How Freelancing Made Me a Better Writer

Freelance Writing

Improving your writing can be difficult when you are constantly writing about the same things, day after day. You know you need to mix things up, but that’s often easier said than done.

While I have suggested in the past that we all need to break out of our daily writing ruts and mix it up once in a while, actually finding the motivation to do that can be challenging. If, like me, simply desiring to improve might not be enough, you have to find a way to be compelled into action.

What got me going was taking on freelance writing projects.

Find rewards or threats that make you follow through.

What I found worked for me was being forced out of my comfort zone. I had to write on topics I knew little about, and they included legal and financial consequences that I needed to deal with. I didn’t have a gun to my head, but I did have the next most persuasive thing–a legally binding contract and a mortgage to pay.

Freelancing paid my bills and also got me writing on subjects I would never have tackled otherwise. My clients have ranged from soft drinks manufacturers, magazines, purveyors of fine fragrances, all the way through to my most recent client, a software developer with a PDF to Excel Conversion product.

Each project you take on will have unique criteria and circumstances, and require you to write on strange topics, in unusual styles, and often with an unfamiliar voice. It’s like a forced apprenticeship in copywriting, but you’ll need a solid foundation to avoid letting your clients down.

It doesn’t have to be a financial arrangement.

Don’t worry, while the cash incentive is nice, if you can’t find paying work, build a portfolio with free work first. Think about these options:

  • Write articles and submit them to local magazines on spec.
  • Consider volunteering your services to businesses, or charities that you particularly like.
  • Ask friends to see who needs writing done; most people don’t enjoy it, so they’ll be happy for you to step in.

When you promise a person something, the thought of letting that person down is often enough to motivate you to get some content written. The important part is you break out of the norm and flex your writing muscles in new ways.

How do you motivate yourself to write outside of your comfort zone? Let us know in the comments.

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Comments

  1. Poetry groups often have “poetry challenges.” They think of 10 random words and make you think of a short creative piece (it doesn’t have to rhyme) linking them all together somehow. You would not believe the places your brain goes.

    I do believe Brian should give us “The 1st Weekly Copyblogger Random Writing Challange”. Post it every Friday and we have by Sunday midnight to submit our entry. Mondays, Brian will announce the winners. Prize Sponsors anyone?

    This is by far the best and most fun way to get out of a writing slump.

  2. Hi Chris,

    We used to stay out of copyrighting completely at SmallFuel. It just seemed like something that was too big for us to handle. More and more, however, people were asking us to write—eventually we finally started offering it.

    And you know what? I love writing now. I’m not nearly as could as I can be, but I’m learning more every day. Writing for other people not only helps you become a better writer, but I think it actually makes it more enjoyable too.

    Thanks for the post,

    – Mason

  3. I don’t know of a reputable magazine that would consider an unsolicited manuscript. As a matter of fact, most explicitly state that they will be unopened and unread.

    Writing an excellent “pitch” letter is an art itself that freelancers often agonize over.

  4. Hey there Chris, I really identified with this post because I am a freelance writer who is finding more and more these days that i am writing for the real estate commercial and residential markets.

    Condo’s, boat slips and commercial real estate are one thing- you can romance the person and hit thier emotions using their own memory to lure them into the copy.

    A residential real estate firm is another thing entirely- so i have been forced to start researching stats, personal blogs on florida real estate, and basically digging for gold: stories, stats, reports, etc.

    I was wondering if you had a few good resources when it comes to doing that type of research.

    1. Getting quotes from market reports on trends in real estate or other industries
    2. I noticed how USATODAY cites Forrester reports and quotes experts and I know that my copy can be tightened using these same techniques- but how to do that type of research is daunting.

    I thought you guys might know over here at copyblogger a few shortcuts or tips.

    Thanks!

    Lawton Chiles

  5. I don’t know of a reputable magazine that would consider an unsolicited manuscript.

    Who said anything about reputable? :)

    There are a lot of local lifestyle publications that will happily accept submissions (I can think of three in my town of 60,000). You’ll likely upgrade the quality of their content. :)

    I updated the post to say local magazines.

  6. How can you convince a magazine to accept your writing on spec?

  7. Jeremy,

    To answer your question, you should read this: http://www.right-writing.com/magazine.html

    Buck

  8. Chris – I’ve recently been asked to write for a large health-related site, and while it’s not exactly out of my comfort zone, getting paid to post seems to add to the pressure a great deal!! Although I’m looking forward to starting, and finally getting paid will be amazing!

    Thanks for this post!

  9. Chris,

    Before I answer your question, may I riff on your suggestion? Volunteering to write for free can have a deleterious side effect: you and others do not value your writing. I would suggest a small change: volunteer within an organization, and as part of the volunteering, assign yourself writing as a task towards a goal. It guarantees a more task-oriented writing assignment with specific goals, and it can raise your profile within an organization. Using the role to achieve higher status with writing is more of a win-win in my mind. It’s also better networking than simply asking to write someone else’s projects for free.

