Freelance Writing: Fact or Fiction?

Revenant Publications

For many, freelance writing seems like a dream career. A lot of people consider it or jump into it thinking it’s a life full of flexibility and freedom. Many romanticize the idea of freelance writing and also have misconceptions about it.

I have freelanced for more than 10 years and know 100+ freelance writers, so I wanted to clear up some common misconceptions. Here are some freelance writing truths to help you decide if it’s right for you:

You have all the free time you want.

Fiction. To be a successful freelance writer, you actually have little to no free time. Your salary depends on how much you do, so it’s easy to work 60 hours a week. Because you are not a traditional salary employee, there’s a constant pressure to produce as much work as possible. Our free time depends on our workload. Some weeks we have it, other weeks we don’t.

You make a lot of money.

Depends. At first, you won’t make much because you have to build a client base. Once you have a client base, you have to adjust how much work you take and who you work for. Some companies pay $1K for a feature; some pay $200. If you’re new to the industry, you’ll probably land the $200 clients. So, if you want to make $30K a year, you have to take 150 features at $200. That’s roughly 13 features a month.

You set your own schedule.

Fact. Freelance writers can usually set their own schedule, but keep this in mind: we work a lot. Sure, we can take two hours to go to lunch or run errands, but we pay for it later. Many of us don’t work 8-5. Some of us have full-time jobs during those hours. Our days range from 8 hours to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, depending on workload and deadlines.

You meet new people.

Fact. Whether it’s through email, phone or in person, you make a lot of good connections. I’ve worked with people all over the country and most have been wonderful. I’ve been invited to events, lunch, offered free accommodations, and more. You also learn about new industries, people, and cultures. Fun tip: If you’re writing for a Southern client, it helps to have a Southern accent so you understand each other.

It’s easy.

Fiction. Some people think because we work from home and “set our schedule” we have it easy. I challenge those people to take an assignment. When you work from home, you never get a break. You have to balance work and home life 24/7. Also, try writing fours hours a day, every day, for one week (28 hours worth). Speaking from experience, there’s only so much writing a person can do before they get stuck. That amount depends on the writer.

You write about different topics.

Fact. Once you have a client base, you will probably write about different topics. In one week, you could write about news, arts and culture, health care, and politics. The variation keeps things interesting, and it helps you master the art of changing gears. You also learn to tailor your writing skills based on client guidelines and needs.

You have to pay your own taxes.

Fact. Most employers who hire freelancers do not take out taxes. That means you receive all of your income, so you have to take it out yourself. You must be financially responsible and save all year. A good base to save is 25-30 percent of your income. For example, if you make $30K a year, you need to pull out $7K to $9K. Depending on your situation, you can deduct some expenses, but it’s best to pull out a higher amount and budget wisely.

Is it worth it?

Depends. I love taking freelance projects. Most of my freelance friends love their jobs. We’re not confined to a cubical all day. We don’t have a traditional office environment with the politics and bs. Freelancers can work from anywhere. We don’t deal with traffic much and control our workload. To be a successful freelance writer takes discipline and hard work. It’s a career like all others. If you love what you do, then it’s worth it.

7 Tips to Defeat Writer’s Block

This morning I sat down to write my post – because I love writing with coffee on Sunday mornings – and when I did, I just sat here staring at a blank document. I cruised through Facebook, looked at old posts, tried to pick a topic, and drew a total blank. Nothing.

writers block
Alyssa L. Miller

Well, here I am. While trying to pick a topic, I realized I have a little block. And boom! Here is my topic for the week. When you have a problem, the best thing to do is work through it, so we’re going to work through my temporary writer’s block and give you some tips on how to overcome your own.

1. Take a break.
I have written several posts about taking a break, staying sane, etc. This tips will always top the list. Whether you take frequent 10-minute breaks or a day off, walking away helps. I have decided I am going to do more physically creative things today and break from writing. I have two artsy projects I’m working on, so that’s where I will focus my energy today.

2. Flip your schedule.
I’m a night owl, but I write better in the morning. I can’t always crank it out before 9 a.m. though. Today, I’m going to write this afternoon, and see if a schedule change helps the words flow more easily. Changing things up will help break any habits that may stifle creativity.

3. Know your habits.
I try to crank out as much as possible before noon and maintain a routine. I’m aware of my habits, when I’m most productive, and what I need to write. Sometimes I need absolute silence, sometimes I need the T.V. on, sometimes music. Knowing your habits and giving yourself what you need ensures you’re always in the right environment to work.

4. Change topics.
Recently, I changed jobs and I write a lot more. My problem this morning was that I have focused so much on work topics, I couldn’t think of a good post for RevPub. I decided to make it more personal and write about a topic we’ve never covered. And this post is the result. Try writing something new to you – a poem, short story, article, etc. – and see what you create!

5. Read.
In today’s tech world, we skim, not read. Try sitting down and reading a magazine, a few chapters in a book, articles, or something from a favorite author. Good writing often recharges me and makes me want to write something as good or better.

6. Treat yourself.
We work hard, so reward yourself. If you love Starbucks, then go get a latte. If you love chocolate, books, toys, clothes, or video games, then go buy something. Treating yourself will perk you up and help regain confidence, so you can get back to writing.

