Meeting a writer in real life is like meeting a mythical creature!
In order to become a successful, confident freelance writer, you have to suck it up and actually TELL people what it is you do. However, when you say “I’m a freelance writer” you’ll likely be met with some confusion.
There are a few “myths” about freelance writers that have been floating around.
Below are the 5 most common (misguided) responses I’ve gotten when I’ve shared my career choice with others. Feel free to add some of the ones you’ve heard in the comments section!
1. “You’re a writer? Must be nice. All you do is write.”
Why, yes. That would be nice. There are a lot of times when I wish this were true!
I suppose I write more than a lot of people do… Unfortunately, as odd as this may sound, writing is only a very small part of working as a freelance writer.
Writing takes up about 25% of my time. And only about 9% of that time (if even) is writing I do for me. The other 16% is writing I do for my clients.
Where does the remaining 75% of my business time go?
- Updating my many, many social media outlets (Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Google+/Pinterest/Tumblr/Contently/StumbleUpon).
- Keeping my site looking nice and making sure it isn’t compromised.
- Looking for clients.
- Pleasing clients (this involves a lot of e-mails back-and-forth).
- Invoicing clients and/or chasing clients down and convincing them to pay me.
- Sending queries to blogs for potential guest posts.
- Training/learning new things.
- Thinking up article topic ideas (for this blog and for the clients I write for).
- Endless research.
And so on.
When you become a freelance writer, marketing will end up taking up a huge chunk of your time. It has to. Because, without marketing, you’ll have no clients; and without clients, you won’t get paid to write.
2. “You must have gone to college…”
I took a few (community) college classes, but most of them had nothing to do with writing. I enrolled in classes that I thought would be useful or fun — like First Aid and Anthropology — but I was mainly there for social reasons. I made a lot of great connections in college!
I never graduated. And I never moved on to a “real” college. I didn’t have to.
For most varieties of freelance writer, a formal education isn’t needed. However, no matter what you choose to do with your writing career, you’ll need to continue learning on your own.
3. “What books have you written?”
One of the most relentless myths about writers is that “Real writers write books.”
While I actually have written a book at this point in my career, I still cringe when I get this question. Because I know what’s coming: That slight change in their expression — that subtle hint of disappointment and confusion — when I explain that I write primarily for blogs.
A few individuals who are “in the know” will accept that copywriters exist (Mad Men has put ad writing in the public eye!), but blogs? Poo-poo to blogs! Those things are for mopey teenagers to use as public diaries. Blogs aren’t for real writers.
Okay, so that used to be true… Over a decade ago! Things have changed since then.
All of the old options for writers are still out there — books, magazines, and newspapers — but there are so many new options out there as well! Writers can make great money these days writing content for websites, providing articles for blogs, and writing social media updates for web-savvy companies.
4. “You are SO lucky! You no longer have to deal with The Public.”
Hahaha! Oh, you sillypants… Who do you think my clients are?
The people who pay me? They’re “The Public.” I have customers just like any other business.
I get to set my own hours and I have the ability to say “No” to potential customers, and that’s about it. I’ll admit that I haven’t put on a tacky polyester uniform, had food thrown at me, or cleaned a stranger’s poop off a wall in a few years — but I still have to deal with a lot of nonsense. Especially when I was first getting started (and put up with a lot more poor behavior than I do now!).
Freelance writing is largely a customer service position. However, unlike “normal” jobs, the customers call you up on your phone and come to your office and send their e-mails to your inbox. The divide between my “home” life and my “business” life isn’t as tangible as it used to be — which means learning to set boundaries is another big part of becoming a freelance writer.
5. “You can’t make good money as a writer unless you’re famous.”
This one is usually spewed by those who “would be” writers if they “had the time/had the money/had a PR team/had __________.” It’s just an excuse not to make a great living through writing.
Ghostwriters make incredibly good money!
The bulk of my own income comes from ghostwriting — a service that, contractually, I can pretty much never become traditionally “famous” for. Ghostwriters work without a personal by-line and, quite often, cannot share their work.
Becoming famous is (I imagine) fabulous. And you can definitely make more money once you’ve made a name for yourself. But “good money” can still be made as a writer either way.
As for all the “myths” floating around out there? They don’t really matter.
Just keep doing what you do. Keep being a freelance writer. Even if your friends and family never fully understand what you’re doing.
If it helps, you can always tell them the job comes with a free unicorn!
Lauren Spear (née Tharp) is the owner and creator of the multiple award-winning LittleZotz Writing. She’s written hundreds of bylined posts helping freelance writers to become BETTER freelance writers. Thousands if you count all the articles she’s ghostwritten (but she’s not allowed to talk about most of those).