A little while ago, I had a Skype interview with a class of journalism students. It had been as a favour for a friend, and I had reluctantly accepted, not knowing if I had any advice to offer them… I was still a fledgling in the world of freelancing myself. Some of their questions I was prepared for… Others, not so much… But most of the time, I feel I translate better when I consider problems and then respond in the written form. So I decided to write a letter to these students, hoping to make up for some of my fumbling responses via Skype. And I figured, well, I may as well share my advice with y’all. Perhaps one or two of you may find the inspiration you need to venture forth like I did…
Ok, so let’s just begin by saying it ain’t all rose-tinted lenses, folks, but that’s not to say it won’t be worth it! In some professions, your worth is a given when it comes to clients; in other professions, you’ll have to work twice as hard to prove yourself (but who doesn’t love a challenge?!). The expressions ‘starving artist’ and ‘penniless writer’ are stereotypes for a reason. People do not always see the value of wordsmiths in the same way they might, say for instance, a lawyer or an engineer. So you’re going to have to believe in yourself until others see the light, and work really hard on not underselling what it is that you’re capable of doing, because believe me, it’s a skill that is developed with a lot of time and hard work, just like any other. (And if I may say so, what you are capable of, is a skill like no other… You have the power to captivate, to connect, to engage, and to inspire… No small feat, right?!) So what advice does a humble writer such as myself have for fledglings considering the life of a freelancer? Well, here goes nothing…
- Just write… And then write some more!
Every opportunity you get, exercise that muscle, that creative brain, that penmanship… Even if it is only for your blog, and not specifically for a client, one of the best ways to hone your skill is to do what you were born to do: WRITE.
- When you’re not writing… Read!!
Whether it is another blogger you admire, a magazine article, a novel, a work of non-fiction, a polemical essay, writers who have years of experience on you will continue to contribute to your vocabulary, to your sense of what works and what doesn’t work for a piece of writing on a particular subject… Bask in their words like you would the warmth of the sun on a cloudless Spring morning. They will leave an imprint on you like no other.
- Never be without your notebook!
If you are not super tech savvy, such as myself, a little ringbinder will do the job just fine. Otherwise, electronic devices can be a welcome alternative. Whatever your preferred method of jotting things down, just keep it handy! I often appear to be staring off into the distance, watching cloud formations, and birds, doing little to nothing. In reality, I am forming titles, sentences, comparisons, future ideas… All these things and more are conspiring in my mind, and by jotting them down before the moment passes, I know that they are tucked away safe and sound for when I may need them in future.
- Wherever you can, write from a place of passion.
Trust me when I say that it will be palpable in the conviction of your work, and your readers will be all the more captivated for it. When dealing with clients, this is not always possible. Sometimes we have to sacrifice what excites us in order to pay the bills. But I will give you an example to demonstrate how you can sometimes sway things in your favour and still meet the client’s expectations. In my professional life, perhaps the piece I am proudest of is a 400 word article I wrote for a client on how to get Summer’s hottest look. Why proudest? Well, seeing as I possess one lipstick and have been using the same mascara (on ‘special occasions’) for the last 5 years, let’s just say it was a little out of my comfort zone. But then I remembered I’m also a defender of animal rights, and suddenly I had my inspiration… Summer’s hottest look with affordable, cruelty-free beauty brands from your nearest Clicks store! (And as an aside, don’t be afraid of going out of your comfort zone… You really can research just about anything and you will surprise yourself constantly with what you manage to pull out of the bag!)
- You are your own boss now and with great power comes great responsibility!
In a regular job, your boss wouldn’t let you stroll into the office at 10a.m., nursing a hangover cure from the night before with a cigarette dangling out of the corner of your mouth. And she sure as hell wouldn’t let you clock off at 3p.m. to join your mate, Dave, for a cold beer. So now is not the time to be corrupted by the power you have when you’re in charge of your own working day. Routine, routine, routine. You will get nowhere without putting in the actual hours and hard graft.
- Remember that the work you do, is like a C.V.
Edit properly, research stories using credible sources, earn and maintain the trust of those you interview… As a freelancer, you cannot sell a prospective client on the fact that you have interned at a prominent firm, but most of the time, the quality of your work will be able to speak for itself, and clients will inevitably come to the conclusion (unless they are simply tight-fisted in which case, start looking for new ones!) that you are worth your weight in gold.
- Don’t (EVER!) count your chickens before they’ve hatched
Yes, it is important to network. Yes, it is important to keep those business cards handy. Yes, it is important to put your work out there, to email editors and pitch ideas. Do all of these things relentlessly. But remember, it ain’t in the bank till the work is done and the client invoiced (and even then, sometimes clients may delay in payment and you may need to follow-up and check when payment will be made). So learn to be spendthrift. That money you so lavishly spent this month, you may in fact need the next. Editors go on leave. They run behind schedule leaving you in the dirt for a given month. So budget, budget, budget, and stick to it!!
- On a lighter note, don’t write in a vacuum.
Yes, there have been some reclusive writers. Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl, two of my favourite children’s authors, come to mind. But they are an exceptional breed. Sometimes inspiration comes from a place deep within, but so often, I have found, it comes from looking at the world around me, from speaking to people, finding out about their lives and what makes them tick, what they dream of when they tuck themselves in at night… When you learn to look close enough, to strike up a conversation with a stranger that intrigues you… You may be surprised to learn that inspiration can be endless.
And now for some closing words…
As a freelancer, if you find yourself coming up against that big ol’ Glass Ceiling, no one else put it there. That was your doing. It will be a daily struggle, but you have entered a world of possibility. Remember that in your darker hours.