A computer. A website and a LinkedIn account. Mad writing skills.
But even more important are the things you don’t need to get started as a freelance writer. Attitudes and perks that will actually keep you from success as you wait until you can claim them all. And wait. And wait.
Here are the top 5 things you absolutely do not need to make the leap into freelancing.
1. A command of everything there is to know about freelance writing
I hate to say this since I teach an e-course and mentor writers, but you can get started right now. Even if your pitches aren’t perfect. Even if you don’t know every single thing about building a writer site. Even if you haven’t read and highlighted the dozen or so freelance writing books you brought home from the library.
The best way to learn is not to study and to read, but to do.You can learn more from the feedback you get from an editor (or lack of feedback) and your query success/failure rate than you can from reading every book ever published freelance writing.
When I started out in 1997, I read one book, on how to write a query letter. My first query landed a $500 assignment from a small employment magazine, but breaking into the nationals wasn’t quite as easy. I sent out pitches that make me cringe now to think about them (like “Quik Dri Cheez: Why Advertisers Can’t Spell” to Family Circle), but I learned as I went along and developed relationships with editors in the process.
Trust that you know enough and just do.
2. The unwavering support of your friends and family
Guess what? It doesn’t matter what your friends and family members think of your freelance writing dreams.
Someone will tell you you’re crazy for eschewing a “safe” 9-5 job in favor of freelancing. Someone will think they can call you at 1 pm every day because you’re “not working.” Someone will tell you that “freelance” is shorthand for “unemployed.”
It doesn’t matter.
If everyone needed 100% support and acceptance of their goals, we would have a lot fewer successful writers, artists, dancers, and entrepreneurs out there. The fact is, while it’s nice to have unconditional support from friends and family, it’s not essential to success.
Set your own boundaries around your goals, get to work, and prove those naysayers wrong.
3. An aversion to rejection
Repeat after me: “Rejection is my friend.”
Form rejections from several editors tells you that you need to tweak your approach. A “nice” rejection (“Not right for us, but please keep pitching”) opens doors to relationships that can later turn into assignments. And rejection accompanied by feedback — which is what launched me into the world of the glossy women’s magazines — is a blessing.
You will get rejections — and if you don’t, you’re not trying hard enough. I have hundreds to my credit!
But instead of getting all in a twist at the idea of rejection and never sending anything out as a result, remember that rejection is not about you: It’s a business decision, and one you can learn from.
4. An abundance of free time
Does this sound like you? “As soon as I have enough money to quit my job, I’ll have the time to start freelancing.” “When the kids are in school, I can start freelancing.” “I can’t start sending out pitches until I have more time; what if I get an acceptance and don’t have time to do the assignment?”
The fact is, you can start while you work a 9-5 or stay at home with your baby or have your kids home during summer vacation.
I’m not saying it’s easy. You may need to get up early, stay up late, or do interviews during your lunch hour. But if you have the motivation, it can be done. I have a friend who works on freelance writing projects from 8 to midnight. I personally started freelancing while working an office job. And I know a single mom who homeschools her kids — and freelances!
You don’t find time to write — you make it.
I know too many writers who are afraid to send anything out until it’s perfect. They over-research, over-interview, and agonize over every last word.
But what is perfect? Perfect by whose standard?
And of course, since there is no such thing as perfect, these writers’ perfectly good work languishes on their hard drives, and therefore stands zero chance at publication. All the while, lesser (but unafraid) writers are getting published left and right, much to the ire of those who strive for perfection.
You know the expression “Good enough never is”? I’d like to amend that to “Good enough often is.” The imperfect query or article you send out has an infinitely better chance at getting published than the writing you’ll never send out until it’s perfect.
These five items all point to the same fact: There will never be a “perfect” time to start freelancing, when you have ample free time, all the knowledge you need, unassailable writing skills, zero chance at rejection, and supportive friends and family.
The freelancers who succeed are those who use what they have when they have it, make the time instead of waiting for it to magically appear, set boundaries — and get moving.
About the author:
Linda Formichelli is the author of The Renegade Writer. She has written for more than 130 magazines and is the co-author of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success. Get free copies of her e-books at the Renegade Writer blog.
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