Ten Things I Learned from my First Week of Freelance Writing


Unsolicited Opinions / Saturday, August 18th, 2018

Can proudly whimper that I’ve just finished my first week of freelance writing. Recently, I left the old 9 to 5 grind (read: my temp job ended and I needed to scramble) to make a foray into independence, self-determination, and dignity. 

Which is just to say I left one grind and entered a way harder, worse-paying one.

And here are some things I learned:

1. People love listicles 

Heh.

2. I am not that good at writing

Self-deprecation is part of my schtick, but this is not a cry for compliments. It’s the truth.

My fatal flaws: I’m overly wordy (shock), excessively passive-voiced, and occasionally incoherent. If you don’t believe me, allow me to share some gems I’ve received from editors just this past week:

“Please strive to write in a cohesive, coherent manner. Cohesion and coherence make your writing readable.”

Noooo, really? Also:

“This article exhibits problems with wordiness. Wordiness can include overuse of the same word, redundant wording, or use of unnecessary words to convey ideas that may be presented in fewer words.”

Okay. Got it. Also:

“Please make sure your article is well focused and contains a clear main idea that is supported throughout the article. Exclude irrelevant information.”

And because it was funny (and frankly true):

“The article delivers little of what the title promises.”

And one more because I love the editor’s sassy abbrev’s:

“…much nipping and tucking is needed to make the ‘graph less wordy and repetitive.”

So. I’m wordy, incoherent, and don’t understand paragraphs. I share all this not to vent or complain. Truly,  I offered this editor several poorly-edited articles from months ago (I was just trying to offload content onto them and they caught me). The editors offered me valuable feedback, and taught me a well-deserved lesson about trying to foist crap onto people.

And despite my flaws and foibles, I was still able to make a few hundred dollars last week. Point being: I accept that I have a lot to learn about writing, I’m not afraid to keep trying till I get it right, and even someone who is warbly and incoherent can make some cash freelancing.


3. What’s Blockchain? Idk, but everyone on the internet is obsessed.

There is a huge demand for cogent articles on Blockchain technology. If you can break that ish down coherently (I still can’t, after a week of stretching my poor wittle brain to its limits of earthly comprehension) then I strongly suggest you go ahead and cash in.

4. You should still brush your teeth in the morning

I’m tellin’ ya. Even if you’re not not leaving your couch/floor/bed all day because you’re writing, there’s a certain sort of sadness that blossoms around 5pm on a workday when everyone else is returning from their jobs out in the world and you’re just sitting at home running your tongue along your front teeth which are filmy with coffee and greasy from chips.

5. It is very easy to eat a lot of chips while working at home where no one can see you

6. Niche down, baby

Okay, so this past week I learned a lot of stuff about many things. I learned about birth injury lawsuits, FDA calorie-labeling regulations, alopecia, frustration free packaging, architectural designs, DWI laws, telemedicine, CBD-oil (ppl are obsessed) polyurethane millwork, the carnivory diet (btw – ew), landing page optimization (in addition to a lot of other web design things this blog of mine is NOT up on), roofing ventilation, travel points, smart toilets, and so. Much. More. Every time I wrote an article about a new and hitherto-undiscovered topic, I spent way more time researching than actually writing. Which, I mean, duh.

I will never reach full competency in every content field. Though I’m content to keep going at this weird and erratic pace for a few weeks while I adjust and practice, this isn’t a sustainable way to write. Enter the oft-heard mantra: niche down. if you focus your time, attention, and passion on one one to three core topics, you will eventually gain enough proficiency to write for a publication that expects high-quality, long-form content. Well-regarded publications want to see articles that reflect not only the latest in research, but that exhale a sort of flow and confidence born of familiarity. Read any essay in National Geographic, The New Yorker, or The Atlantic and you will see the truth of this. 

Learn a lot about many things. Pick your favorites. Become an expert. Niche down.

7. I have to get over my weird fear of people liking me

It is truly petrifying when someone likes what I do. A five-star rating sends me into paroxysms of anxiety. Give this girl some shrugging apathy, give her a sideways thumb, give her an “Okay, that’s good enough. I’ll take it.” That’s what she likes.

