"Master Dayton" might be humorous, (I mean if Ph.Ds are called "Doctors," shouldn't MFAs be called "Masters?") but in all seriousness I have made a living freelance writing and after several years I have tons of information I want to share to help out my fellow writers, regardless of age, experience, goals, situation, or background. This blog isn't pretty-but it will help if real freelance writing information is what you want.

Friday, January 22, 2010

50 Things Beginning Writers Should Know

50 Things I Wish I Knew As A Beginning Freelance Writer

So I wasn't sure how to start off a new year with my blog, especially with all the work I've been doing trying to kick off a couple of online businesses, dealing with an entirely new work load, and putting the personal life in order while dealing with about a dozen new projects. Not complaining, mind you. I love all the work that's coming in, the new sweet contract I just landed, and the amazing array of projects that seem to be coming my way, including screen writing and creative writing projects that could potentially open some really amazing doors for me. Might even get to add to the sparsest page on IMDB :)

But this is a freelance writing blog, and one I've been wanting to give more TLC to in a while, and no time like the present to begin. One thing about being a freelance writer for over 5 years now is that I've made some good discoveries, and a crap load of mistakes. Like dump truck load of them. I've also learned that as a writer there are benefits to a freelance writing lifestyle that people don't tell you about, as well as drawbacks to living as a freelance writer that no one warns you about, either. Then there are the crazy bits of freelance writing knowledge, when a stereotype like "the freedom of being a freelance writer" is correct, kind of, but not ever in the way that you imagine it.

What better way than to kick off a brand new year of writing and blogging than by making a long list of what I wish I knew before I got started – or things I've learned along the way.
  1. It's very hard to get work as a true beginner freelance writer, which is why:
  2. It's always best as a writer to have 6 months of severance pay or more before kicking off a freelance writing career.
  3. Helium.com isn't a scam, but it is a complete waste of time unless you understand backlinks and passive income – which you won't as a true beginning online writer.
  4. The best articles for Associated Content are topics with a ton of traffic but no advertisements from Google – so you get paid for traffic that wouldn't convert on a blog (top 10 movies lists are great examples of this)
  5. List articles are easy to sell on Constant-Content,
  6. But if you're writing for Constant-Content all your writing has to be top notch.
  7. eHow is a good place to build passive income if you know what to right, but
  8. eHow will yank your articles without pause if your article is even slightly in violation of their interpretation of the terms of service and writer's guide.
  9. But eHow is a great doorway to write for Demand Studios, which is pretty decent up front pay for Internet writing.
  10. Demand Studios pays pretty well for online upfront articles, but
  11. Some Demand Studios editors are out of control, which is fine when
  12. You're willing to walk away from a revision request that is beyond ridiculous for what they're paying. This hasn't happened often to me, but about 2% of all articles I write I decide not to revise (generally I revise 20% of my articles, but revisions are usually very simple and taking only 5 minutes or less).
  13. Learning the difference between passive/residual income and freelance work for hire income is critical for long term goals as a writer.
  14. Employers pay half of your Medicare and Social Security when you work for someone. This is important because once you pay your own taxes, you have to pick up the tab, meaning a freelance writer who makes $20,000 has to pay a lot more in taxes than someone who is employed and makes $20,000.
  15. Taxes are paid quarterly by freelance writers, which makes budgeting a must.
  16. There are many different types and styles of writing, and each requires a different view or approach.
  17. Online freelance writers have to be able to adapt to more than one type of writing to really succeed as a full time freelancer.
  18. Not all work is worth doing. Burn out is a major concern, as is carpal tunnel, and sometimes it's better to rest or pursue other interests as opposed to writing a bunch of $3 articles.
  19. Guru.com and Elance.com are legitimate freelance writing auction sites that writers can earn a full time living from. All the others aren't worth the time.
  20. Writing a query letter might be the single most important part of securing extra work as a freelance writer.
  21. Bidding for jobs on Guru & Elance is a great way to practice sharpening and honing your query letters.
  22. HubPages is a good introduction to passive and affiliate income, and also a good place to keep an online writing portfolio, which brings up a good point:
  23. Create an online portfolio. HubPages is a good place for this, so is Squidoo. Based on pages at both of these sites I've had people contact me for work, and this has led to some pretty good writing jobs.
  24. Marketing is critical for any writer who ever wants to make a full time income with their words.
  25. Writing is only a small part of making a full time income writing. Phone calls, e-mails, bidding for work, marketing, and negotiating prices all take up just as much, or more than writing freelance.
  26. Find a niche specialty based on what you know. Being an experienced poker player made it easy and natural for me to be a good poker writer, which made me by far the majority of my freelance writing income during my first year as a full time online writer.
  27. Getting work done on time puts you above many other writers (as basic as making the deadline should be), getting the job done early gets you repeat work and a raise.
  28. Learn to use PDFs and Power Points. This will open up doors to jobs that you might not otherwise be able to do as a freelance writer.
  29. Invest in ZipFile software.
  30. Invest in a screenshot software.
  31. Set up a blog, website, HubPage, or something to create an online presence.
  32. Spend a full day writing and editing the best sample articles ever. These should never be sold, but can be used to show your talent and ability to potential clients.
  33. Never use the home office deduction on taxes. That's an audit waiting to happen.
  34. Review restaurants when you go out with friends – because 50% of the cost of business meals are tax deductable.
  35. Don't start a book or movie blog. Just not worth the effort for the return.
  36. If you're chasing residual income and have even a little bit of extra income, outsource work. The sooner you can do this, the sooner you can reach your passive income freelance writing goals.
  37. Save all clips. Have copies of all of them.
  38. Work on your writing resume. This should look completely different that a normal spread out resume.
  39. Network. This goes along with marketing as being a critical skill that most freelance writers online or offline too often ignore.
  40. Never be afraid to ask for a raise. If employers keep coming back, there's a good chance they're happy enough with your work to pay more. If they keep offering new work before you finish what you're on, you're probably working for much less than they're willing to pay you.
  41. Learn about basic SEO and web writing. Articles for the web are often much different than what employers want for print or other freelance writing mediums.
  42. Not being an English major shouldn't stop you from being a writer. In fact, for online freelance writing not being an English major could be a huge bonus.
  43. Going to graduate school doesn't help freelancing at all – in fact you have to re-teach yourself to write for non academic mediums.
  44. Because academic writing generally doesn't pay unless you hook onto a grant team.
  45. Find some helpful freelance writing blogs to learn from. Many of the authors will be glad to respond to a well thought out question in the comments section, BUT
  46. Read over the blog first. This includes old blog posts about freelance writing because you don't want to ask a question that has been covered in the blog 100 times.
  47. InfoBarrel, Xomba, and HubPages gives writers some major opportunities to learn how to use back links, AdSense, and build some passive income while using their strengths as a freelance writer.
  48. Learn about residual income early. The options and doors this opens up down the line makes it something to at least get started with early.
  49. Work space. You need to create a solid work space to get into the habit of sitting down and knocking out articles on things you would probably never write about like treadmill reviews, concrete, mini-bikes, yeast infections, or 50 articles on green tea and health benefits.
  50. Freelancing freedom comes with a price, or maybe just a giant asterisk. More on this in a bit.
So there's a good list of 50 things I wish I knew before getting started as a freelance writer. I'm sure if I wrote on this blog with steady grad school training of resources and precision I could find 25-50 more, but at that point I'd just be showing off, or chasing the word count on my longest ever blog post of Why I'm Not Ashamed to Be a Freelance Writer.

