Being a freelance writer and working from home is a dream and a nightmare, all at once

Being a freelance writer was not a longtime dream come true for me. I was looking for a career change when I stumbled upon the possibility of being a magazine and newspaper writer.

Back in 2010, I owned and operated my own home cleaning company in Far North Queensland. I had been in the business for two and a half years then and although it was profitable, I knew I didn’t want to do it forever.

In 2006, when my son was a baby, I did a freelance writing course by correspondence, mostly for something to get me out of mum-mode and prove that I still had my own ambitions and interests. I loved being a stay-at-home mother but I knew I wanted a career someday. Before the course was finished, I did some casual writing for a new, small-town newspaper. But it was short-lived and when I moved from Western Australia to Queensland, I had seemingly given up on that thought.

Fast-forward to August 2010. After googling online writing course, I found Sydney Writers’ Centre (now called Australian Writers’ Centre – AWC) and signed up for their 5-week Newspapers and Magazines class. The director, Valerie Khoo, gave hands-on, practical information. So practical that my very first pitch was commissioned. Of course, that was awesome and after another commission from the same magazine, my transformation from cleaner to writer began. I just wish I had of known a few things before I took a leap of faith.

So, if you’re dreaming of a new career as a freelance writer, here are a few truths to consider before you give up your day job.

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Truth 1 – Your brain will continue working way past business hours

If you think being a freelance writer will give you the opportunity to work less, think again. As a writer of newspaper and magazine articles, your brain needs to be on the look-out for newsworthy, relatable stories and angles. All. The. Time. My mind never stops pinging when reading, watching and talking to people. It’s non-stop.

Truth 2 – You really can work from anywhere

The great news is that you really can write and file work from anywhere that has good internet connections. One thing I’ll always remember Valerie Khoo saying is that a writer should never miss a deadline. Even if in hospital, you can still write and keep your commitments. The only excuse for missing a deadline is a coma or death – your death. Believe me, I’ve worked from bed more times then I’ve worked from the beach. I also worked from a house bus in the wilds of West Coast New Zealand. And in June this year, I will embark on my first extended digital nomad working holiday in my homeland of Canada.  Being your own boss means you can set your days and hours as life pops up. But, like I said above, it’s hard to actually stop “working”.

Truth 3 – Money will be an issue

One of my biggest mistakes when going full-time freelance is not having a nest-egg. I quit my cleaning business and went full-tilt into writing with no money and only one budding relationship with an editor. Within three months, I found myself working a casual cleaning job (I’d shifted to New Zealand temporarily) at a holiday park for cash flow. In the now seven years since my first commission, I’ve never been able to make ends meet from my writing gig for more than a couple months at a time. Learn from my mistake and save a shitload of cash for the downtimes in your writing career.

Note: There are plenty of freelance writers who will tell you all about the thousands of dollars they make each month but I will bet money that their stress levels are off the charts. I’ve been there and it’s not pretty.

Truth 4 – Competition is fierce

Let’s face it, everybody and their effin dog wants to be a digital nomad or a work-from-home badass. There are so many journalists, copywriters, content producers, bloggers…all the trendy names for writers, out there, that it is damn hard to get a toe in the door of a publication. Don’t get me wrong. It IS possible but it’s hard. It’s fucking hard and don’t let anyone sugar coat things and tell you that it’s not.

Truth 5 – Relationships with editors may become more important than those with your own family

Don’t eye-roll, this actually happens. My hours in front of the computer have certainly created a sore spot in my marriage in the past and I’ll guiltily admit to ignoring my child when “in the zone”. And it’s not just me.

I’ll never forget a freelance writer telling me how she would lock herself in the bathroom so she could bust out pitches – all the while her toddlers were banging on the door for her to come out.

Finding the balance between work-at-home and home-at-work is challenging.

Truth 6 – Rejection is par for the course

When the first idea you ever pitch is commissioned, it’s easy to think you’ve got this writing thing in the bag. But then it happens. You pitch an idea and an editor says no. Or even worse, says nothing at all.

But when you do get a rejection, they can be as simple as this one:

Hi Jennifer,

Nice idea, but we have something very similar running next month so I probably wouldn’t pick this one up.

Thanks

Or as horrid and embarrassing as this:

Thanks Jennifer but I think you should probably take a look at the mag before you pitch again. Good luck with your writing career.

There are lessons in every rejection so don’t take it too personally. Live and learn, as they say.

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Truth 7 – Every YES will make you feel like a boss

Here comes the cream and the cherry on top. When you do get a commission, you will instantly forget about all the struggle, all the knock-backs and the countless hours put in just to get that yes.

The first time a got a commission from a national glossy health magazine, I was beside myself. I had written the feature article ‘on spec’, but I didn’t have high hopes that the editor would accept it.

When I got an email from her saying how nice it was and asking if she could buy it, I just about fell off my chair. I replied with a profession, ‘oh, sure, that would be great’. When I received the commission slip with the rate of approximately $1100, my jaw met my ass on the floor. Then, months later, seeing it in print was even more mind-blowing. I’ve had countless articles published  since that day in 2012 but none as memorable as that.

These are the moments that keep freelance writers going. Some days it will be worth every minute of stress and anxiety and some days it won’t. Being a freelance writer is not an easy gig. It’s a career that nourishes and depletes creative souls all at once. That’s the truth – or at least it’s my truth.

Do you have any truth bombs about being a freelance writer? 

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