Making Money as a Freelance Writer: What’s Most Important

If I were to ask those just starting out what is most important in having a freelance writing career, I'm guessing most would tell me what seems obvious. You have to write well. And it’s true that you do need sufficient writing skills to build a career as a freelance writer, but that’s not what is most important. In fact, excellent writing skills don’t even factor into my top three.


If you’re going to really make it in this career, you have to be willing to go the distance – and it’s probably farther than you think possible. It’s not an easy job, and there is no such thing as easy freelance money. The fact that you have to work to earn it, however, makes that money, and the control you get to have over it, that much sweeter.

Being a freelance writer means getting up at 4 am if that’s the only quiet time in your house. It means giving up a lot of fun extras you might have if you went to work in an office sometime. It means long hours and writing when you really, really don’t feel like it. If you can’t do that, freelancing is going to be a hard career for you. It’s one thing to write well. It’s a whole other ball game to write well on command.


I've been in this online freelance game for almost eight years now. Not only does that make me feel rather old, it makes me look back and realize how much things have changed and how many things have essentially stayed the same. There has been and will be stiff competition in the industry every year. There are those who specialize in things I don’t care to specialize in – and they make a lot of money. There are many faces in this community of writers who have come and gone.

Those of us still here can tell you with certainty that we’re not doing exactly what we were doing five or ten years ago. We might not even be doing what we were doing last year. The internet changes, the clients change, and the techniques of writing and marketing change accordingly. If you’re going to be part of an ever-changing world, you must change as well – and that doesn't just mean changing prices.

Marketing Prowess

Finally, it is my personal opinion that being able to market mediocre writing is far more beneficial to a writing career than demonstrating amazing writing. There are countless great novels and books out there just waiting to be discovered. The trouble, at least for those amazing authors, is that nobody is racing around trying to discover books waiting to be discovered.

If you want your work in the limelight –and profitable - you must advocate for yourself constantly. Show off. Be proud of what you do. Explain your work and value to those around you. Seek opportunities and create some of your own. If you can’t sell what you’re offering, you’ll never be able to make a comfortable, sustainable freelance living on the written word. Marketing is simply too ingrained in the business model.

While these may be what I consider the top three necessities for successful freelancing, there are sure to be other opinions – especially from those who have been at this even longer than I have.

I pose the question to other successful writers: What is most critical to freelance writing successful?

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Rebecca is a full-time everything. She teaches English and reading to her much loved, if challenging, high school students during the day and is a freelance education writer in the evenings. With almost ten years in the classroom and advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca specializes in materials that inform, educate and entertain. Rebecca indulges herself by pretending to have spare time and writing about the ups and downs of being a freelancing mama whenever she gets a chance.

5 thoughts on “Making Money as a Freelance Writer: What’s Most Important”

  1. I think “confidence” is most important to freelance writing success. If you’re not confident in what you do, who’ll want to hire you? The answer is…no one will want to hire. Be confident in who you are as a writer. If you’re not sure on how to write something, let’s say a white paper; find out how to write it. Be bold. Take the initiative to educate yourself about different types of writing from business writing to creative writing. The knowledge you learn today will come in handy tomorrow.

  2. This is a good list. I think reliability (meeting deadlines), lack of ego (ability to accept criticism) and resiliency (bouncing back from rejection) are important, too. Those last two things (the lack of them) are probably what prevent us from going out and marketing ourselves. It’s tough to take criticism and handle rejection. I suppose, though, that in addition to lack of ego, your ego has to be strong enough to hang in there when the going gets dicey. So maybe #4 on my list would be believing in yourself.

  3. Thanks, Rebecca, for pointing out freelance writing isn’t a path to easy money. A couple years ago a friend’s sister learned her position as a librarian might be eliminated, but said she could always become a freelance writer, like me. Hmmm….she’s not a good writer, has no clips, no contacts and no idea where to start. Yeah, easy. (Luckily her job was saved.)

    Another helpful trait for freelancers: Persistence. You can’t be shy about following up with editors, clients or leads. And you need to keep hunting down potential markets and pitching ideas.

  4. Your posts are always great, Rebecca. Ironically, I just posted something similar on my own blog! I’ve been freelancing for about ten years now and have watched things evolve in the world of freelancing. So much has changed – from how people are using social networking to leverage themselves in the field, to the different writing opportunities that are available now. Blogging for hire wasn’t that big a few years ago, now those opportunities are everywhere.

    But to address your question, what determines freelancing success? I think the desire to do it has to be at the top of your list. You have to really want and love something in order to be successful at it. After that, hard work, determination and perseverance should naturally follow.

  5. I would add the ability to stay on track with your project. Skills can be learned and improved upon, but basic work ethic is hard to change.
    I struggle mightily with this as I am easily distracted while I am doing research.
    I guess I am an information junkie.


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