    As for your great question…

    “How do you motivate yourself to write outside of your comfort zone?”

    I blog! I write for stage and screen, so the nascent blogging art form is a stretch.

    Within my regular media, I do a have a few techniques:

    • create a character based on someone who does something or has life experiences I don’t understand
    • change or combine genres
    • pick something I don’t know anything about and try to fit into something I do know about

    Thanks for all the great thoughts on writing on such a regular basis!

    Best,

    Gib

  10. Long ago when I first got the idea of freelancing in my head, I didn’t have any clients at all. No chance of getting clients either because I lived in a small West Virginia town and worked in a completely different industry than the freelance work I wanted.

    So I sat down and created ads for products I liked and for completely imaginary products. Looking back, they weren’t very good. But they gave me incentive to start writing and helped to fill up a portfolio, which came in handy later on.

    I think what is really motivating isn’t the money (though that’s nice), it’s finding a way to make the writing seem important and meaningful. It’s tough to do anything when you think it doesn’t matter. So you have to create a situation where it matters.

  11. At an agency I used to work for our PR dept regularly sent articles round to trade magazines and had them published. You would be surprised how often smaller magazines are starved of content. I agree though the best idea for approaching larger and more established magazines is to inquire first rather than send a finished article.

  12. Amen. Writing something you aren’t neccessarily conditioned for or about something that doesn’t particularly interests you challenges your ability. If I could go back, I would have started freelancing a lot sooner.

  13. Hi, I am too struggling to keep up the blogging… will try to use your techniques too. Amazing post!

  14. I get writing jobs from advertising on craigslist. Most places it is free. I place my post under creative services.

    I offer ghost writing, editing and resume punch ups!

    Recently, a top CEO contacted me to write a farewell letter to his staff. He was taking a new job in a distant city.

    A lot of successful people are a whiz at their jobs but can’t write.

    I charged him $60.00 but it took me ten minutes and a few minutes conversation with him. And it was very interesting to do. I loved it.

    While I am on your site, which I just subscribed to, I want to thank you for the extensive Copywriting 101 you graciously offered Yaro’s students at Blog Mastermind.

    I am still reeling from the content. But, you can be sure it will be my bible from now on! I may sleep with it!

  15. I absolutely agree, blogging (one way or another) helps polish your writing style.

  16. P.S.

    Forgot to mention something.

    I refer people to my blog as an example of my writing on craigs.

  17. I used to write for a regional magazine in Greece, while I try to support adequately 3 blogs (two in English and one in Greek).
    I also write scripts for short videos. Basically, I engage in everything that has to do with writing in order to keep my skills sharpen. My advice is to write as much as you can for multiple issues.

  18. You can also flex your writing muscles in submitting to online article sites like Associate Content and Ezine. They’re good places to start as a freelance writer building up a portfolio. Associate Content has a paying scheme but Ezine doesn’t — it works more on the fame basis. Once your name is out there and you can tackle things the ball should start rolling. Another thing about freelance writing: network, network, network! Build up a reputation and client relations — they’d help you get the next project or even a regular job.

  19. I had’nt been here before: it’s an excellent blog.

    Rino, from Italy

    p.s. sorry muy poor english

  20. Chris,

    Even if one freelances but keeps writing for a particular medium- like for corporate films or for brochures, it can get boring. Apart from working with new clients, one needs to write for different medias and experiment with various genres.

    Blogging definitely is a great way to experiment and and showcase your writing skills and get feedback for the same.

  21. Chris, Blogging for me has truly made me conscious (again) about how I write. I had fallen into the “oh, you know me” trap on email (even in business) and since I started blogging, I have worked hard to stop that trend. Now I’m educating others I work with, in a non-confrontational way, of course. Now, I go nuts when I see emails that have just been thrown together, as if I am supposed to read minds. The difference is that I feel more justified now to be angry, since I’m working on my writing. (Ironically, this comment may be horribly written.)

  22. Freelancing is a brilliant way to build up ones writing skills. As you have said many times before Chris, its about practice.

    Freelancing takes it a bit further by having an audience. You need an audience because it encourages you to write at your best. Plus you can get feedback which can turn out to beinvaluable.

  23. “Consider volunteering your services to businesses, or charities that you particularly like.” Chris, doing a blog and an enewsletter for a charitable group has been a boon for me. Not only am I supporting a cause I believe in, I’ve gotten stellar testimonials from them, and the organization even sent me to a conference on their dime. It’s been rewarding on many levels.

  24. This post and the comments make me want to get off my lazy ass and stop blogging for paid to post services and start actually writing.

  25. Thats my plan for summer to do my own article writing but also allow people to pay me to write articles for them, therefore increase my experience and skills.