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!)

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