How to Change Your Freelance Writing Landscape

What I’m listening to: Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison

It’s been a week — a good one so far. Still, it’s not been without its head-shaking moments.

If you’ve not noticed, there’s a bit of a movement swelling called #MeToo in which women are trying to raise awareness regarding sexual harassment/assault by tweeting or sharing their #MeToo pronouncement, with or without their stories attached.

Some of those stories make you cry, like one Princess Jones shared.

Some are just women saying “Me too” in order to show the magnitude of the problem. Some men are even tweeting #IHave and admitting to behavior they’re not proud of.

And some are finding it an opportunity to attack a woman who has admitted she was victimized in her life.

Yes, the particular case I’m talking about involves a friend who was taken to task by a young guy when she shared her #MeToo on Facebook. This guy saw that she was a fan of a football star who’d been accused of rape, so my friend was now being called a hypocrite.

Yep. She was victimized years ago, but because she didn’t behave the way this idiot thought she should, he’s victimizing her yet again, all the while saying he’s not attacking her.

It’s like holding her head under water while saying “I’m not trying to drown you.”

What does this have to do with freelance writing?

Believe it or not, there are correlations.

I’ve seen writers who ask for advice, then take away what they want. In one case, I had given what I thought was decent, detailed info on how I locate clients and actively market to them. The interpretation didn’t even resemble what I’d suggested. I have no idea where the response came from — I didn’t suggest anything like what the writer was saying I’d said. Instead, he said “That’s the way I’ll go then” and mentioned a direction I’d not even brought up.

We convince ourselves of a lot of stuff that isn’t true.

It’s like those writers who hear and repeat the same assessment of the profession — freelance writing is dead. It’s impossible. It’s vicious. You can’t make a decent living as a writer anymore.

And yet here I am — here you are — proving that statement false every damn day of the week.

Why? Because we didn’t listen to the current stream of BS. We planned for the kind of landscape we wanted to see, and we made it happen.

So here’s how to change your own landscape:

Stop applying.

To job listings, that is. That means you have to leave behind your security blanket — no more content mills, no more “It’s all I can get” mentality, no more settling because it’s easier than busting your ass. If you apply for a gig, it’s like you’re admitting you’re still just an employee. You’re still letting someone make you apply for a job, dictate to you your payment, and control your destiny. The only difference is you now have to pay your own taxes and benefits. Stop it. You’re better than that.

Stop bitching.

Starting out is rough. I get it. I did it myself. But what I didn’t do was rest on the complaints. I didn’t use them as the reason I wasn’t going forward. I got off my ass and found a better way. Bitching does nothing but keep you locked in the same cycle of despair. So do this instead; every time you want to bitch, spend that time locating two more clients you’d like to work with and research their companies.  You cannot change your direction if you don’t take a new road, right?

Stop building on quicksand.

You need a strong foundation when you build a house, right? So why not build that same kind of strength into your freelance writing career? Don’t build it on work you get from content mills, where the “clients” don’t give one damn about your talents. Don’t build it on the work you do for ungrateful, low-paying, dictatorial, or nasty clients who don’t value your skill or time. Don’t build it on the mentality that you have to compete in a bidding war or among thousands of other wanna-be writers just for the chance to earn one-twentieth of what you should be earning. Build it on client work that’s valuable to you. Build it on projects you get from clients who don’t try to manipulate and control you. Build it on your rate, not the rate someone says you’ll earn. Do you own a business or are you just an employee? Right there.  Think like that business owner.

Stop looking for the easy way.

Honey, there is no easy way. There’s only you putting the effort into building something you’re proud of. No one is going to tell you exactly how to run your own business (nor should they). No one is going to do it for you (unless you pay them and even then, they’re going to probably do it their way, too). No one is going to lay out the template that you’ll apply easily. If you want to be a freelancer, you’re going to need to build your business on your own. There is no magic bullet. There’s head-down, ass-in-seat tenacity. That’s your formula.

Stop holding back.

Right now, count how many times this week you’ve started a sentence with “I’m going to…” Don’t say you’re “going to.” Just. F$cking. Do. Planning is great, but move on it. I know writers who five years later were still “going to” do that next thing they never did. Hell, I have friends who’ve planned things they never did. Get out of your own damn way, would you?

