If you’ve decided to pursue a living as a freelance writer, you’re probably excited and a little nervous. You’re choosing a profession that’s competitive and unpredictable, with many paths to success. Working at home comes with its own challenges, especially if you are doing double duty as a parent or spouse. But if writing is your passion, you can meet those challenges head-on. Here’s what I’ve learned about the challenges of freelance writing at home, and how you can overcome those barriers.
1. Time Management
Part of the appeal of freelance writing at home is the lack of a 9-to-5 schedule. But while no one will make you sit at your computer and start writing after breakfast, neither will anyone tell you when it’s time to quit. Especially when you find it difficult to focus, it can be easy to work late into the evening. Over time, long days and little productivity can become an unhealthy – and less-than-lucrative – habit.
Set a schedule a stick to it, so you can plan your day from beginning to end. If 9-to-5 doesn’t work for you, try to 10-to-6 or whatever works. You’ll benefit from the pressure of a time crunch before deadlines. You’ll also prioritize higher-paying work instead of taking every project that comes your way. If you remember to take breaks to recharge your batteries, you’ll be better equipped to stay on track over the long run.
Distraction is a problem for everyone, whether composing blog posts in an office cubicle or spread out on the couch at home. Work-at-home freelancers are often better able to focus on the task at hand, because they are not constantly interrupted by colleagues. But doing work in a home office can introduce its own temptations, such as random internet searches and internet forum browsing. This may be a particular problem for freelance writers, who often have to use the internet for research.
Use your schedule and work space to keep you on track. Schedule time for research and time for writing, so you’ll have dedicated time to do both. Keep your email and social media accounts closed. If you must use them, check them only infrequently, perhaps twice a day or every hour. Create a work space that is apart and separate from the rest of your home. Take stock of your desk in the early morning to ensure you have all necessary supplies within reach, so you won’t get distracted by running to the store for a USB drive or the kitchen to make a fresh pot of coffee.
Writing is by nature a solitary activity. But freelance writing at home is particularly challenging. You may feel a sense of personal loneliness and professional isolation, starved for conversation. You may be unsure of how to find the next big client or how to keep abreast of changes within the industry.
Join professional networks online, such as LinkedIn, to find other freelance writers in your area. Arrange in-person get-togethers so you can share information about what’s going on in the industry. Although freelance writing is a competitive profession, and writers won’t often share their leads, it can be valuable to discuss what kind of work seems to be “booming.” If you’re new to freelance writing and are pitching articles to print magazines, while most of the work is in marketing copy for private organizations, you may choose to change your priorities.
Writing in coffee shops, libraries, or an office-share can help curb your sense of individual isolation. Even mundane conversations about the weather, upcoming events in the community, or how you like your latte can do wonders to help keep your spirits up throughout the day.
4. Family Obligations
If you have people that depend on you at home, you know they come first. But you can take concrete steps to protect your working time from those who mean the most. Start by letting your spouse, parents, and other loved ones know your working hours. That way, they will know to contact you during your “off time,” and not when you’re rushing to meet a deadline. You’ll have additional motivation to remain focused during your work time, since you know your “off hours” are dedicated to family.
Remove reminders of your loved ones from your work area, if you think it will distract you. If your desk is meant for freelance writing, don’t also use it to store your children’s after school schedules, your bill reminders, or a calendar of family events. These reminders are sometimes all you need for your mind to wander, especially when you are working on a writing project that is challenging or mundane.
5. Finding Work
As a freelancer, you are by definition not an employee. Your career is a continuing process of seeking out new clients and keeping your existing clients happy. Excellent sales skills are part of making a good living as a freelance writer. But despite your best efforts, there may be thin times, when you have no new work on the horizon and you’re not sure where to shop your skills.
Getting to know other freelance writers in your community can help with this issue. It’s also a good idea to sign up for freelance writer job postings, if only to keep up-to-date with who’s hiring and what kind of writing is in demand. Search for websites that post ongoing assignments and pitch individual pieces to offline and print publications. Contently has a database of places to check.
6. Getting Paid
At the end of the day, all freelancers want to get paid. Regardless of who’s paying you to write, know the payment policy up front. If you’ve signed up with a new freelance website, browse the FAQs for payment guidelines, dates, and methods. If you have pitched an article to a publication whose terms vary from writer to writer, ask to see a copy of the contract before you start writing. Some outlets will pay only upon publication or upon client approval of the content.
Freelance writing is a self-motivated, invigorating endeavor. If you take control of your career you can establish a routine, a roster of clients, and a portfolio that will keep you busy with interesting and well-paying work. In time, you’ll have established ways to overcome any challenges that arise.