The 7 Habits of Highly Paid Freelance Writers

Carol Tice

7 Habits of Highly Paid Freelance Writers. Makealivingwriting.comI am on vacation this week. Here’s a classic post that originally appeared on my blog. Enjoy!

Now that I’ve been helping other freelance writers to earn more for a while, I’ve realized there are some behavior patterns struggling writers have in common.

It’s helped me crystallize the following traits that I believe most well-paid writers have, and that low-paid writers often lack.

What are the 7 habits of highly-paid freelance writers?

1.    They don’t waste time on low-paying gigs. I recently had a mentee sent me a plaintive email as she wondered how she would make more money than the $10,000 a year or so she was earning. “So, do I just say ‘no’ when people offer me $20 articles?” she wailed.

Yes. That is exactly what you do.

Say it with me. “No.”

Or better, “No thank you, but feel free to contact me in the future if you find you’re in a position to pay professional rates.” (Sometimes things change, editors change jobs, and they do call you again. If you’re polite.)

2.    They’re not neurotic. They are not spending hours a day wringing their hands over the state of journalism today. They do not need to dust their office five times daily, or have all their desk knick-knacks lined up just so to start working. They get down to business and start writing. They don’t have a lot of writing tics, either – they know how to spit out a draft, polish it up, and file it.

3.    They take good care of themselves. The wan, flabby, sleep-deprived yet wildly successful writer is a bit of a myth. To earn well, year in and year out, you have to write and live in a sustainable way. Personally, I try to go walk uphill and down around my home for about an hour before I start working, or do Wii Fit yoga. I catch a nap if I need to. You have to be in good shape to be brilliant.

4.    They’re always prospecting. To find really well-paid work, you have to troll a lot, sifting out all the junk offers and moving forward until you find really good clients. This requires a focused, coordinated, consistant marketing effort, not the occasional, sporadic attempt at networking.

5.    They’re efficient. Well-paid writers don’t waste time applying for obviously low-paying jobs through online ads. They know how to quickly find information they need for stories. It doesn’t take them a day to write one short article — it might take them an hour or less. They prioritize their day’s tasks and then knock them out, one by one.

6.    They’re diversified. I once met another writer working on a story package for a special section of the Seattle Times. I admired her work and asked her what other accounts she had. Turned out she also did copywriting for a major American automaker!

This was my first introduction to really diversifying my clients. Now I find that if you locate a well-paid writer and ask them about their client list, they’ve usually got at least one major copywriting account up their sleeve. They may write white papers as well as newspaper articles, online content, and product manuals. When one sector suffers, they have other writing types to fall back on.

7.    They have goals. Writers who end up at the top of the heap usually don’t land there by accident. They have laid a deliberate course to get where they wanted to go. They break down their goal into small steps and strive to accomplish some small task to propel their career in the right direction each week. They make it a priority in their lives to work on those goals.

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  1. Vanessa Nix Anthony

    Thanks for this awesome list Carol! I especially needed the reminder contained within #3, as freelancer, sole bread winner and a mom — I sometimes sacrifice #3 and need to be reminded that I think, function and produce better when I make sure and do the little things like exercise, plenty of rest and plenty of water throughout the day.

    But I would add one more item to your list Carol, I think Highly Paid Freelancers also teach or mentor (you’re a prime example). Why? Because the best way to learn something is to teach it. By sharing what you know, you solidify it in your own mind and perhaps your own routine. Generating all that inevitable goodwill isn’t bad for business either. 😉

    • Elena Galey-Pride

      Absolutely agree that this should be point number 8.

  2. John Soares

    Great advice here Carol, and I think you’re practicing #3 right now by taking a vacation. Have a good one, and try to stay away from the Internet as much as possible!

  3. Karen

    Great list. I underestimated the importance of no. 3 for a while, but not any more! And I finally managed to activate my Den membership (after a couple of techno-klutz moments and an inexplicable issue with your emails arriving in my junk folder in spite of the fact that I’m signed up to all your lists and have been for a while now!) Look forward to meeting other readers in there.

  4. Carol

    It’s not you–we were having a couple tech glitches in the Den but thankfully my webmaster has it handled now!

  5. Samie

    Thanks for the list! It’s very helpful.
    I’ve been trying to stick to number 1 since I started freelancing, but I feel like I’m missing out on a lot of jobs. I’m not finding a lot in my area that pay decent (even for someone fresh in freelancing), but I’m thinking I should stick to local newspapers and magazines more than trying to find online writing gigs for now.
    I completely agree with number 3 as well. It’s something a lot of people don’t really think of. If you’re body isn’t feeling very well, your mind won’t be up to speed either.

  6. Janet

    hey thanks for the information, would like to get into writting as I strongly feel like I have the calling but don’t know where to start. .would appreciate your help.


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