Writers, how did you change your landscape?
What one thing did you do that changed it all for you?

About the author




  • Shawn Perry October 18, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Sounds good, except you’re painting some awfully broad strokes and speaking in generalities. What specifically does one need to do to make a living as a freelance writer? I’m tired of applying for jobs, tired of the bidding wars, tired of not being commended for quality work, and really tired of being boxed in for a rate. I need guidance; I don’t need a pep talk. Steer me in the right direction to what exactly I need to to. Thanks…

    • lwidmer October 18, 2017 at 12:50 pm

      Hi Shawn. Thanks for commenting.

      If you go back through the blog, you’ll see specific steps for how to get up and running.

      What I can’t do — what no writer can do — is tell you everything to do in order to make a living freelancing. Part of it is reading enough to formulate what I call smart questions — what should a marketing plan look like, or how does a letter of introduction work? It’s more than just asking for someone to point the way, which many would love to do, but the question is too broad to answer.

      I will give you one jumping-off point — start with writing down what kinds of projects you’d like to do. Don’t limit yourself to what you can do right now — include ones you want to learn. Then find free resources that will help you learn them (nearly anything can be had online for free).

      Learn how to query. Then learn how to research magazines and send ideas where they best fit.

      Learn how to set earnings goals and come up with your hourly rate.

      Learn how to negotiate and how to leave the emotional BS out of your negotiations.

      It’s a lot to learn, but you can do it. We all have. This blog and others have plenty of advice and links to resources (check out my 101 resources pages) where you can get additional answers and perspectives. (Note: If you go to the right and use the Category drop-down menu, you’ll find things somewhat neatly organized. Start with Finding Freelance Work or the Series.)

      And remember to do what fits. Don’t try to take every morsel of advice at once. Try things out, and make sure to be consistent. In most cases, consistency is the best tool you can use.

    • lwidmer October 18, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      Adding this — you sound lost in a mire of low-paying work. Stop applying. Instead, look through this blog and find posts that detail how to actively locate and market to clients. And don’t forget to set a competitive rate. Go higher than you’re charging now, and don’t be afraid to lose a client over it. I always say if the client says no to the price, that probably wasn’t your client to begin with.

      I agree. The bidding wars and the notion that someone else should dictate what you make is maddening. So today, try working on getting magazine queries out. Type “editorial guidelines” or “writers guidelines” into Google, then look through what you find. Look for a decent rate (anything above 50 cents a word) and look at what they’re asking for. I have a magazine 101 primer here on the blog, so be sure to read through it. It will help you narrow down the search a bit.

      Good luck, Shawn. Stay in touch. We’re here to help.

    • Paula Hendrickson October 24, 2017 at 11:51 am

      When you say you’re tired of applying for jobs and tired of bidding wars, Shawn, it implies you’re using job boards and bidding sites to find work. Those are often the least effective ways to land assignments—and clients.

      It’s not about you, the job, or even the client. It’s a numbers game. You’re one of hundreds, if not thousands, of writers applying for those jobs or bidding for them. Lori’s blog—and several others—are loaded with free advice on how to find and approach markets on your own. When you do that, you shift the odds to your favor. Instead of being one of many, you’ve set yourself apart. By taking the initiative to contact a potential client on your own, you could be the only freelance writer that potential client hears from that day—or even that week.

      I’m not saying to avoid job boards all together. Every now and then you might find a good match that way, But why wait for that to happen when you can make it happen by choosing which companies or publications you’d like to work with and contacting them directly?

      Of course, the path is different for every freelancer. There’s no single right direction. You have to carve your own path. Fortunately, there’s a lot of guidance here on Lori’s blog and other sites that can offer suggestions on how to do that. Some suggestions will make sense to you, others won’t. It takes some trial and error. Most of us who’ve been doing this a long time will probably agree that we’re constantly trying new approaches to keep moving ahead.

      • lwidmer October 25, 2017 at 8:39 am

        I hope Shawn sees this, Paula. The exasperation in his/her post is obvious, and it’s familiar. We were all there at one time.