Though I’m not sure where this comes from, it’s a theme of my life. As soon as I get good at something (a job, being a friend, anything), I slither away back to my den of anonymity. I am realizing this has PROBABLY cost me SOME opportunities in life. But I don’t want to fail at freelancing, so I probably need to gtf over it. This past week, whenever a client specifically praised my work I avoided writing for them again out of principle. Over the past few weeks, I intent to unpack that a little (is it just that I’m afraid of disappointing people?) and try to actually build relationships with clients.

8. Passive voice is bad and I use it so much I hardly recognize it anymore am I using it now OH MY GOD

It’s imprecise. It’s wordy. And it’s sort of a cop-out. Example. You’re writing an article on, say, vehicle recalls and you write the following passive sentence:

“It was found to be unsafe.”

When you use passive voice in non-fiction, you’re

  1. Being lazy with research: WHO found it to be unsafe? Did you just not bother to find out?
  2. Not giving credit where credit was due: there are people behind the action of finding something unsafe. Make sure you name them.

.That said, I think passive voice has a place in writing. Also, I’m still kinda bad at detecting it in my own writing and have been referencing this guide all week to help. (Thanks mean editors from point #2 for all the feedback and the links.)

9. If you think you can work 8 hours straight at writing, you are probably wrong

I really thought (bless her heart, little last weekend me) that I could go full-speed ahead and write 8 straight hours a day, four or five days a week. In addition to writing 1,200 words per day in my M&J third-book manuscript. While blogging.

Silly, silly, silly.

I found that towards the third straight hour of writing, my brain turns into absolute mush. Like oatmeal when you leave it cooking on low for far too long. It’s gray and a little bit booger-y and aggressively flavorless.

It’s possible I’ll build up tolerance to writing at greater stretches at a time, but at the very least I’ll start next week off with a greater appreciation of my current limits. My plan is to schedule breaks every few hours or so to avoid mush-brain. Maybe I’ll even brush my teeth or shower or eat something besides chips.

10. Writing is horrible and hopeless. It’s also awesome. 

No, I did not strike it rich my first week of freelance writing. I didn’t even write anything I feel particularly proud of. It’s discouraging. It doesn’t pay very well (which sucks because I’m, like, trying to overcome my scarcity mindset or whatever.) It’s super, super difficult. And it’s also amazing and I can see a little rainbow in the distance that I’d very much like to reach and slide down towards the proverbial pot of gold. Even writing for just one week has helped me sift through some of my goals and priorities.

For instance, I’ve realized that I want to start studying particular topics and work towards niche status in fields that interest me. I’ve concluded that my brain works a lot better with longer-form content that short-form, highly-variable content. And I’ve learned a ton about a million little topics and have stretched my brain in all kinds of different directions.

But I still don’t understand blockchain.

12 Replies to “Ten Things I Learned from my First Week of Freelance Writing”

  1. You don’t understand blockchain technology? Like, really? It’s simple. The way it works is there’s a series of small blocks attached to a chain, which itself is wrapped around a wheel. As the wheel turns, the blocks knock against a series of levers which, when released, allow Thomas Jefferson to come out of the sky riding on a triceratops to smite the non-believers.

    That’s not actually what blockchain technology is.

    Seriously though, I’m proud of you for pursuing your dream full-time. Keep it up, and don’t forget to brush your teeth!

    1. You’ve singlehandedly made blockchain the most exciting concept on the internet. Pretty sure I now have to pitch an article with that premise.

      And thank you so much. It’s terrifying and I have no freaking idea what I’m doing. The support is really uplifting, thank you friend!

      1. Haha, if you do pitch my genius blockchain insight, be sure to give me a little nod of acknowledgement. I don’t want my genius to go unnoticed.

        And no problem. If you already made a few hundred dollars, then you must not be totally lost.

  2. Self-deprecation is most of us writers’ favorite activity. Taking criticism is not easy! I also have to work hard at avoiding passive voice. But the first step to improve is to acknowledge we need to! So, I hope we are on the right track 🙂

  3. Hello. Because you’re a newbie in your freelancing career and I also want you to thrive in it, I would like to recommend you to read “Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content” by Ann Handley. It will help you in everything you need to know about writing, grammar, and much more. Furthermore, it will help you take your writing to the next level, especially now that you have a career in writing. You have potential. I also want to let you know that I love the clean look layout of your blog. Take care.

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