For as long as I could remember, I wanted to become a writer. Even at the age of seven, I had polished off many a book and dreamed of someday penning material that would let others fall into another world through my words. Once I reached young adulthood, though, I grew concerned that financial worries may hold me back from my lifelong dream.
Making a career out of writing takes 10 percent talent, 10 percent serendipity and 80 percent plain old guts and grit enough to keep going through the worst of circumstances. I’ve been literally at my wits’ end with writing as a career before, but I persisted through it and today, I make a very comfortable living as an online freelance writer. If I can do it, you can, too. Here’s how.
1. Find Your Groove
When I first started writing, I operated mostly in the political realm. Politics is something I’ve always been passionate about, so it seemed perfect. However, my biggest successes didn’t really come until I took the time to narrow down which aspects of politics I was most interested in writing about.
I eventually discovered that my strongest passion lies in women’s reproductive health advocacy and education. So when I made the decision to shift my focus almost entirely toward that, I was able to hone in on a very particular niche that expanded my opportunities. I believe that having a clear focus and area of expertise made editors see me as a little more professional and experienced. And the joy of having my fingers flying over the keyboard made the hustle worth it.
Now I write on a variety of topics, but I believe that narrowing my focus a bit opened a ton of new doors for me. To succeed as an online writer, find your groove. Everyone has their unique area of expertise. Not only will the words flow more freely from your fingertips, you’ll begin to establish yourself as an expert in your niche.
2. Develop a Business Mindset
Many writers (myself included) got into the craft thinking we’d produce works of high literary merit. In the meantime, though, the bills keep rolling in. I soon found out that passion wasn’t enough — I needed to make money.
Online freelance writing offers an opportunity to make a living doing what you love. But to break in, you must sell yourself and your service. I learned I needed to view myself as a professional with a valuable service to offer. I believe this mindset helped me come across more confidently in my emails. I learned all about which words not to use when pitching and which ones can bring about a better chance of success, based on studies.
I began presenting myself more professionally and confidently, as opposed to sounding like I’m begging for an opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, editors provide us with the opportunity to share our voices, so it is absolutely something to be grateful for. But keep in mind — you provide the voice! If you have something unique to say, you are providing a valuable service. Always remember that.
3. Create an Online Persona
Any online writing gig you pitch to wants to see writing samples. The easiest way to build clips when you have none? Start your own blog!
I started utilizing WordPress to create content so when a potential money-making opportunity appeared, I was ready to supply clips. Keeping my blog updated kept my writing skills honed as well.
4. Schedule Your Time
Many dream of the writing life as one of sleeping in till noon followed by kicking back with a laptop on the beach. And yes, freelancing does give you the freedom to work from anywhere. But the key word in that sentence is “work.”
Make a weekly schedule for yourself just as you would if you worked an office job. Yes, if you’re a night owl, you will likely find gigs which can accommodate your proclivities. But failing to schedule leads to missed deadlines and anxiety.
Once you establish yourself and start making some money, you can even delegate some tasks, such as keeping your social media feed updated and clearing your inbox out regularly. I tried keeping up with all of my email requests by myself for too long. Once I hired help to manage tasks like that, my ability to focus improved. And it doesn’t actually cost that much to do, depending on the tasks you’re delegating!
5. Learn to See Rejection as Opportunity
I’ve read all the inspirational articles I could find on writers who faced rejection at first, and everything the authors say is true: you will face many “no’s” before you get a “yes.” Learn and improve from the experience — don’t let it break your stride.
When you get shot down, as you invariably will, read the feedback carefully. Yes. It hurts when someone says your work isn’t quite up to snuff, but they are experienced professionals who will usually be willing to tell you why your work didn’t quite fit. Heed that advice to make your writing sharper.
6. Embrace Positivity
The biggest hurdle I faced on my roundabout road to a successful freelance career was staying positive. Before I finally made money at it, I was working eight hours a day and pulling a red-eye shift at a restaurant. Then, when I got home, I wrote.
As exhausted as I was, I kept positive, reacted to criticisms with efforts to improve and kept the faith that someday, things would get better. And they did. I still work a few different jobs because I choose to. I like my jobs. But I’m much more organized and actually make money writing now, so I had the chance to cut back my other hours significantly. I now have more time to devote to my writing, and it’s a great feeling to have finally reached that point.
Try to enjoy the process even when it’s difficult. No matter how tough your own financial situation is right now, keep writing. And don’t give up no matter what. Yes, you will have days when you will cry into your pillow. Let yourself vent, then dust yourself off and go hard again tomorrow.
Like any skill, immersing yourself in the subject matter helps you learn faster and retain more. I’ve been a lifelong reader, but to break into online writing, I devoured every online column and blog I could.
Writing for an internet audience differs from writing for a book reader. Most people skim what they read online quickly, and developing the right tone and style for the web means getting connected and reflecting on which articles wowed me and which sounded blah.
Yes, You Can Survive and Thrive as a Writer!
I won’t lie — breaking into the online writing world means truly dedicating yourself to your craft, sometimes with little payoff in the beginning — financially or emotionally speaking. But like any skill, you will hone your abilities in time. And nothing in the world feels as good as succeeding at doing what you love!