Follow these ten top tips for getting started as a freelance writer, and you’ll convince editors to publish your work.

By Fran WeertsBecome a writer


Like art, freelance writing is often regarded as a hobby. It may appear self-indulgent – taking enthralling trips in the name of research, fraternising with fascinating people and no boss to remark on your tardy start to the day.

In reality, though, your life as a freelance writer will be somewhat less grand.

Freelance writing will be demanding of your time, mental reserves and ego. Be prepared for self-discipline, disappointment and long periods alone at the keyboard. You may forget to eat. Socialising could become a nuisance when deadlines, like death and taxes, wait for no man.

Here are ten tips to help you thrive as a freelancer.


Angle your articles

Target your reader. Your angle should not wander off course or introduce vague references with little relevance. Be concise, use germane language and knit your points together logically.


Gain experience

Mark Twain said, ‘Write what you know’. Gaining experience is the treadmill of freelance writing. Sign up for a course, enter competitions, submit free articles to community publications. Offer your services on sites such as Freelancer, Guru or Upwork.


Don’t plagiarise. Copyright is a dangerous maze; use prudence by asking permission to use any portion of someone else’s work.


Meet deadlines

Missing a deadline is the original sin for freelance writers. You had better have a damned good reason if you upset an editor’s schedule.


Negotiate freelance rates

To earn more than a pittance, you will have to negotiate your worth. Bargaining may not come naturally to you, but your best weapon will be familiarity with current tariff trends. Negotiate the best deal per word, page, hour or job. Ask for a link to your website and blog. Do not undersell the time and effort you will expend on the project.


Market yourself as a writer

Privacy today is a long-lost concept; use this to your advantage. Visibility is good. Be seen on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Contract a professional or use WordPress to set up a user-friendly blog or website; update it regularly.  


Adopt the ‘write’ attitude

Be polite. As author and playwright P. J. O’Rourke says in his book Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude People, ‘Good manners can replace morals. It may be years before anyone knows if what you are doing is right. But if what you are doing is nice, it will be immediately evident.’


Handle criticism 

If you are offered constructive, thoughtful criticism, accept it gracefully. Don’t allow bigoted or uninformed comment to convince you that you are a bad writer. When you recognise that someone’s opinion will enhance your work, use it. Ignore it if you feel your own words are better.


Spellcheck your writing

Spelling correctly in any language is paramount. You are a writer; words are your persona. Choosing whether to use English vs American spelling will be a challenge. Decide which side of the pond you are targeting and don’t alternate. Writer and Editor Michelle Demers says, ‘At the end of the day, then, it is really about choice.’


Fact-check your articles

Check your facts. If you submit work with a minor error, the editor may overlook your transgression – once. Submit work regularly riddled with errors and you will be scrubbed from any professional editor’s register.


It is possible to earn a living from freelance writing if you are thorough, dependable and professional. That does not translate into boring; express your personality but maintain the polish. Look after your editors and they will look to you for regular input.


© Fran Weerts

Fran Weerts

Friends and family endorsed Fran Weerts’ ‘newsletters’ describing her travels to Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, which encouraged her to realise her goal of being published. In October 2015 Fran completed a course in The Basics of Feature Writing at SA Writers College. She has recently joined The SA Writers’ Circle. Her interest in art has led her to writing regular book, DVD reviews and artist profiles for The South African Artist Magazine.