What I’ve learned so far as a newbie freelance writer

It’s been around five months since I started freelancing. I used to work as a full-time art reporter at a newspaper, and now I am contributing to two newspapers, two online publications, and one magazine. I write about art for all of these publications except one where I write about theater, my other favorite lifestyle topic. I also got a photo captioning job for one book project and a few writing projects for public relations for restaurants. So what was it like transitioning to freelance? Here are all the things that helped me start out on this path and other things that I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Network before you quit

Before I quit my job, I was already friends with several editors and writers from different publications. I was able to meet editors because my boss sent me to several media trips abroad. Other publications sent their editors to these trips, so more often that not, I was the only young writer in the group.

During that time, I wasn’t thinking about socializing with those editors to get writing gigs, I was just determined that I would represent my company well, and so I socialized with them in order to show them that the people from my publication were intelligent and interesting.

I met several writers because I attended press conferences. I’d usually arrive early, so I had time to chat with them before the event started. Sometimes I’d ask them to have coffee after the event. This allowed me to gain friends.

Both the editors and the writers got to see how I worked. They saw that I came on time and they heard the questions that I asked.

Whenever I’d meet new editors and writers, I’d add them on Facebook. I shared my newspaper articles and blog posts on Facebook, and hopefully some of them were able to read my work.

When I was finally thinking about leaving, I made a list of people I knew in the industry. By that time, I knew 20 editors and 37 writers. I didn’t know if any of them would get me as a contributor (I didn’t tell my media friends about my resignation until my last day because I didn’t know if it was an appropriate thing to disclose), but that list gave me additional confidence to quit. It made me feel that I knew enough people such that if only some of them would get me as a freelance writer, I’d survive.

When my last day finally arrived, I sent several messages on Facebook telling people that I resigned and I gave them my new contact details. For the editors I messaged, I asked them to please think of me if they needed writers.

Since then, all the writing projects that I got were either because I knew the editor or someone I knew recommended me to an editor.

Until now I continue to network by attending events and joining groups. During these events, I love talking to people and learning about their lives. Sometimes these encounters lead to projects as well.

2. Save money before you quit

Before I quit, I had enough money to last me a year. Part of it was from the last salary from a previous job I had but most of it was from my monthly savings for three years while I was working for the newspaper. I’m pretty proud of the latter because I had a small salary and yet I was still able to save.

I got to save because I was very disciplined with my money. I have an Excel file on my phone where I input all of my expenses. As in all, as in including the P7 that I pay for a jeepney ride. I’ll probably write another article all about that, so stay tuned. Because of this, I was able to save 25% of my income every month.

You’ll need savings because payments for freelancers are often delayed for one to two months. Sometimes assignments come in at the same time, so you have to say no to some even if you need more money for that month.

I started with 38% of my original income, then went down to 18%, then up to 58%, then 40%, then 214%. Though the last one was because I got my last paycheck from the newspaper, which turned out to be really big because I had many unused sick leaves that could be convertible to cash.

My projection for this month is I’ll get to 84%. I also have published enough articles to get me through July and until the middle of August. I have five unpublished articles that will get me to fill August further in, and I have three new assignments that, once I finish, will allow me to hit my target income for August. After I complete that, I’ll be working for the rest of July for my income for September, and then August for my income in November, and so on.

3. My income and writing schedule lists

While I was at the newspaper I was writing 20 to 25 articles a month. If I were paid per article at the rate that I am getting right now, I would have at least doubled my income. When I left though, I wasn’t sure if I’d get the same amount of assignments. I worried that there might not be that amount of interest in art articles, and I was definitely discouraged from specializing in it because “there’s no money in art writing”. Turns out I was right to take a leap of faith.

The number of assignments started low, but they eventually built up. My best month so far has been in May where I published 18 articles, which is higher than my target of 12 articles per month. I decided on 12 because I wanted to work less to earn the same amount so that I can devote my time for other personal projects.

Having an irregular income stream means that I have to keep track of things in order to know if I’ve written enough to earn my target income. For this I use my writing schedule list and my income list.

The writing schedule list are dates in the month divided into weeks, and then under each day, I am allowed to put one writing assignment, which means that I can accommodate up to five writing assignments per week or 20 per month. I don’t usually get to fill in all the days of the week, so often times I’ll be nearer my target of 12 articles a month, but at the same time, I’ll never go over my maximum production capability, which is 20 to 25 per month. So here’s how the schedule looks:

June 27 mon
-assignment 1

tues
-assignment 2

wed
-assignment 3

thurs
-assignment 4

fri
-assignment 5

llllllllllllllll

July 4 mon
-assignment 1

tues
-assignment 2

wed
-assignment 3

thurs
-assignment 4

fri
-assignment 5

What I write instead of “assignment 1” is the name of the publication, the topic, and if there’s a specific deadline for that article (others don’t have a fixed deadline but when I place them on my schedule, I commit to finishing them that week, unless other things get in the way)

If the list for the week is full, I don’t accept assignments anymore. This is because I am aware that I’m only capable of writing five articles a week. If I accept more assignments, I won’t be able to finish them because I won’t have enough time (I also have to allot time to go to events, interview people, and rest) or I’ll be too burnt out.

There were some weeks though when I went all workaholic because there were lean weeks prior to that or because I got insecure about the money so I started accepting more assignments than I could take. I hope to avoid doing these things and rather aim for a well-paced writing production schedule.

For my second list, my income list, it looks like this:

June
-name of publication topic (payment) published date
-name of publication topic (payment) published date
-name of publication topic (payment) published date
-name of publication topic (payment) published date
-name of publication topic (payment) published date
(total money for the month)

So at the top is the name of the month, then each assignment is listed below. Each assignment is written in the said format and is placed under the month when I would expect payment. The total money only calculates until my target income. If I reach my target income, but I have more articles that were published, the money is added to next month’s total income. If I’ve earned enough money for the next month, then I can slow down on accepting and pitching assignments and work on personal projects.

4. Specialize to generate your own stories

While I was at the newspaper, I became acquainted with the art world. I also learned how to find interesting stories in that world. Since I can generate my own ideas, I pitch these ideas to publications. This allows me to get more writing gigs because I’m not just passively waiting for an assignment to be given to me.

5. Make a new writing ritual

The hardest part of going freelance is adjusting to new deadlines. I already had a routine back when my deadlines were fixed. Up to now I think I’m still getting into this new groove, but so far I’ve allotted mornings for my writing time.

More Work It:

Check out my other blog categories.

If you like this post, please subscribe to this blog. Ja is also on Twitter and FacebookTumblr, Bloglovin (for blogfor Tumblr). Email Ja at: ageofthediary@gmail.com.

Note: For some entries in this blog, a few names and details have been deliberately and willingly changed by the author. This is a personal decision made by the author for specific reasons known to her and is not an endorsement for censorship.

All the opinions expressed in this page and in this blog are my own and do not represent the official stances of the companies, institutions, and organizations that I am affiliated with. I am a person. I’m not just a manifestation of corporate interests. I have an identity that is separate from my company because even if human beings are paid for a service by corporations, human beings are not owned by corporations. 

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