7. Try something new.
A fun activity may spark a new interest and lead to new ideas. Try a free online course, something outside like ziplining, or calling someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Maybe try a new recipe for dinner or picking up a new hobby. Something new creates excitement that will carry over into your work.

Thanks for hanging in there this morning, and I hope these tips help you as well. Happy writing, and feel free to share your tips below!

Plagiarism: Just Don’t Do It

plagiarism cartoon
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Earlier this week I was surfing the Web and came across a fellow blogger who has been accused of plagiarism because guest bloggers on his site plagiarized content. After feeling defeated he said he would no longer blog, but thankfully has since changed his mind and is active again. More than 50,000 people follow this guy…

This infuriated me. This blogger who uses it to relieve stress and express himself was put in the position to give up something he loves because someone plagiarized – the fancy word for stealing someone else’s work.

So how does one plagiarize?

It’s really not that difficult to understand. If someone else said, wrote, painted, sang, created, etc…something, and you try to claim it as your own, you have plagiarized. If you used it in any way without permission from the creator, or if they allow permission, but you do not credit them, it’s plagiarism.

No Plagiarism
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What’s the big deal?

Those who create things – writers, photographers, illustrators, designers, programmers, musicians, anyone considered an artist – work HARD to create things and usually pour their heart into it. It’s just wrong, and why would you steal from some random stranger who’s never done anything to you?

People can also get sued or in serious trouble, hence the copyright laws and usage. There’s a reason people put the © symbol on their creations. It’s a way of saying this is mine, and in my professional world, if you violate it, you’re gone. Do not pass go. You know where the door is.

It’s a violation and insulting. My biggest problem is that most people don’t think about it or care. If it’s on the Internet, it’s fair usage. Wrong. Other people are intentionally trying to cause harm, and karma will find those people one day.

How to avoid it:

  1. Credit everything you use. Photos, quotes, copy, everything. If you did not create it, it belongs to someone else.
  2. Don’t try it. Those of us who know what to look for, look for it. We know if it doesn’t sound right, and a quick Google search will confirm or deny it. It takes 5 seconds.
  3. Respect the creator(s). Most of us don’t mind you using our stuff with credit. There’s a lot of awesome stuff out there, and it should be shared. However, respect the people who put in the time and hard work.
  4. If you can’t create something, try harder. For example, maybe you think you’re terrible writer, so you decide to “borrow” someone else’s writing. Stop. It’s lazy. If you feel that way, do what’s necessary to make it better. Take a class, send it to a trusted proofreader or friend, read books on improving your writing, practice. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but by the end of it, you’ll be a better writer and have self-respect.
  5. If you’re unsure if it’s plagiarism, it probably is. Better to be safe than sorry, so ask for permission and reread No. 1. There are also great sites that check for plagiarism, and there’s no shame in checking! Try: Grammarly’s.

Feel free to share your thoughts about plagiarism in the comments section below!

Writing Inspiration: Siblings

sibling quote
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With the holidays coming to a screeching halt, I felt it was time to take a break and get away from the season. We’ve often discussed inspiration and certain things that spark great stories. This week, I’ve been thinking about siblings, their importance, and how they inspire us to be better writers and people.

Our brothers and sisters, blood relatives or not, can help motivate us in ways no one else can. I’m fortunate to have two younger brothers, one 6 years younger and one 12 years younger, and they each add something special to my life. One is more introverted and sarcastic, but his passion for the things and people he loves is contagious. The other is more outgoing and sensitive, but his drive to succeed makes even me jealous. Both are very bright, talented guys who will go far in life.

The Perks

When recently talking to a friend about her sibling she said, “Your sibling is the only person who really understands you and your faults. They know how you were raised and where you came from, and there’s no judgment. Even though we [her and her older brother] are complete opposites in most ways, it’s that foundation and those differences that bring us together … the jabs, the sparring make it fun.”

I couldn’t have said it better. My brothers and I fought when we were younger, but thankfully we have a bond stronger than ever as adults. We are alike and different in many ways, but we were raised similarly. I had it a little harder being the oldest, but it made me who I am today, and I would not trade anything for that. They understand where I’ve come from and who I am, and seldom question my decisions, even when the rest of the world does. We don’t always agree, but we’re always there for one another.

People in a sibling role can remember those little details you forget, making for great stories. They can be a great source when writing because sometimes you have the memory but not the details. I remember one brother acting out The Mask and Aladdin in almost their entirety. I remember the other one dumping an entire case of fundraiser M&Ms and mixing it with baking soda and dish washing liquid when I was supposed to be babysitting him. I got into so much trouble for that …

Helping raise my younger siblings also made me a better mom. I had already changed diapers, rocked a little one to sleep, cleaned up various bodily fluids, and so on, so when it came time for me to have my own, I was somewhat prepared. Over the years, they have become my safe haven at family reunions and holiday functions, and help break the ice when things get uncomfortable in social events. And things always get uncomfortable. As the oldest, I want to set a good example, and I want them to know they can do anything they set their mind to. They help fuel the desire to be a better person.

