I suppose I should start this post by mentioning that what I typically wear when working from home as a freelance writer is sweatpants and a t-shirt with my hair loosely pulled into a bun. On occasion, I do venture out to meet real humans and wear something more intentionally styled, as documented with this photo.
Ultimately, I decided that these are the photos I would include in this post that would best illustrate the topic. Because, in what other profession can you step out in the middle of the day, do a quick photoshoot to document your outfit(s), and then go home and get back to typing away? With freelance writing comes a freedom uncommon to most other professions. Of course, there is a price to pay with that flexibility – uncertainty, constant doubt of oneself, little money, and unreturned correspondence. When you think you’ve hit your ultimate low and there’s no way you can go on, you receive a reply on your second follow-up email. Your pitch gets picked up. Someone genuinely connects to your work. It looks like things are finally coming together.
Then you yet again have very little published work for the next six months and you’re back in unfortunately familiar territory, deep emotional angst you haven’t felt since you were a teenager and everything was so unfair. In the meantime, there are rules to this life and profession of being a freelance writer. Being the rule follower that I unfortunately am, I wrote them all out and refer to them from time to time when I have a very sudden and almost uncontrollable urge to check Instagram to distract myself from a blank screen.
10 Rules of Being a Freelance Writer
1. Accept that for a long time, nobody will read your work or care about what you have to say. Publish it on your blog anyway because you’re creating something and practicing your craft. Putting your work out into the universe is one of the most important things you can do to keep pushing yourself forward.
2. Get ready to be a multi-hyphenate, but not in the cool millennial successful type of way. There is no role that is too insignificant for a freelancer. That includes fixing the printer, hanging up flyers, scheduling meetings, cleaning up after your co-workers (in my case, toddlers who have no boundaries), marketing yourself and anything else required of a small business.
3. Reply to your emails in a timely fashion. Email ghosting is not okay. You know that feeling when you spend hours writing a really great email showcasing your work and making it as professional as possible? And then no one replies? Don’t leave someone else hanging. Responding to emails, even if you’re not interested, is your way of paying it forward.
4. If you’re thinking about pitching a media company with some article ideas, do not use the generic email address listed on the website. No one will ever get back to you and you will still be hopeful and waiting. Find a real person at the company using a quick Google or LinkedIn search, make an educated guess as to what their email address could be, and pitch accordingly.
5. Try not to associate your work with who you are. There is a distinction between your job and you as a person. A rejection or a deal gone wrong does not make you less than. Your value does not lie in how successful you are at your job.
6. If you’re wondering why you haven’t finished the article you planned to write that day, check your screen time. Oh and maybe also stop watching Netflix, going to the kitchen for snacks and meeting friends for lunch. Also, close all those shopping browsers. Keep the money coming mostly in, not out.
7. You are a writer. Do not try to convince yourself you’re not because of self-imposed limitations. Even if you have one published article. Even if you have zero. You are putting yourself and your work out into the world. If you say you’re a writer, then you’re a writer.
8. Persist. Even after another rejection. Even after another wave of silence. Also, stop refreshing your email inbox.
9. Get off of Instagram. Be mindful of your scrolling or one day you may find yourself knowing too much about the lives of people you’ve never met and being less present in your own life. I recently checked my screen time and it was up from last week with an average of five and a half hours per day. I’m ashamed to type this number and release it into the world but I really am working on improving my ways.
10. Don’t forget to live. Get out of the confines of your home office (or dining room table). Go to a museum, see a movie, meet a friend, sit on the couch with your husband and do nothing except talk and laugh. Your instincts will tell you that you need to maximize your work time if you want to get anywhere in this life. Nevertheless, prioritize play time. It will keep you interesting and sane.
Lastly, if you ever feel like abandoning the freelance life, come back to this list and gain comfort in knowing that you’re not the only one with three (more like seven) shopping browsers open (one of which is always Zara), a Notes app full of partially thought-out article ideas, and an insatiable need for snacks while working. That last one is something my toddlers and I have in common.
Photography by Sarah Jessica Hall