Zanny Merullo Steffgen
Pros and Cons of the Freelance Writing Life
If you love to write and crave a career that you run from home on your own time, you’ve probably thought about making the switch to freelance writing. While freelance writing can truly be a dream come true, it also comes along with its own set of challenges that you should be aware of before you quit your day job. Curious what the pros and cons of freelance writing are? Read on for my thoughts!
Pros of the Freelance Writing Life
Although I’ve taken on freelance assignments for eight years now, it wasn’t until spring of 2021 that I finally left my restaurant job and dedicated all of my time to writing. Here are some of the perks that come along with the freelance writing life.
Make Your Own Schedule
Yeah, you guessed it — ones of the biggest advantages to freelance writing is being able to work when you want and take time off when you need it. Because you bill yourself as a freelancer, clients have no right to dictate when you work. This means that you can have five days off a week if you want and cram your gigs into the other two days, or go on vacation whenever you’re able, or tell prospective clients that you can only be reached after 11 am.
While choosing to have a light schedule certainly affects how much money you make and may impact a client’s decision to work with you, the good thing about freelance writing is that there are always more gigs out there.
The Freedom to Say No
How many times in your day job have you dreamed about telling your boss “no” when they ask you to take on a project you’re dreading? Well, guess what… As a freelance writer you have complete control over what work you do and what work you refuse!
If a prospective client proposes a project you have no interest in, you can turn it down without having to explain yourself. Or, if their budget is too low, you can walk away. Not being under a contract means the freedom to say no. Depending on your financial situation and how much work you have coming in, you can be extremely picky when choosing projects.
There is such high demand for freelance writers out there that there is an abundance of tasks just waiting for someone like you to take them on! Freelance writing projects can be really fun and interesting. You get a chance to dabble in a bunch of industries you may never have explored before, research topics you know nothing about, and write really creative content.
Here are a few examples of some of my most fun projects this last year:
Creative Description Writer (For this job I had to come up with lists of inspiring vocabulary words that related to conscious living and one-sentence vignettes of joyful moments in nature for an Instagram influencer.)
Menu Editor (An Italian restaurant hired me to take over the descriptions of each item on their menu. This meant looking up photos of arancini or lasagne in order to think of the most appetizing words to describe them! I did this while eating pizza, of course.)
Summary Writing (Early on in the year I found an opportunity to write summaries of books and TV shows for a new app. This meant each week I was assigned 2–3 videos to watch or books to read and got to write up an overview after. I love getting paid to watch TV!)
Set Your Own Rates
If you haven’t caught it already, the theme of this pros list is that you have complete control when it comes to running your freelance writing career. Not only can you set your schedule, choose how much work you take on, and say no to work that doesn’t interest you, but you also can charge whatever amount you’d like.
That being said, the more you charge the harder it might be to find someone willing to pay your rates, especially if you have little experience and a limited portfolio to show off. It’s a good idea to do a competition check to see what other freelancers with your experience level charge, then figure out what rates make the most sense for your. Then, you can set minimums and negotiate with clients to find work that pays well.
Learn and Grow Your Business
One of the best parts of freelance writing is the opportunity it affords you to learn and grow. This means gaining a new perspective once you’ve worked for a new industry, or improving your writing quickly thanks to all the different gigs you have on your plate.
There are always ways you can expand your freelancing business, such as investing in a website, finding passive income streams, or teaming up with other creatives on projects with bigger scopes. You can parlay a freelance writing career into a freelance editing career, or SEO work, or coaching, or working for a magazine. By taking the first step towards making freelance writing a part of your life, you open so many doors and windows that you may want to step through at some point.
Cons of the Freelance Writing Life
While I personally have loved the transition to full-time writing, I know that this work is not for everybody. Here are a few of the downsides to freelance writing.
Hard to Get Started
The first pitfall of freelance writing is that it can be hard to get started, especially if you have no prior experience. Most freelance writers probably didn’t get paid for their very first articles or writing assignments. Plus, if you choose to make profiles on freelancer websites, it can take some time to build up a presence and get regular job offers.
If you are someone who is discouraged easily, this line of work probably isn’t for you. It takes a fair amount of perseverance and a financial backup plan to become a well-established freelance writer.
Inconsistent Work and Pay
When you work under a contract from an employer, you never worry about having work or pay. Many day jobs involve receiving a paycheck on a regular basis for a specific amount that you can count on. This isn’t exactly the case with freelance writing.
You’ll naturally have dry phases during your freelance writing career where gigs are hard to come by and money is tight. Then you’ll have months where you feel completely swamped and money just keeps coming in. It’s important to remember that income will ebb and flow and be prepared for the flux. This may mean saving during the busy months so you feel secure during the slow ones, saying yes to work when it comes, or having regular clients that give you consistent work.
Freelance writing is particularly tough for procrastinators or those who flounder in the absence of direction and guidance. That’s because freelance writing is like having your own business, and that means you need to be on top of things. No one is forcing you to get up in the morning and start searching for clients and applying to jobs, no one is going to check and make sure that you have enough work coming in to cover your bills. It all comes down to you.
People who are self-motivated flourish in freelance careers because they’re able to manage all of the different facets of the freelancing life and look ahead to improve in the future. If I hadn’t had the discipline to send out dozens of job proposals whenever I had a free moment, or stay up until 2 am to finish a particularly tricky assignment by deadline, or set goals and get myself on a budget, I would have had to throw in the freelance writing towel a long time ago.
Tied to Your Computer
Another thing you should know about freelance writing is that it handcuffs you to your computer. Not only are your assignments all on the computer, but you’ll also need that piece of metal to find new gigs. All the time you don’t spend writing for clients will be filled up with searching for more work, answering emails, reading up on the latest news in the business, managing your income, and more.
Since starting to write full-time, I’ve struggled with how sedentary the work is. No longer am I up running around a restaurant for six hours a day, nor do I have the chance to interact with other human beings. Instead it’s just my eyes and a bright screen for most of the day. Even when I force myself to take a day off, I check emails and often have to reply to clients. I’m still figuring out how to find the proper work-life balance, especially since both my work and my relaxation takes place at home!
Less Time for Creative Writing
If there is one thing I wish someone had warned me before I started on this journey it’s that I won’t actually have the time or energy to work on my creative writing projects. That was my dream going into freelance writing — that I would make money from clients and reserve some time each week to chip away at a manuscript, or churn out essays, or simply write in my journal.
What I’ve found is that, after a week of freelance writing work, the last thing I feel like doing is opening up my computer and typing some more. When I do make myself sit down to write, I feel hemmed in by the paid work I’ve been doing. Sometimes that means I have a marketing voice in my head when I’m trying to write memoir so that everything I write sounds like an ad, or I have a hard time getting outside of the narrow structure constraints that most of my paid work has.
So now that you’ve read the pros and cons of freelance writing and see the reality of what it means to get into this business, you’re ready to decide whether or not this is the career for you. Have any questions on what goes into freelance writing or any comments on pros and cons you’ve noticed? Feel free to leave a comment or reach out through my contact form.