"First, try to be something, anything, else," author Lorrie Moore advises.
She's not alone in saying this. Other mentors, friends, and quizzical family members have offered similar bits of advice throughout my initial writing career.
I have humored them at times.
There was that one unfortunate year when I thought I could be a linguist, for example, and then that time when I fell in love with filling out Excel spreadsheets. (I love formulas!)
I also thought I would be a great professor of Greek, if only I could learn Greek. And that week of "construction work" I don't talk about now.
But most of the time, I don't humor these nay-sayers. I forge on ahead into the world of endless Google Docs, invoices, writer profiles, and cover letters.
This, however, is what I wish those skeptical aunts and wavering besties actually said to me those many moons ago when I whispered my desire to be a freelancer.
Read it once--read it again. Keep it by your computer. Trust me. You'll need it.
Learn how to claim your title.
You may be tempted to say the word "writer" the way you bite into an hors d'oeuvre filled with something unexpected and slimy. ("I am a writer," I say behind napkins at cocktail parties. "You're a what?" the person will say.)
You may also be tempted to add, "But I also do other things." (Babysit the neighbor's dog. Question your degree. Contemplate selling clothing.)
You may, quite simply, lie. ("Oh, I, you know, read things…")
Don't do any of these things. Claim your title. I assure you that when you do so with confidence, the right people will respond with a warm smile and a, "Oh, tell me about that!" So tell them about it.
Get ready to acquire a new language.
If you're keen to be a freelancer, get ready to study. The world needs writing, and it needs all shades. You'll be acquiring a new language regardless.
For example, if you dip your toes into the world of digital marketing, you may have to learn about landing pages, Search Engine Optimization, and meta descriptions (!). If you want to be a technical writer, make sure you know what a white paper is before you jump on board.
The same goes for resume writing, email copy developing, and ghost blogging.
The more fluent you are in such terminology, the easier it will be to promote yourself and develop a portfolio. (Don't worry, I'm covering that soon.)
Establish your niche.
It's hard to learn a language without establishing your writing niche. What type of writing do you wish to pursue?
Technical? Medical? Fiction? Vampire-Love-Death-Fiction? Haikus? Memoir?
Know your corner of the world before you start really inhabiting it. If you aren't sure, think about what intrigues you most. What moves your pen quickly across the page, besides the crush you have on the neighbor boy?
Spend some time on the internet if you need to see "what's out there." (But be careful with this. The internet has some weird corners.) Even a quick job search for "freelance writer" can give you a sense of industry needs.
Self-promotion is critical. Yes, I mean business cards.
If you're anything like me, you would rather eat fingernails for breakfast than talk about how great you are. (I think I actually have.)
If you want to be a writer, you're going to have to get comfy with promoting yourself. Especially as a freelancer.
This doesn't mean ordering cardboard cut-outs of yourself to put up around town. Although I appreciate the idea.
It does mean the usual, though: a website, business cards, a portfolio. You'll need these at the very least if you set up a profile on platforms like UpWork or Fiverr.
If you're nervous about the idea of authentic self-promotion, read this.
Keep redefining "challenge."
Yes, this is all going to be hard. Harder than an awkward Thanksgiving dinner, or cleaning up frozen dog poop. (Sorry.)
Freelancers must do a lot of the work themselves, including attracting clients, building a portfolio, and learning the art of industry writing. In many cases, we have wallets emptier than our dreams for a quick end to global warming.
(Just don't underestimate the power of a can of tuna, or a packet or ramen noodles. I'm serious.)
The key to navigating the challenge of freelance writing is to keep redefining what "hard" means to you. If the notion of productive challenge to you means doing what you love--and if that means writing words for a living--then you'll know you're doing the right thing.
If your current career path does not live up to your current definition of challenge, it's time to look elsewhere.
Practice until your hands bleed.
Okay, little extreme. But the metaphor is apt.
No freelance writer succeeds without practice. (Although the term "succeeds" here is very relative.) And practice doesn't just mean writing, writing, writing.
It means reading, too. In general, read more. See what else is out there. Studying other articles, books, and writers' works. (These don't necessarily include Buzzfeed, sorry, guys.)
It may even mean seeking out a mentor. Working with someone who's been-there-done-that can be the cure for needing a step up.
Hold the faith.
There will be days where you feel incurably awkward.
There will be days where you just want the cash, maybe, to buy a pumpkin spice chai latte. There will be the days where you talk to your computer screen, maybe even consider naming it.
Have faith, friend. In fact, hold the faith. Some say there is nothing so rewarding as writing, even in the digital age.
And it really is possible to write for a living. Trust me.