How to be a freelance writer

by MDY

Last week I interviewed two pretty well-known figures in the Australian start-up community as part of an article I’m working on. One is a few years older than me, the other about a year younger, and both have accomplished far more in a few short years – resettling in San Francisco, rebooting a corporate career – than most people aim for in a standard lifetime.

I started out my career as a freelance writer. When I was seventeen, it was a source of precious liquidity at a time when my contemporaries were mostly waiting tables or reloading cash registers. As I fumbled through university, it offered me the credentials for marginally bigger things: temp work, internships, even experience to base my essays on. Eventually it became a highly lucrative venture which translated into a full-time career.

When you’re a freelancer, you’re a business owner. The business is you: your skills, knowledge, and work ethic. Managing that business and making it profitable can take you to some pretty interesting places, and open up some otherwise-unimagined doors. While I’m nowhere near the league of the two women I interviewed, I’m proud of what I accomplished in those years as a bootstrapping opportunistic pen-for-hire.

To those of you who want to write professionally, I ask: what’s stopping you? Get an ABN¬†or your country’s equivalent. Go online and fight the nameless and faceless for commissions offered by the nameless and faceless (but hopefully not penniless). Offer free trials to get that crucial first gig. Learn how to negotiate a pay-rate and how to bid against the entire Internet. Send your portfolio to every magazine that’s still selling and still solvent. Learn to ask the right questions, and practise your listening face. Enjoy the quasi-legitimacy of “freelance journalist” that lets you call up highly accomplished individuals and ask them about their life stories just…because.

Freelancing will not get you rich, but it’ll get you started. The lessons you learn from it – everything from time management to tax compliance – will serve you well, whether it be in corporate or creative or your world-domineering enterprise. And the people you meet and the places you go have more value than anything you can tape to your CV. You may lose sleep, perhaps all of it. You may fail.

You may also change your life.