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.