Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer

I’ve not seen the first two, but this, the new and third edition of Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer by Moira Allen — editor and founder of Writing-World.com, one of the largest writers’ sites on the internet — is packed with invaluable information.

We start with some plain truths about the business: that it is a business, that it can be difficult, that rejection is inevitable, that it’s not an easy or automatic road to riches, that income can be slow to materialise, but that it is rewarding, satisfying, flexible, accessible and much more besides.

Allen sets out the prerequisites for success. She lists six — writing ability, business sense, motivation, perseverance, professionalism and discipline — and while I agree with these in principle, I actually think that you can be lacking in one or even two of these (such as writing ability, as I’ve argued before) and compensate with extra ‘servings’ of the others. We all have our own weaknesses, and the ability to adapt and play to our strengths can make the difference.

I liked the little section on procrastination. Allen avoids the prescriptive ‘don’t procrastinate’, and instead gives tips on managing what appears to be an inevitable dimension in any writer’s working life. She sees procrastination as a manifestation of either stress or boredom. Acknowledge the problem, and break a large task into doable mini-tasks, is one solution.

The chapter on Conducting Research on the Web was also excellent, and much needed: in my experience of tutoring new and upcoming writers, a common weakness is almost unquestioning credulousness at information online. “The internet offers just as much misinformation as information,” Allen reminds us, pointing out that even Wikipedia itself is aware of its own limits of trustworthiness. There is good advice on questioning the factual accuracy of material when in doubt — such as considering the agenda of the author, or whether they have anything to gain from their words to be taken on trust, or lose if exposed as lies.

The ‘extras’ Allen offers often distinguish her book from competitors’. I really liked ‘Nine Things to Leave Out of Your [cover] Letter’ — among which apologies and demands and ‘announcements of your unpublished status’ are particularly wise.

You can tell the writer behind this has injected a lot of thought into it over the years: it’s carefully planned, exhaustive, and underpinning all its wisdom is a life lived immersed in writing. This is a giving writer, with a wealth of experience, sharing her knowledge carefully and generously. All the topics you need are here, of course: rejection, copyright, contracts, payment, photography, copywriting. But there are subjects you might not expect too: social media content for businesses, for example, which rightly get their own chapter. Tweeting is still writing, after all.

No book is the be-all and end-all to make other books redundant. I’ve always recommended my students buy several different writing guides and writing books when they start off, and indulge in them fully, finding the ones that speak to them more clearly, and re-reading them throughout their early careers. Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer could well be one you return to again and again.

Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (3rd Edition) is published by Allworth Press on 16th January 2018, and is available via Amazon in print, and also in Kindle format

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