AARGH! #1: Becoming A Freelance Writer
Note: this totally professional blog features explicit language.
Why Am I Screaming?
Why is it called ‘Argh!’? That’s my best approximation of spelling a scream. Maybe you could try ‘AH!’ or ‘AHHHHHH!’. I don’t know, it just feels like the ‘R’ adds some extra emotion to it. So, why is the title of this freelancer’s blog a scream?
It’s the sound I want to make every day. It’s the sound I do make sometimes, as my cats and dog watch on in confusion. It’s not that I don’t like writing, but don’t let anybody tell you that freelancing is easy starting out. That’s what AARGH! is: my little journal cataloging my successes and failures as I try to transition into a career in freelance writing.
Win or lose, I hope this blog will be therapeutic for anyone else trying to make the dream happen but finds themselves creaming a lot more than usual in our dystopian, slow-motion apocalypse of a world.
AARGH! #1 is going to consist of some background on me, so if you want to skip to the actual nitty-gritty of becoming a freelancer, you can skip over to AARGH! #2 when I finish typing it.
Does This Sound Familiar?
I’m 27-years-old. Nearing 30 isn’t scary until it is, especially if you aren’t where you want to be in life. Romantically, financially, geographically… you name it. I’ve got a partner I love and wouldn’t change that for the world. But I’ve got some debt still and practically zero savings in addition to living in Texas (which has some significant ups and downs). Part of my dream is achieving financial independence and living where I want to live and not where I need to.
Writing has always been my thing. As a kid, I’d write lengthy stories complete with hand-drawn cover illustrations. Every writing assignment came in over the suggested word count. I’ve journaled from a young age, though admittedly I’ve never managed to journal every single day. I was sold on the writing dream forever ago. I read one too many blogs from Digital Nomads. But I’m done with it just being a dream. If I really want to live the life I’ve always dreamed of, it’s time to go for broke. I’m not getting any younger.
I am a writer, I will write, and people will pay me for it, damn it! AARGH!
Okay cool, but like… How do I do that? I’ll talk about that more in AARGH! #2. Some freelancers start with zero experience in writing, some start with zero experience in marketing. Both are doable, I’ve seen it happen. I’m the latter. People say getting jobs, raises, and clients is all about marketing yourself.
Well, guess what? They’re goddamn right.
Step Zero: Self-Love
I’m so fucking bad at making money. Particularly marketing myself to make money. You know how relationship gurus say “You can’t love someone else properly until you love yourself”? It’s a fucking myth. Plenty of folks are in wonderful relationships wherein they despise themselves. But in the business world, you need to be able to showcase your strengths. You can’t promote yourself as a business, get more clients, earn more money until you can show them what they’ll love about working with you.
What you need to do is understand yourself, and what you are offering a potential client. You need to be able to sell yourself as a brand. Why does someone pick Delta Airlines over Southwest Airlines? As a freelancer, you are the brand. You need to make sure everybody knows that you are the writer who puts out quality content, is friendly, easy to work with. You need to be the writer the editors want to grab a beer with. It worked for Bush, it’ll work for you.
Imagine you’re walking through the city and you see an ad for Bank of America that looks like this:
When you’re starting out freelancing, your job is more about marketing than it is about writing. You need to find clients, build relationships establish a workflow, a pipeline, identify a profitable niche; all of this while working full-time so you can keep a roof over your head.
So why are you marketing yourself and not just your writing? Surprise surprise, business is a human invention and subject to human emotions. People need to like you, at least a little if they’re going to work with you. Freelancing isn’t like a 9-to-5. There’s no manager heaping work onto your desk for you every day. You have to go find the work, and convince someone to give it to you instead of someone else. This only gets easier if you build good working relationships. So before you build a nice website, write sample or spec-work, or start spamming editors with shitty pitches, do yourself a big favor and figure out what you bring to the table. Treat it like an assignment. Put it down in 1,000 words. Cut it down to 500. Then 100. Then 30.
Step One: Scroll Frantically
After realizing that this was the road I wanted to go down, I started searching every corner of the internet I could. Reddit’s freelancing community was a huge resource for this. I did try looking around for other writers who had made it. The trouble is a lot of them sell courses on how to do what they did. Personally, I have nothing against it, but I can’t afford to shell out for courses on how to replicate someone else’s success. What works for one might not for another. We all have a path to success, but we have to find it, first.
“Questioning the value you provide is a natural thing to do as a freelancer – ‘Surely I am not worth that much!‘ We’re also (as a species) pretty terrible at dealing with ambiguity – it’s distracting – we enjoy certainty, as at least then we understand what we’re dealing with, and can act accordingly. Add to that, many freelancers lack self-confidence. That’s perfectly natural – we don’t have the same feedback mechanisms (like performance reviews) or structure (like career progression) that employees get.”/u/paul_caspian
It might be the scenic route, but anything a guru can teach you for $100 can be found on the internet for free. You just need the patience and dedication to find it.
Courses aside, the subreddit is a great resource. Plenty of fresh writers and plenty of veterans who can provide valuable insight to help you get started. These include how to build your website, how to build a portfolio without clients or prior work, how to find a niche. Go read their Wiki, then reread it, and take notes. Hell, print the whole thing out and mark it up with a highlighter if it helps. That’s your step one.
In A Wooorld of Pure Infuriation
Buckle up. It’s going to be a rocky road but if you’re still reading, I’m happy to have you. I’m writing this all live on my freelancing journey as a personal journal, and as a therapeutic resource so that you know you aren’t crazy. I read all of these success stories about people who went from zero experience to six-figure incomes within a year, and I just beat myself up.
How can I possibly pull something like that off? Even something close to that?
Fuck it, guess we’ll find out. The worst I can do is fail.
Join me in AARGH! #2 where I discuss how I’ve started building a foundation for my freelancing, including what platforms I’m looking for work on, who I’m pitching to, and how I’m budgeting my time between freelancing and a full-time, underpaid job to avoid burn out.
If you’re enjoying my late-night tirades and want to hire me, shoot me an email at CodyWritesThings@gmail.com.
Sincerely Screaming Internally,
— Cody Szaro