What If You Don’t Have a Sibling?

My friend also said she was sad she had an only child because her daughter wouldn’t experience the sibling bond. I disagree. I believe you can have a sibling-type person in your life – the kind of friend you’ve grown up or maybe even a close roommate. The kind of friends who get you, the ones who are always there, and you may not always see eye-to-eye, but you know if you need them, they’re there. That’s what it’s about.

This week, try to write a story about your sibling or a person who is like a sibling to you. If you don’t have such a person, pick the person who you fight with the most but still love unconditionally. That sums up most sibling relationships (wink, wink). And if you have an estranged sibling, maybe consider reaching out. As a new year approaches, it may be time to take the step and see what happens. Happy writing!

10 Script Writing Tips

Earlier this year, the RevPub team volunteered to read scripts for a local film festival’s screenwriting competition. As we approach our second year as readers, I wanted to share some things I learned about screenwriting while reading the good, the bad, and the ugly.

1. Keep it simple. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t overcrowd your story with too many characters, locations, or plots. Think about some of the best movies and what makes them the best. Most good movies focus on one or two main characters and a handful of minor characters, and their story.

2. Don’t describe the characters in great detail. This is what the crew is for. The casting director will pick who plays what, the costume designer will dress them, the actors will bring the characters to life. Only mention physical appearance if it’s essential to the story.

3. Select a central location and work around that area. Scripts that bounce from place to place drive me nuts. It’s hard to remember where the characters are and why they are there. Pick a central location, and use the area around it, but try to stay central. For example, if it’s set in a school, keep it at the school – not the school and all the kids’ homes.

4. Start with a bang. Scripts that set the scene for paragraphs on end will bore the reader. Begin the script with action or something interesting that immediately grabs the reader. Set design will create a scene, so you don’t have to ramble about what it looks like. If it’s a forest, for example, just say a forest. We know what a forest looks like.

5. No stupid dialogue. I cannot tell you how many times I groaned reading dialogue. Dialogue should move the story along, not slow it down. The things said should be important for character and plot development, and each character should have their own voice. Keep it conversational, but make sure what they say is important to the plot.

6. Remember everything matters. I once had a professor say everything in a movie had a purpose. As I’ve watched movies since then, I realized he was right. Every prop has a purpose. Every character needs a reason to be there. Every word should serve a purpose and not just fill space.

7. Avoid adjectives and adverbs. One of the worst lines I read was “[Katie] flings her dainty wrists haughtily.” Enough said.

8. Balance dialogue and narrative. The best writers used both and not equally. It depends on the story, and both are important. Make sure you aren’t rambling on or slowing down the story with either.

9. Have people read it. Give it to your friends and family before finalizing it. Have them read the first 20 or 30 pages, and get their feedback. If you’re on the right track at 20 pages, the rest should be fine. Also, have a proofreader read it to ensure correct spelling and grammar – these errors can distract the reader and show the writer doesn’t care enough to fix the little things, so they probably won’t accept feedback well.

10. Have fun! Have fun writing, and let your story come to life.

If You Want to Write: Wrap Up

We’ve reached the end of the If You Want to Write series. For a small book, there’s a lot to discuss and learn, and hopefully, we’ll become better writers from it. Not better in terms of quality, but better in the sense that we are more true to ourselves.

In the final chapter, Ueland lists 12 things we should keep in mind while writing. I picked my favorite five:

1. Know you are talented, original, and have something important to say.
Many of us struggle with this. We doubt ourselves and our abilities, but if we work hard and stick with it, there’s no limit to what we can do.

2. Work is good.
People tell me I’m crazy because I enjoy working. I’m not a workaholic; I know when to take a break, but I do enjoy working. It always pays off one way or another, and it beats watching TV all the time. Also, we should love what we do, and if not, we need to change something. We spend too much time working to hate it.

3. Don’t be afraid of writing bad stories.
I love this advice. Ueland says in order to know what’s wrong with a story, write two or three more and go back to the first. “Good” writers learn from their mistakes and work to fix them. And it doesn’t matter if people like it – write for you.

4. Don’t be afraid of yourself.
We all have demons, baggage, hang-ups, whatever. We all get in our own heads and may be afraid of what we’ll find if we open up. People may judge us. None of it matters. Be whoever you want to be, and let those emotions pour out. At the very least, you’ll feel better.

5. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Ueland says because we are all unique, we are incomparable. We should not criticize because they do not write like we do. We should not question ourselves because someone is better. We should stay true to ourselves and our art.

If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit digs deep into the emotion it takes to write passionately. Ueland encourages us to write with honesty and love ourselves. With that, here is a poem I dug up. Can you guess what it’s about? 🙂

My eyes burn, heavy lids
eyelashes itch, dry skin peels.
Muscles ache, hunched
wrinkled hands, cracked.
Jaws clinched, I bite
my lower lip.
The day is done,
what do I do?
Complain about the day’s past.
A line appears across my forehead,
but what’s the point?
Another day gone by,
another eight hours done.
What is the point?

If you haven’t bought the book, check it out, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts. May it inspire all artists!