use of adjectives or huge vocabulary; they’re revered for their written communication skills. Oftentimes this includes great storytelling- even in non-fiction content. The ability to break down complex concepts or information into layman’s terms (aka de-jargoning) is also a useful skill. De-jargoning is relevant in any niche, but especially for technology or technical writing.

What About Content Mills?

Most writers shudder at the thought of being enslaved to penny-pinching content mills. However, the biggest downside to content mills is not the intolerably low pay, nor the drab subject matter. Rather, it’s that they are almost always a dead end. They don’t typically lead to work in your ideal niche, increased readership, or higher paying gigs. You can count on headaches and a profound sense of hopelessness, though.

So what can you get out of a content mill? Basically, if you’re brand new to the writing game and you haven’t mastered any of the above criteria yet, content mills will provide you with experience- in bulk.

When it’s OK to Write for Free

Respected freelancers and bloggers often give rigid opinions on whether it is acceptable to work for free. Many of them warn newbies who write for free to stop immediately. Their rationale is that it undervalues your work and sets a precedent that writers shouldn’t be paid. Others disagree, insisting that building a reputation and portfolio can only be done this way (much like interning during college).

The truth is, the value of free writing completely depends on the individual doing it. If a writer has a gig for a popular site that doesn’t pay, but receives traffic to her website where people can buy services, the gig may be quite valuable.

Another example: if a writer is just starting out and wants to improve his skills/choose a niche, writing for free may be a stress-free way to experiment. Other value point may be learning to work with editors or gaining resume builders. Small nonprofits also need writers, but may not have the funding to pay. This doesn’t mean that the experience wouldn’t be valuable or lead to paid work in the future.

So the main point is that the writer determines the value of each project. No one else can determine that for you. As long as there is value for the writer, writing for free in certain instances is perfectly fine.

When to be Careful

While you may want to write for free in the above scenarios, freelancers of any kind should be hyper-vigilent in avoiding scams. If a client asks for free samples or refuses to pay a down-payment, this is usually a sign that they are trying to use you in one way or another. These people do not intend to become real clients, so don’t engage in too much conversation with them.

Freelancers should always have private clients sign a contract. If working for public sites like Scripted.com, keep steady track of payments through Paypal or your bank account.

Conclusion

For many of us, technology has revolutionized the work day and opened up a variety of new opportunities. The downside is that we now must watch out for “pretend” professionals, or those that want the freedom of freelancing, but don’t necessarily want to put in the work. So be sure that you are dedicated and truly enjoy writing before embarking on a career. With steady diligence and focused work, you can climb the freelance ladder to a full-time income.