Search This Blog

Friday, March 23, 2012

Advice for New Freelancers: Choose your own Path

One of the most attractive aspects of freelancing is the freedom that it provides. Not only do you set your own hours, you decide how much you’ll work, what kinds of work you’ll perform, and what kinds of clients you’ll work for. If you come to freelancing from a corporate job, that freedom is exhilarating.
It’s also overwhelming.
Here’s what I mean. Take a poll of a hundred freelancers, and you’ll find that they’re all pursuing different career paths. Deciding which one is right for you (often through a process of trial and multiple errors) can leave you constantly second-guessing your career arc.
I started out as a freelancer in a bubble. I didn’t know any other writers, let alone any who worked for actual money. I was free to decide how to pursue my career without any role models to emulate or contradict. In the first few months, that meant working on my first novel and pitching (mostly poorly written) queries to national magazines. 
Then I started writing for the local paper and for local businesses. Then I decided to teach magazine writing at a local community college, which led to speaking at writers conferences and writing about writing. Then I started writing books. Then I started collaborating on books, which led to ghostwriting.
None of these things were in my plan. I didn’t have a plan when I started out. I honestly didn’t even have a clue. But I found my own path by asking first, what did I want to do, and second, what could I get paid to do? I still go through that process today.
My career looks very different than it did five or ten years ago. When I started out, I was a fledgling novelist, writing for magazines and newspapers to pay the bills. Five years later, I was a newly published author and successful magazine freelancer, balancing both roles. Another five years passed and I was a new ghostwriter/co-author who still kept her hand in with magazines. And now that another five years have gone by, I find that most of my work involves writing other people’s books and doing motivational speaking on health and fitness topics. It’s not the path that I expected but it’s the right path for me.
Finding your own path doesn’t mean that you ignore what other writers are doing or that you choose to follow the same trajectory of a successful freelancer. It means you observe, you pay attention, you gather information about what seems to be working for someone else and decide how you can apply that to your own life. You determine what appeals to you about the other person’s work and what does not.
Take Jane Boursaw. a successful blogger who shares her advice in an earlier post. Jane gets to watch movies—and get paid for it! I dreamt of being a movie reviewer as a new freelancer, mostly so I could impose my opinions on the general public. Jane makes good money as a blogger, which is also appealing to me. 
But you know what? Jane blogs all the time. That’s critical to her success. She also has to watch movies she might not particularly enjoy, and she has to analyze those movies. She can’t just sit and veg out  in front of the latest romantic comedy; it’s work for her. My point? No matter how appealing or attractive someone else’s freelance career looks, I promise you there are drawbacks along with the plusses. 
   Yes, you should use other freelancers as guides. (That's one of the reasons you're here, right?) Just recognize that every writer’s path is different. Don’t blindly follow another writer; pay attention to the unmarked trails that may offer you more promise and satisfaction. The path you take may not be the one you expected. But it will be yours.

***Are you a new freelancer, or know someone who wants to break into freelancing? My new line of ebooks, all branded with the Dollars and Deadlines name, are geared toward new freelancers. I take the same approach that I do with this blog--I give practical, proven strategies and plenty of examples to help you achieve your writing goals. So far the most popular has been Dollars and Deadlines' Guide to Selling your First Article, but Dollars and Deadlines 10 Essential Freelance Templates is also selling well. And if you write for love more than money (nothing wrong with that), you need to read Dollars and Deadlines' 10 Truths Every Writer Who Wants to Get Published Should Know 


  1. Excellent post. I would also point out that your plans - really, need I explain this? - do not always work out. You might very well be successful in one area or areas of writing, and say, "Yes, but I'd really like to break into X." And then you go and do all those various hopefully professional things you need to do to break into X. And you might find that, 1. You didn't break into X or not nearly enough in a way to make a living at it. 2. You hate it because it's not what you thought it was. 3. You might break in and not find it sustainable for you, even though it is for other people.

    If that's too generic, let me say that I started out freelancing primarily as a medical writer, shifted for a while to more general freelancing, then found that when the economy tanked in 2008 that general freelancers were a dime a dozen while medical freelancers were still in demand, so back I went primarily because that's where the gigs and the money were.

    Sometimes your path chooses you, I'm afraid, but that's true in most areas of life. I've had similar experiences with ghostwriting. I've done some, but it's never really caught on for whatever reason and that's probably okay because I'm swamped with good-paying work these days and for the most part I really enjoy it (and being honest with myself, the headaches related to my medical-related work are rather similar to the headaches of ghostwriting - really, the grass probably ain't any greener over there).

  2. Thanks for your comment, Mark. I appreciate the sentiment of "sometimes your path chooses you," too.

    As for me, a good part of my career path has involved eliminating things I *don't* want to do (oh let's see--practice law, work in a donut shop, make pizzas, write sales brochures, etc) and see what's left. :)

    Have a great weekend!