Share this article on Facebook
The Writers Mindset: Inside the Head of a Successful Freelancer
by Kelly James-Enger
Picture a fulltime freelancer. What do you
imagine? A person who sits around in pajamas, stopping now and then to write
when the muse hits? Someone whos more worried about their artistic vision than
making a living? Someone whos committed to writing fulltime even if it means
surviving on peanut butter sandwiches?
Thats the common stereotype, but Ive found
that its unfairand untrue. The fact is that successful freelancers are likely
to be organized, professional, and deadline-oriented. Surprised? Most of the
successful freelancers I knowand Ive interviewed dozens of themhave a number
of personality characteristics in common, and I dont think thats a
coincidence. In fact, I think theres a certain personality type that thrives on
freelancing. Do you have what it takes?
Many people think that freelancing fulltime is a
great career because you can set your own hours and work when you want to. While
thats true, it also means you dont have a boss standing over you to make sure
youll get your work done.
The reality is that it takes a certain amount of
drive to freelance successfully. If you miss deadlines at your job, when you
have a boss to answer to, how will you force yourself to work when its gorgeous
out and you feel like taking a long afternoon off to golf? Successful
freelancers are motivated not only by external sources like deadlines, but from
Its great to have a plan when you start out.
But you have to be willing to change that plan if conditions dictate. For
example, when I started freelancing, I only pitched ideas that interested me.
But I quickly realized that if I was seriously about making money, Id have to
accept that not every assignment I took would thrill me.
Sometimes I do write about subjects of personal
importance or interest, but much of the time, Im writing about subjects I find
dry. Thats part of the gig when you write fulltime. Im not saying you
must take on work that you detest. But if youre going to make a living as a
freelancer, you need to accept that plenty of what you write wont excite you
the way your novel or screenplay or personal essay may.
Forget the writer toiling away alone in his
garret. To succeed in this business, you need to be able to build relationships
with your clients. That means having some degree of people skills.
Sure, if youre dripping with talent, you can
get away with some prima donna behavior. But most editors and clients want to
work with writers they like. Im not saying you have to be best friends with the
people you work for, but it doesnt hurt to have a friendly relationship with
the people who write your checks.
Want to be a successful freelancer? Then act
like it. Confidence means that youre secure in your abilities. It means that
youre willing to negotiate for more money when you know you deserve it.
Confidence isnt about having a big ego (although thats certainly OK!)
Confidence is appreciating your unique set of skills and what you bring to any
writing projectand letting clients see that.
Not feeling confident? Fake it. Believe me, I
have bad days where I worry about making enough money or that my writing wont
measure up. But I dont share those feelings with potential customers! To the
outside world, I always act as though I believe in myself and my abilitiesand
guess what? People buy it.
Ill tell youyoure going to face some
hardships as a freelancer. Story ideas you pitch will be rejected. Youll
contact potential clients who will shoot you down. A story youre slaved over
will be killed. Bad things happen to freelancers all the time. But the ones who
succeed simply dont get derailed by failures or mistakes. They learn from them
and move on.
Several years ago, I decided I want to branch
into writing nonfiction books. Id been a magazine journalist before, and spent
three months toiling over my first book proposal. It was a great idea with a
built-in audience with few competing titles. I was certain it would sell.
Guess what? It didnt. All that workdown the
tubes. I could have given up on my book writing career right then. Instead, I
moved on to the next project and pitched another book ideawhich sold. Im
working on my fourth nonfiction book now.
Freelancing has ups and downs like any business.
Your ability to tough out the rough times and keep going will help ensure your
success as a fulltime writer.
© Copyright 2004, Kelly James-Enger
Kelly James-Enger has authored more than a dozen books, including Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writers Digest, 2012) and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writers Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (CreateSpace, 2010). Check out her blog, Dollars and Deadlines, for practical advice about how you can make more money in less time as a nonfiction freelance writer.
Other articles by Kelly James-Enger :