Freelance Writing 101

Carving out a career in freelance writing is not as easy as it seems. What should you know before taking the big leap into this profession? Read on to learn the dos and don’ts to being a freelance writer.

By Kevin Lim

The pen is mightier than the sword.

While this idiom may have received a degree of scepticism during the warring days of Genghis Khan and Napoleon Bonaparte, it most certainly rings true in today’s society...

The humble pen has risen above the mighty sword. You have the talent to wield it, skilfully crafting literature that captivates, excites and moves readers, but… you don’t know how to go about transforming that passion for the written word into a career.

Welcome to the world of freelance writing, a career for the copy-inclined who can mould a passage of text as masterfully as a sculptor with his clay.

Let’s walk through the basics of what it means to be a freelance writer, the challenges you will face, and most importantly, how to become a successful freelance writer yourself.

Polishing your penmanship
The old adage “practice makes perfect” cannot be understated here. The good news is—you’re already in the perfect place to start.

Think of all the opportunities around you that require a good writer. Project reports, your polytechnic newsletter, promotional materials for your Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) group, external communication with companies (in your projects or CCA), etc. Writers are always an in-demand commodity—a fact which often goes unnoticed because they seldom take the spotlight, but instead work behind-the-scenes to produce enthralling copy to support every project.

You’ll need to take full advantage of all these opportunities, as taking on a variety of assignments holds the key to improving your writing ability. While it’s great to specialise in one area of writing, a good freelance writer needs to have a flexible and diversified range of writing styles. The only way to achieve that is to push beyond your comfort zone and start writing about topics you normally wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Once you’ve pushed yourself past that zone, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your writing has improved and how many new techniques you now have in your repertoire.

Show me the money
Freelancers are entrepreneurs. Unlike regular careers, your next assignment won’t fall into your lap from nowhere. In fact, one of the biggest concerns freelancers face is finding work and keeping a constant stream of income flowing into their bank accounts. First off, you’ll need to find companies that need freelance writers, and there are a number of ways of doing so.

Online job portals such as and classified advertisements in newspapers are the easiest and most conventional ways of locating such employers.

However, apart from responding reactively to job advertisements, an enthusiastic freelancer also proactively seeks out prospective clients. You can do so by emailing editors from publications you’d like to write for and ask if they’d be interested in engaging a freelance writer. DO NOT SEND ANY SAMPLES YET. The last thing you’d want to do is choke your prospective client’s inbox with files they aren’t going to read. Instead, make an enquiry first. If they’re interested, they’ll reply asking for existing samples of your work, or have you write a sample article based on a topic of their choice.

The perfect writer
What encapsulates a perfect writer? From your client’s point of view, the list of qualities will read something like this:

- Able to instantly understand a brief given by a client
- Knows the style of writing required for any topic
- Possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of a wide variety of subjects
- Willing to make amendments multiple times based on clients’ requests
- Prompt in submitting articles and always meeting deadlines
- Ready to work seven days a week, 24 hours a day
- Always available to take on a project, no matter how last-minute, immense or “trivial” the project might be
- Flexible on payment options and dates

It is important to know this list because your client expects these from you once they’ve engaged you as their freelance writer. Keep your clients happy through excellent customer service, and you can expect to see a steady influx of referrals coming through the door.

Once you’ve built a healthy rapport with a happy customer, don’t forget to ask for a short, two- to three-line testimonial. Testimonials are a great form of “accreditation” for your “brand” (i.e. you) and will help immensely when marketing yourself to new organisations.

Career choices
Being a writer is a challenging but extremely rewarding career for those who enjoy the challenge of invoking emotions through words. Still think this is the career for you? Then pick up that pen and paper and start practising today! (Or rather, boot up that computer and start typing away!)

Click here for jobs on JobsCentral!

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I want to be a freelance writer, i have just completed my graduation and preparing to do a post graduate diploma in mass communication and journalism. To enroll for a creative writing program could be beneficial to enhance the skills for the students. I think guidance is something which can save a lot of time. But the writing should be from the core of the heart :) Thanks for the tips too.

I have always been thinking of writing my thoughts, my views, on my many years of work experience. Though i have been in the sales industry since I was 18. There are so many kinds of people I've met, plus life experiences ups and downs. Though I do not have a degree in journalism, I love to read and I did get a B for my General Paper from a good Junior College. Many of my friends tell me come on... face the reality. However, my closest friends tell me pursue yr dream. Get started instead.

It is really difficult to be a freelance writer... or a freelance anything really!
Aside from having to build your reputation so that repeat customers will come to you or refer you, you have to be good enough... and it's difficult with writing!

With practice, however, it can be done.

i really like this post thanks!!!

I am fond of reading, especially I like English and American classical literature. Unfortunately have no much time for reading, thus read whenever have a free minute (usually on my way to work and back home). I'd like to try my hand at writing too. Thanks for this article full of tips.

To be a successful freelance writer, you have to work smart. The article has some useful points but when it comes to being the perfect freelance writer, I beg to differ. I'll admit that it'll be difficult starting out as a writer in Singapore and even after you've established yourself, work may be slow to come by. But to live by what Mr Lim terms as a list of qualities your clients may want is not only impossible, it's unrealistic and unhealthy.

- Able to instantly understand a brief given by a client
Any brief penned by another person other than yourself is open to interpretation. This is where you need to ask the client some in-depth questions to find out what they really want.

- Knows the style of writing required for any topic
You may know the style required but can you deliver? Know what your strengths are and capitalise on it. Take some courses if necessary to hone your skill.

- Possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of a wide variety of subjects
No one knows everything. This is where research comes into play.

- Willing to make amendments multiple times based on clients’ requests
Most freelancers accept amendments but only for a certain number of times and for good reason. Imagine working on the same piece of work over and over again until you are ready to scream. It is also more time-efficient for both freelancers and clients to pin down the project quickly.

- Ready to work seven days a week, 24 hours a day
Repeat after me...freelancers are not robots.

- Always available to take on a project, no matter how last-minute, immense or “trivial” the project might be
What if you're overloaded with work? Better to reject a project you know you can't handle than to accept and tell the client you can't do it later.

- Flexible on payment options and dates
Payment options can be flexible but if you're living on a freelance paycheck, there is nothing better than pay that comes on time. You can be flexible but only to a reasonable extent.

No offence intended but I really think that a more concise article would be better for starters. Perhaps a more personal experience would be more useful?

Being a freelance writer opens up a lot of avenue to generate revenue. There are lot's of freelance sites such as Elance and Guru that are always looking for article writers and ghost writers.

Guaranteed Seo

Writing gives you opportunities as a author too.

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Great tips if my Outdoor Pavers business ever fails to hold my interest this is my next career.

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