The recent Internet uproar about a freelance journalist who was asked by a major magazine to revise one of his articles for free has mostly died down. But for many the question remains–is freelance writing a viable career choice?
Can you really earn enough money from freelance writing to pay the bills?
It’s a question that a lot of writers are asking–with good reason. If you look at many of the advertisements for writing jobs, the pay for many writing gigs is abysmal.
Steph Auteri’s post on freelancedom blog, What Got Me Here: Self-Education, Goal-Setting, Hard Work, and a Helluva Lot of Privilege, brings up some excellent points. I especially like that she emphasizes hard work in her post.
My own take is that it is still possible to earn a living as a freelance writer, but there are lots of struggles that writers must overcome first.
Here are seven of the struggles that freelance writers face:
- The writing jobs that are easy to find are usually not the ones that pay well. You’ve probably seen the ads that pop up on websites advertising for writers. Or, you may know of one or two really popular job sites that always have writer gigs listed. The thing is, most of the advertised writing jobs that are really easy to find don’t pay well. They accept almost everybody and they have a really high turnover.
- “Earning a living” means different things to different folks. To me it means that I am able to pay my bills and buy other necessities with some left over for extras. I don’t live extravagantly, but I don’t want to always have to worry where my next meal is coming from either. The fact is, the amount needed to “earn a living” varies widely depending on where you live, your lifestyle, and your expectations. Most freelance writers don’t charge enough.
- Freelance writing is not an easy route to quick cash. Too many people see all freelance work as a route to quick cash. The truth is that it could take months to build up a steady stream of clients. I always recommend that new writers have savings before they start. If you absolutely must have a set dollar amount by next week, you’re better off taking a traditional job until you can build up your savings.
- There is a lot of writing competition out there. If you focus on the competition, it’s easy to get discouraged. There are a lot of freelance out there. There are probably literally thousands of us, with new ones joining the marketplace every day. The key is to concentrate on marketing your own skills, keeping your customers happy, and learning everything you can about writing.
- Many freelance writers don’t realize that they are running a business. Nearly every week it seems I read about another freelance writer who didn’t save money for taxes or who has hit a slow period with nothing to live off of. Such stories are common for a good reason. It takes more than just good writing skills to be a good freelance writer. You also need some business savvy.
- There’s a misperception that freelance writers can write about whatever they want. While technology has made it easy to self-publish, you won’t earn a living as a freelance writer unless you are willing to write about topics that people want to pay you for. That tome you’ve been really wanting to write on the history of hairnets in America probably isn’t marketable.
- There will always be somebody who is willing to work for less. It’s always shocking to read about writers who are willing to work for practically nothing. And I’d love to say that they’re all horrible and have no skill, but a few of them are quite good. Don’t let this get to you. Many of them will eventually learn to charge what they’re worth or they will go out of business.
Do you think it’s still possible to earn a living as a freelance writer? Why, or why not?