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  • Writer's pictureDebra Stang

18 Lessons I’ve Learned During 18 Months of Fulltime Freelance Writing

The calendar doesn't lie. Although it feels like just yesterday since I left my job as a hospice social worker to pursue a career as a fulltime freelance writer, it has actually been a year and a half. 18 months.

Whoa, where does the time fly?

I won't deny that I've run into some rough times during those 18 months, but I've also honed my craft, gotten up to speed (more or less) on the business end of being a writer, and enjoyed my self immensely.

I've also learned some valuable lessons.

1. Practice good self-care. Never forget that you are your most valuable asset.

2. Never stop marketing. Don't stop, even if you're overbooked. Even if you're sure you have all the clients you could possibly need for the rest of your life. Things happen, clients disappear, and you don't want to have to go through all the trouble of starting from scratch.

3. Don't Let Work Life Bleed into Home Life. Once in a while is okay, but if you're constantly obsessed with work during your free time, it might be smart to take a long, hard look at your work/life balance.

4. Over-Promise and Under-Deliver. When you're just starting out, it's natural to want to promise clients everything but the Hope Diamond. If you raise expectations and then disappoint, though, you're likely to lose business. Keep expectations modest and then delight your clients by not only meeting but exceeding them.

5. Keep track of your income and expenses. Believe me, it makes tax time easier!

6. Choose an organizing system that works for you. Thousands of books and websites devote themselves to teaching you how to organize your workspace. If their advice works for you, great. If not, develop your own system.

7. Take regular breaks. The human body was not built to sit in front of a screen for eight hours. At least once every two hours, get up, stretch, and move around your home. Sometimes I do a little bit of housework, like vacuuming or washing dishes to give my mind a break as well.

8. Always make time for "fun" writing. Are there projects you want to pursue for your own pleasure? If so, don't put them on indefinite hold. Even working on them 15 to 20 minutes each day is better than not working on them at all.

9. Learn to budget. 'Nuff said.  

10. Work during your peak hours. Since you're no longer tied to office hours, take a little time to figure out when you are the most energize. I do my best writing early in the morning and am helpless by mid-afternoon, but I have friends who can't even imagine sitting down at their computers until after sunset. Again, just do what works for you.

11. Don't spend too much time on the job boards. Most of the jobs that get listed are for content mills or for people who've never worked with a writer before and who think a dollar an hour is an acceptable rate. I always glance at the job boards just in case something promising pops up, but my usual job surfing takes about 10 to 15 minutes.

12. Social media is your friend, but only to a point. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn can help you connect with other writers and boost your brand recognition. It can also be an incredible time waster unless you set limits on how and when you will lose it.

13. Minimize interruptions during work hours. It took some of my friends a long time to understand that "working from home" was not synonymous with "doing nothing." It's up to you to fiercely protect your writing time. If your loved ones don't get the message, consider silencing your phone's ringer and refusing to answer the door.

14. Remember that writing is a job. I did freelance writing on a part-time basis long before I finally took the plunge of quitting my day job. I thought I knew the ropes, but I learned very quickly that there's a big difference between doing something for a hobby and doing it for a living. It took me a couple of months' worth of Ramen noodles to figure that one out.

15. Don't become a hermit. Believe me, I'm about as close to the end of the introvert scale as a person can get, but even I miss human contact when I haven't seen or talked to anyone in a few days.

16. Proofread before you click send. I could tell you some of the embarrassing mistakes I've sent to editors, but I think I'll spare both of us that confession. Just a quick glance over what you've written can help you find misspellings, typos, and grammar errors. Although I know it doesn't catch everything, I'm also pretty shameless about using Microsoft Word's spell check to catch goofs.

17. Take vacations. It's not only nice to have a few days away from the pressure of work, it's absolutely mandatory if you don't want to burn out. If you can't afford a vacation, try a stay-cation and enjoy looking at local attractions as if you were a tourist.

18. Don't give up. I've been on the verge of giving up a few times since I started writing, but something always stops me. Sometimes it's a well-paying assignment that came out of the blue. Other times it's a nice word from a client. And still other times, it's my own innate stubbornness. Try making a list of things that keep you going and refer back to it when you feel like throwing in the towel.

What important lessons have you learned about being a freelance writer?

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