• Advice

4 ways to sustain a freelance writing career

Every week, I come across publications, outlets and individuals who are seeking freelance or contract writers. Some want people with extensive portfolios, while others are not concerned about experience or pedigree. As I have perused these various calls for writers (and as I have experienced in my own writing career), there are certain things that freelance writers can do to position themselves for sustainable writing careers.

Diversify your topics

If you really want a chance to bring in enough income to sustain writing full-time, I strongly recommend that you don’t become fixated on one area of specialization or niche audience. Recently, I have seen paid writing gigs for fashion writers, medical writers, news writers, travel writers, sports writers, and everything in between.

In previous careers, many of us may have been trained to specialize to the point of exclusivity. In the world of freelance writing, this can backfire. There is nothing wrong with being a subject matter expert, but you have to honestly ask yourself: Is there enough demand for content about my area of expertise that it will sustain me?

Sustainable blogging

The answer is probably no–and I learned this firsthand. When I first started blogging, I wrote almost exclusively about education and diversity issues. Although I was vested in these topics and deeply passionate about them, I was pigeonholing myself. After a while, I became known as "the education writer." I had so much more to offer and write about, but it was not reflected in my work. To change this, I started writing about other topics, and now my writing portfolio reflects a diverse range of interests and audiences.

Consider technical writing

There are colleges and universities that offer degrees in technical writing, but I am not suggesting that you go back to school. Instead, I am recommending that you don’t sweep aside writing opportunities that are more technical in nature, like manual writing or curriculum writing.

Yes, these may not be as interesting as writing full-length articles or shorter blogs, but they do pay well and once you have a track record for writing them, it becomes easier to navigate the jargon and buzzwords that often accompany these types of writing opportunities. To get a sense of the scope of freelance and contract technical writing jobs, you may want to start with: (use technical writing as your search term).

Share your written content

Sharing is caring, and this is especially true when it comes to establishing and sustaining a freelance writing career. It may sound self-serving, but you need to be your biggest cheerleader. Whether it’s via social media, email, text, or causal conversation, tell people about your written work. You will be amazed by how people will start to think of you as "the writer." This, in turn, can lead to unsolicited opportunities to write and to get paid to do so.

In addition, sharing your work helps prime you for receiving feedback—both constructive and intrusive. If you are going to sustain a freelance writing career, you cannot have a thin skin. The sooner you acclimate to hearing positive and negative feedback, the more comfortable you will become. You also want to brace yourself for rejection. Early on, my work was rejected more times than it was accepted; of course, this was difficult to accept, but it also motivated me to become a more thoughtful writer.

Read more

This one may seem odd. What in the world does reading have to do with freelance writing? Well, reading diverse content can help freelance writers not only study the skill of writing, but process the mechanics of it as well.

Reading can better position you to understand how you write and how writing for an audience—both real and imagined—affects your craft. Unlike writing exclusively for oneself, paid freelance writing is always geared towards an audience. Being keenly aware of how your readers may potentially interact or interface with your words is critical in how you approach the task of writing for others.

Be adventurous and read outside of your comfort zone. If you like James Joyce’s writing style, try Ernest Hemingway’s. In other words, if you tend to gravitate towards a particular writing style, switch it up and try another one, just to see what it feels like from a reader’s standpoint. The more you can pinpoint what good writing looks and feels like, the more you will be able to develop your own style and connect with an audience.

Lean into discomfort

For me, sustainability is the key to a fruitful and rewarding career. Freelance writing can be an enjoyable experience, especially when you are able to write about topics that you are knowledgeable of and/or passionate about. But, it can also be equally as powerful when you have to lean into discomfort or stretch to write about topics that are new to you.

Tyra Seldon Tyra Seldon is a former English Professor turned writer, editor and small business owner. Her writing addresses the intersections of race, gender, culture and education.