freelance writing

Why you shouldn't be a freelance writer.

People often ask me how to start freelance writing. I always try to respond with a clear, concise, and uncalloused answer—just like Kim Green did for me. But the truth is—this job isn't for everyone. And sometimes, this "job" pays so little, that it feels like I need to get another job. And while there are many reasons people want to write for a living, there are just as many reasons why they shouldn't.

For this post, I turned to four freelance writers I admire, and asked a simple question: Why shouldn't someone become a freelance writer?  Megan PacellaJennifer Bradley FranklinLiz Riggs, and Christina Vinson all came to the table with different answers. Hopefully, together, we can dispel some of the myths of this profession and clarify the risks you take on as a writing entrepreneur.

You shouldn't be a freelance writer because you want to make your own schedule.

Megan Pacella

MEGAN: Your schedule is actually going to get out of control once you build up several clients. Without the job description or boundaries to say, "This deadline is too short," you will frequently end up turning around long stories or editing projects with just a few day's notice.

Too often, on Thursday nights when your besties are watching Grey's Anatomy (Oh, wait? Is that just me? I think everyone else quit watching in 2008), you'll be plugging away in front of your computer. You'll check your emails on vacation, and you'll work for at least a few hours every holiday while your family hangs out together around the kitchen table.  That's not to say that there are no vacation days. But for the most part, being a freelancer means being extremely flexible.

Megan Pacella is a writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee. She's done everything from restaurant reviews to small business profiles to full-length features to marketing copy. She loves to travel, cook and cuddle up with her golden retriever. Megan also has a sweet haircut and is an incredibly thoughtful wife and friend. 

You shouldn't be a freelance writer because you think it sounds glamorous.

Jennifer BradleyJENNIFER:  The reality is, freelancers (especially those who get to write about food, travel, fashion, etc...) do get to do some really cool things. They get to try new restaurants, see far flung parts of the world, interview interesting designers, test out spa services, etc... BUT if you think those fun bits are going to be the lion's share of your "job," you're sorely mistaken.

Being a freelancer is about running a business. You have to handle invoicing, accounting, pitching, marketing, maintaining relationships—and, truth be told, those fun assignments likely won't fully pay your mortgage. You'll probably need to take on some less glamorous jobs to make it shake out to a livable income AND you have to be willing to hustle. All. The. Time. It's a lifestyle that not everyone's cut out to lead. [Side note: it helps to have a thick skin. You'll get more rejections than assignments, especially at first, so it helps to have enough drive to push through that.]

Jennifer Bradley Franklin is an Atlanta-based writer and journalist. Her work has been featured in People, All You, American Airlines Magazine, Alaska Airlines, Daily Candy, and a long list of other publications. She also gives incredible travel-writing seminars.

You shouldn't be a freelance writer because you've "always liked writing."

Liz RiggsLIZ: Liking writing and making money off of it are two totally different things. The great part about freelancing is that you can pick and choose your own assignments (although, actually getting the assignments does seem to be even trickier than imagined), but the likelihood of being paid cash-money to do it isn’t great (at least at first).

As far as “liking writing” and then “going freelance” is concerned: just stop.  If you spend all your free time and Saturday mornings and late nights blogging, writing articles that you hope will be published, reading magazines and websites and stalking editors—then maybe it’s time to go freelance. But if you’re just thinking you’d like to put your paper-writing skills into a paying profession, try writing 1,000 words a day for at least a month and then see how you feel. Fo reals! You may be like YES, IT’S TIME! I CAN’T STOP WRITING AND NOBODY CAN STOP ME! Or, you may be crying on the floor of your bedroom because you don’t want to look at your computer screen for one more minute.

Liz Riggs, also known as @riggser, is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee. Her writing has been featured in Relevant Magazine, The Huffington Post, Portable, American Songwriter, among others. She's also really funny. I mean, just check out her bio. Liz likes macaroni and cheese. And one time, I posted pictures of her face all over Georgia Tech's campus.

You shouldn't be a freelance writer because you think it sounds easy.

HeadshotCHRISTINA: Freelance writing is by far the most difficult job I've ever had, and also the most rewarding. Suddenly, you're not only your boss, but also your own accountant, assistant, communications expert, social media manager, business developer, and so much more.

There are many days where I don't do much writing at all, but am working on invoicing, networking, interviewing, and finding more gigs. It's not just about writing, it's also about owning a business -- and you have put a tremendous effort into both. You won't start out knowing everything, and this job is certainly never easy. But it's so rewarding. My mantra each day is based what Maya Angelou said, "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better."

Christina Vinson is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. She's written for The Christian Post, Bearings, Taste of Country, Native, and others, all while writing really thoughtful web content for clients across the country. She's also written back-cover copy for books, which I find fascinating. Christina lives with her husband in East Nashville and visits her twin sister, Nicole, as much as possible. She also wrote about how I said "bullshit" once.

FINALLY: Just because these four women gave you four reasons not to do the job we've all decided to do—doesn't mean you shouldn't do it at all. In fact, all four women also told me why you SHOULD be a freelance writer. Stay tuned for part II.

