a guide to being a freelance writer

Writer Harriet Verney puts pen to paper — or rather fingertip to keyboard — in a handy guide to making it in the crowded world of freelancing.

by Harriet Verney and Harin Vaghela
07 March 2017, 4:30pm

Having just left a pretty decent job at a magazine to once again clamor into the freelancer's hen pen, which is now about as spacious and pleasant as a toilet cubicle in Hong Kong, I forgot the painstaking efforts it takes to keep your head above the overflowing inkwell.

Other unemployed (*cough* freelance) friends will try and get you out of the house during the daytime, singing "you don't have work, you're a writer, a freelance one at that." It's awfully difficult not to succumb to the fact you are now in the same time zone as some-time artists and part-time musicians, which can be hideously dangerous for one's liver, bank balance, and career. Here are some tips that have just about worked for me, this month.

Get up like you've got a job.
You've just received your final paycheck from a previous job. It's ever so tempting to sit in bed on various forms of online auction sites, net-a-somethings, and Amazon Prime, charging through your cash as though it were now your job to spend all your overdraft. But you really shouldn't. You may not have work to get up for but waking up as though you have a boss with a hot rod and Haribo breakfast waiting at the elevator doors is the most important thing. Treat every weekday like a 9-5 job. Get up, make work, fake it. Freelance isn't a holiday, it's a lenient full-time job with the perks of hitting the snooze button a couple more times than you should, cushioning the blow of having drunk like you were actually unemployed last night.

Google's explanation of what this means is quite lol and a bit over-complicated. But it's basically the psychology of how you work and where. It's the most pragmatic way, for me at least, to throttle the old "freelancer anxiety" by its neck, rather than the neck of a bottle of warm Campo Viejo. You know what they say: don't eat where you sleep, don't work where you eat, don't shit on your own doorstep, or something like that. Don't work from your bed. I mean you totally can but you definitely won't work, or sleep. Get a library card, they're free, you see. A daily trip to your local espresso dispenser can be expensive, but you don't get the same scorned looked from the librarian when you're on the Daily Mail six times an hour. Which is priceless.

A daily trip to your local espresso dispenser can be expensive, but you don't get the same scorned looked from the librarian when you're on the Daily Mail six times an hour.

You have no shame now
Obviously the ultimate goal is to be paid for writing or whatever freelance job you're doing, but until that happens saying yes to commissions you perhaps think beneath you is a good place to start. Approach smaller publications, fine-tune your writing and interview skills. Every interview is worth it. Trying to get a headline-grabbing interview from a shy model who doesn't speak the same language is painstakingly tricky. But, tip: models always have really good gossip and even better sex lives, usually with curly-haired members of boybands, or even better, other models. And most of the time they'll tell you. When said article is published make a huge song a dance about it, show you're not just sitting at home watching re-runs of Gossip Girl. Pitch ideas constantly. If someone says, "That's not quite right for us at the moment but do let us know if you have any more ideas," take their word for it and send more ideas. You have no shame now. You're a freelancer.

Make a good website
If you don't already own your domain name you should. I remember the horror stories they used to tell us at my old agency. It was the "special bookings" section of their boards, a kind of graveyard-cum-dentist waiting room that reeks of nepotism, and is filled with self-styled influencers who are all hankering after their blue-verified tick and 15 minutes of Insta fame.

One of the mediocre models, who had a semi-famous someone leaving hideous love bites on her neck, didn't think she should have to fork out for the $3.99 annual fee for her domain name. Next thing you know, she's married said star and she's Googling her name only to find it's been bought by a porn site with all the right SEO know-hows. The marriage didn't last and I don't think she even made it onto I'm a Celeb. A devastating blow and a story we can all learn something from.

It all came screaming back to me when I became freelance once again. I use SquareSpace for my site; it's really cheap and easy for those of us who went deaf in secondary school from the screeching theme tune of a dial-up internet connection, and did Home Economics instead of taking coding lessons. Keep it really simple. Contact page is key as is having examples of work, although don't give everything away, just give enough.

But do show off. Show off as though you were going back to your arse-crack of nowhere hometown school with a couple of freebies and a pair of Gucci sunglasses and want everyone to know how well you're doing.

Same really applies for Instagram. Writing is the antithesis of Instagram; it's the age of imagery and memes, not the age of posting a picture of some words you've written, ergh. But it's the first place people will go to to spy on you, so don't waste that opportunity on a selfie. Even though it will get you ten times as many likes. Soz.

The whole freelance thing, it's really tough at first, you've got to graft, and graft really hard. But if you really want it and you're good at what you do, it's completely the most plausible, forgiving, and exciting way to work. Good luck.

Read: A girl's guide to London — don't buy food from anywhere within a 40-foot radius of Tottenham Court Road and always smell the bus seat before you sit down on it.


Text Harriet Verney
Image via Instagram

harriet verney