The freedom of freelance writing – which is often one of the main draws to being a writer. Let's discuss this very briefly, as it will be worth a full sized post of its own later. But right now I'll say this: there IS a certain degree of freedom to the freelance writing lifestyle. Some call it being a digital nomad, others refer to it (perhaps somewhat incorrectly) as lifestyle design (mainly because I think Timothy Ferriss was discussing a much more passive income that freelance writing), others as an online or digital vagabond. I always kind of liked the nomad or vagabond phrases.

I can work from my current apartment in Iowa, just as I could work from my old apartment in Austin Texas, or the cabin I used to rent in Fairbanks Alaska. When on vacation I can sneak in two hours of work in the morning before Tampa really kicks into gear, or I can stay a month with friends in Oregon and work from an Internet Café while also chipping in to help renovate their house.

There is a ton of freedom. I can talk walks, I can have a beer and lunch at noon across the street at Mulligan's Sports Bar, I can grab a friend and road trip.

But a freelance writing career also acts as a tether. The work has to be done, and if I don't do it because I went on a 10 mile hike during the day, I'll be doing it from 10 pm to 6 am in the hotel room at night because the work has to get done. As a freelance writer, it can be very hard to eliminate stress from your life because you can always find more work to do, there's always something not getting done, and there's always more you feel like you could/should be doing.
So you do have freedom, and it's a freedom I wouldn't trade for the world, but it's a limited freedom that acts kind of like a tether unless you can find a way to make a full time living from residual income online. That's the reality of the freedom of a freelance writing career. That's also the myth of freedom in a freelance writing career. Finding the balance and avoiding burn out is a huge part of the equation.

So that's it for now. A very happy New Year for everyone, and I hope 2010 finds you optimistic, encouraged, and profitable. A lot more coming up soon, and as always feel free to comment. I always enjoy the interaction and will help out beginning freelance writers whenever I can.

Here's to the first post of Master Dayton in 2010. Cheers!