1. Writing is a solitary process.
Though we commonly see writing as a lonely pursuit meant for introverts, it would be a mistake to undervalue how much writers need community. Yes, writing requires you to spend a good chunk of time being alone. But it also requires a solid group of friends, mentors, and fellow artists who understand your struggles, and keep you feeling motivated. When I first started freelance writing, I underestimated how much I would need that community in order to stay encouraged and healthy.
2. You learn the most by reading good writing.
While I have definitely learned a ton by reading the work of writers I admire, I think I’ve actually learned equally as much by reading bad writing. The mistakes other people make is far more valuable than their successes. I’ve learned a lot from looking at a piece I dislike and asking myself why it wasn’t working, instead of only looking at great pieces and reflecting about when it is.
3. If you can’t handle the rejection and failure, you’re not meant for this kind of work.
Every month I go through the process of researching a story idea I deeply care about, wording it precisely in a way that gets editors excited, and then promptly having that editor reject it simply with a “Sorry. Not for us.”
Over time, it hurts less. I take less of it personally. Over time, I’ve also become more efficient at crafting several story ideas in a shorter amount of time. But what hasn’t necessarily gone away: the energy I need to endure this process to begin with.
People rarely have to face debilitating fear in their daily work. It’s important to remember that as an online writer, your job now requires you to confront fear multiple times a week.
As a freelance writer, it was important to acknowledge to myself that my work is not only about the time it takes to complete something, but also about the emotional energy it requires. It takes emotional energy to tackle an issue you’re passionate about, write about it in the most honest and vulnerable way possible, and then try to sell that vulnerable, honest writing to an editor you’ve never even met.
Forgive yourself if after a few rejections, you’re a bit worn out. That doesn’t mean you’re not cut out for the work. Instead, I’ve realized that the emotional exhaustion that comes with rejection is yet another natural part of the writing process.
4. You can’t publish something until it feels 100% done.
When I first started writing, I felt limited to writing only about experiences in my life that felt entirely resolved. I thought writers weren’t allowed to write until they were absolutely sure of something, and there was no possibility they’d change their mind. But over time, I realized that even the most experienced writers write pieces later on in their career that re-frame or even contradict opinions and viewpoints they had before.
It’s not your responsibility as a writer to reveal emotions and thoughts you can’t even understand yet. The more I continue writing, the more I have learned to accept that many pieces from my past I will look back on and want to change. But that doesn’t mean those pieces should have never been published. Instead, it’s more productive and healthy to understand that this is all part of the process of writing to begin with.
5. Getting published in a prestigious publication is the only way you’ll feel fulfilled.
I entered freelance writing only looking to work for blogs and online media. When the pay and opportunity for that was scarce, I began working as a content strategist and helped nonprofit organizations document the story of their work. At first, I used this as my financial “safety net” while I pursued other writing work that couldn’t keep me afloat on its own. But overtime, it turned out to be some of the most fulfilling work I’ve done. I realized that, ultimately, both writing for an online publication and writing for a nonprofit achieve the same goals I was passionate about. Both jobs are creative-based. Both find ways to document and share meaningful ideas. Both jobs end with a final product that has the power to create significant change.
The experience made me realize that freelance writers can write meaningfully outside of just online magazines and blogs. At this point in my career, I’m now happy to do both kinds of work.