Freelance writer

I have become one of those annoying people. I am one of those people who you notice in Starbucks or at the pub on one of your rare days off.
‘What the hell do these people do?’ You ask yourself.

There is a good chance that the answer is ‘freelance writing.’ Although I wish the answer was ‘I am independently wealthy.’
Next time you see one of us, look out for a laptop or a notebook and pen nearby. We will also have a smile on our faces. For you see, we don’t have an office that we have to go to day in and day out. It has been a while since I had to queue to make a cup of tea and I never find someone else’s lipstick on my cup. My flat (and your Starbucks) is my office.
Becoming a freelance writer can either be a choice or a necessity. Many writers don’t want to be tied to one organization and some are unable to be lucky enough to get tied down in the current market. Many media owners and big businesses are presently not able to keep on as many staff writers as they once used to, so it leaves the door open for the Starbucks dwellers.
The first thing you need to do to be a freelance writer, is write something that someone wants to read.  Anyone can write, there is just no guarantee than someone wants to read it. It doesn’t help that there are thousands of freelance writers in London alone, all competing to fill the same pages that you are…even the obituaries are surprisingly competitive.
This means you need to find your own style and an area to specialize in, so that people pick you over all the other writers in the coffee house. It is like hoping that you will be picked for a sports team day in and day out. The only difference is that this time it doesn’t matter how tall you are, or how many hot chocolates with cream you gorged at recess.
Once you have had something published  (if it has been, it must have been half decent,) you need to find a way to show it off. You can do this on your own website or by sending it to people to look at, or ideally both. The more people who see your work the more likely you are to have someone ask you to write something else. Literary dominoes if you will.
The other benefit in having something published is that you get paid. This tends to be enormously helpful for most people. You will find that payment varies greatly depending on what and where you have written. If you don’t like what is being offered then you don’t have to take the job, but if you do you take it, you are unable to negotiate for more afterwards…. no matter how good your mum says it is. The good news is that most people will pay you and pay you on time.
To keep the money coming in you need to ‘pitch’ ideas, to different companies.  This could be an idea for a one off feature in a newspaper or for TV series on the BBC.  There is no guarantee that they will take it, but the odds of them saying ‘yes’ obviously increase if you actually ask them.
If you are interested in writing for these kinds of companies most of them have submission guidelines on their websites. Don’t be offended or deterred if you don’t hear back or they say ‘no thanks.’ Remember all the Starbucks dwellers are trying to get picked, just as you are.
To succeed you need to be pretty tough on yourself, when it comes to having a routine. After all there is no one there to watch you clock in and out. Left to my own devices I would prioritize putting my vitamins in alphabetical order (not that this isn’t critical,) above writing if I wasn’t strict about how I used my time. So I experimented, I tried working at different times and on different days. Turns out I am not the morning person I always used to boast that I was…this will not be a surprise to my long suffering mother who still enjoys telling people how many days I slept away as a teenager.
A friend asked me recently whether I enjoyed freelance writing. I in turn asked her what my smile indicated. So next time you are in a Starbucks look for the woman with a Mac Book Air and a massive grin on her face, but she will be looking for you to buy the coffee.
By Sally Beerworth
Sally writes a column for several London newspapers and is in the process of getting her first book ‘Out Damned Spot’ published. Sally worked in advertising agencies across Europe and Asia for over ten years and, as a result, has a very good collection of boardroom notepads. You can read Sally’s other work


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