What exactly defines a successful writer- and, more specifically, a successful freelance writer? This question was generated by my blog post here about a commenter who said I must not be a successful writer if I had time to volunteer at my kids' schools.
The funny part is that being unable to volunteer was the catalyst for me leaving the office and establishing GardenWall Publications. I hated getting home after my husband and children. I hated missing kindergarten parties. I hated the amount of time my kids spent in before-school care, after-school care, and school. That's a long day! So, before one can say how to get to success, you have to say what success is. Obviously, my definition of success means only working while my kids are in school, except for occasional deadlines and special projects (but hey, as I type this at 4pm on a Tuesday, my daughter is sitting across from me in my office, singing.) We'll start there!
Define Your Success. You won't recognize success if you don't know what it even looks like. Is your success a certain amount of money per month? Is it the shortfall between your spouse's income and your bills? Between your current income and your desired income? Or, is your success something quite different- say, a byline in a magazine that you can find in the Walmart check out? Figure out what it is for you.
If you're stuck, consider this: Check out some writing blogs. Get on Twitter and see what other writers are trumpeting. If you have a moment of jealousy, envy or interest, follow it.
A couple years ago, one of my colleagues was talking about all the writing they did for nonprofits. I was jealous. I consider myself an expert on social justice and policy. I wanted to write for that audience. I put it on my "to do" list, and today I have a steady client whose message I can get behind.
Writing Success Through Learning
Keep Learning. Today's niche may not be as relevant or profitable as tomorrow's niche. Don't be afraid to take on that project that's a stretch. Read books. Spend time in the writing support section at Barnes and Noble. Or, browse our writing colleagues' websites and check out their ebooks- which are often free.
Writing Success Through Organization
Check out this article that details my organization and processes, and then establish some systems for yourself. Why? Because there's a glut of information out there. And because your TO DO list will never end. And because you might be like me- trying to make full time cash in part time hours. The only way to do that is to cut out the fat of life- get organized.
Writing Success is More Than One or Two Clients
Clients come and go. They want that kind of flexibility- that's why they hire freelancers instead of full timers. So, never bank everything on that one big client. Now, I'm not saying take on more work than you can handle. I'm saying that you should always have your feelers out. Which brings me to...
Market Your Way to Writing Success!
I've written about marketing extensively, and I'm just coming out of a couple years of intense teaching assignments, so my own marketing will ramp up soon. Marketing (as opposed to searching endlessly for freelance writing jobs) takes less time, seems to grab the bigger clients with the deeper pockets, and allows you to target effectively. I am constantly marketing, and you should be too.
Create a Web Of Successful Writers…and Others
And I don't mean a website. . .I mean a web of support, contacts, and help. You need people who want to hire you, people who want to tell others to hire you, people who want to learn from you, people you want to learn from, people who support your writing endeavors at home, and professional people (editors, colleagues) who support your writing endeavors out of the home. Whew. That list just exhausted me. How about you? Take a minute and see if you could name one person or group for each role.
If Writing Success is Linked to Pay. . .
If your definition of success is linked to pay, then you must establish your pay and stick to it. I've talked about setting rates quite often. It's much easier to do once you have a few projects under your belt.
Writing Success Takes Time
You need to guard the hell out of your writing time. I'm not kidding. Treat it like the precious resource it is, and teach others (children, clients) to do the same.
Writing Success Means Business Sense
Run your writing like a business- a small business- but a business nonetheless. Watch your money. Watch your time. Pay your taxes. Return customer's calls and emails. Be accountable and keep a business mind set.
Writing Success Is Long Term
Dory said to Just Keep Swimming. Trust Dory.