The 5 best tools for freelance writers.

this is not one A few weeks ago, a friend of mine said something profound. Over a particularly delicious cup of bold espresso, she made a point about what most people think about writers. Very matter of factly, she set her coffee on the table, swallowed her last sip, and said, "They think we spend all of our time drinking coffee, or frantically putting words on paper that have been sent down from on High.

"Either way," she said, "no one really thinks it's work."

She's right. And even though we felt guilty for drinking coffee while talking about how other people think writers just sit around all day and drink coffee, her point is valid. Writing affords the luxury of an extra cup of coffee every now and then, but this work is not just putting God-given words on paper. Most of the time it's just really. hard. work. Blank page after blank page after $50 invoice after $50 invoice. Sometimes it feels grueling. Rarely does it feel easy.

We finished our coffee and went back to our respective offices (our homes) to get back to work. Because yes, although I'm slightly more hyped up on caffeine than I was as a teacher, I'm also constantly aware of the real, sometimes daunting thought that there's a deadline looming, and there's only one person in this business who can meet it.

As I come up on my one year writer-versary, I know that this work is work. And lets be honest, coffee isn't the only tool I need to get the job done. Just like real-estate appraisers, teachers, or private investigators—there are tools that make this job a whole heck of a lot more efficient and enjoyable and productive. And over the last year, I've managed to accumulate a few items that now I can't imagine working without.

Here are what i think have been my top five tools as a freelance writer. You ready?

1. Business cards that wow— $70.00+

business cards

This was the first "tool" I bought as a writer, and let me be honest. They made me feel like a tool, too. Still, I don't think the era of business cards is over—even though we live in a world where I can find you at the drop of a name in a google search bar. Sure, I might be wearing jeans at 10 am on a Tuesday, but handing someone something official like a business card says, yes, even though I am not in an office, I take myself seriously. I'm a huge fan of Moo, an online tool to help you design your own card. Make sure you've got what you want on the card—website, twitter handle, phone number, e-mail, SSN—whatever. You never know when handing that card to the right person might be the ticket to a new relationship or friendship or story or idea.

Plus, once you finally start calling yourself a "writer" to other people, that's when it will start to feel real, and if you're going to have business cards, they might as well be awesome. I mean, check out this one of a vintage typewriter. Cool, right?

2. Website to catalogue your work — $175 yearly There's nothing more important and more simple than starting your own website. As crazy as I felt the day I bought, I've never regretted it. No one was ever going to keep up with the bylines for me—so that's part of the job. Plus, I started realizing that all that hard work I poured into each story shouldn't just be lost when the link dies (and if you write for the Tennessean, that link is going to die in about 2 weeks time).

I use Wordpress. It's easy. It's relatively inexpensive. I purchased the $99 upgrade, plus a $75 premium theme (that I eventually purchased for this blog, too), and presto. You're in business. If I were choosing again today, I'd pick something like this premium theme, or this free theme. Here's the one I'm using.)

3. Computer you trust— $1400+


I mean, duh. This was a big deal for me though, because I hadn't purchased a computer since my freshman year in college. So when the guy in the big white store told me what it was going to run me, I couldn't help but let my jaw drop. Still, my husband bought a PC for work that cost him something like $300, so you don't have to go the expensive route.

4. Livescribe pen to save on transcribing everything — $150 + refills

writer toolsThis is hands down the best investment I've made as a writer. When I was a teacher, we used it in the classroom to let kids take notes and record the lecture at the same time, that way, if they wanted to go back and listen to certain parts of the lesson, they could. I noticed pretty quickly that this is a tool that could be helpful since I spend hours interviewing different subjects in person or over the phone.

Here's how it works. When the pen is fully charged, you can press "record" on the magnetic paper (that comes with the pen). When you write something, it actually syncs the audio recording with whatever you wrote on the piece of paper. So no more transcribing hours of audio tape. You can put a star on the piece of paper when the subject you're interviewing says something you want to go back and listen to again. Then, weeks (even months) later, you can go back to your notebook, tap where that star is, and listen to that old recording.

It's pretty amazing. You can go watch how it works if you're interested. But seriously. It's been worth every single penny. Now, there's even a wifi pen, so you don't ever have to connect it to your computer for updates!

5. Camera to do some scouting — $500+


This has been my most recent (and least essential) piece of writer-equipment. Still, I believe it's been really helpful in my development as a writer. First, when I'm writing my blog—I don't have to go searching the web for hours to source pictures. That got old really fast. Also, now that I have photos, it adds a whole different dimension to my writing, and helps me tell stories visually and verbally. I'm still trying to get better at that. In the professional realm, it's great to scout pictures of what you're pitching to magazines/newspapers so they can get an idea of what you're talking about. After all, we're all pretty visual people these days—so seeing a picture to go along with your pitch can help an editor say "yes."

Here's the one I bought after much debate. I've heard B & H Photography can hook you up with some great used prices, too.


Who knew being a freelance writer could cost so much?


So there you have it. My 5 essential writerly tools. What about you... other writers? What are your essentials in the workplace?