What are you going to write?
This is probably the biggest question (and the biggest hurdle) for a professional freelance writer initially. When you’re an amateur, it doesn’t matter what you write. You write whenever you feel the urge, and you write whatever strikes your fancy. It’s all about you, love.
If you’re in business as a writer, you can’t afford to be self-indulgent. You have a job to do, and an audience to keep in mind. Additionally, you’re not going to be able to write anything and everything equally well. Specialization is necessary if you want to be good at what you do, and have people hire you and pay you money to write.
This part of the business plan can be compared to the executive summary of a business plan for a standard business. You are the executive. How are you going to present yourself to your market?
Begin by listing your background. What kinds of writing have you done? What kind of education do you have that would contribute to your writing skills? Don’t leave anything out at this point. Include the short story that won you movie tickets in the tenth grade. The short play that’s gathering dust in a drawer should be on there too. List your straight A’s in high school English classes, and how they raved over your deep and profound understanding of Romeo and Juliet. You’re taking inventory now of what you’ve actually accomplished. Make it a page or two, but no longer. You’re going into the business of writing, so practice selling yourself to yourself.
While you’re doing this, think about what you’ve done, and what particular style of writing you feel drawn to the most. You may feel yourself being tugged in one direction or another. Follow that tug when you’re deciding about what to specialize in. You can always change your mind later, but pick something now.
What kind of writing business most appeals to you?
Nonfiction historical research?
There’s many more areas available than this, and freelance writers can make a living doing any of these. Maybe a lot of these specialties are appealing to you, but each has a different set of business rules and guidelines for submission, different skills that are required, and different pitfalls to watch out for.
An amateur will dip his or her toe happily into each area as they choose. If you’re going to be good at and make money at freelance writing, sooner or later you’ll have to discipline yourself and specialize down to two or three kinds of writing at the most. Was Neil Simon famous for novels? Was Stephen King or John Grisham the world’s best newsletter writers? Hopefully you get the point. Each of them specialized, and they became the best at the particular kind of writing they did.
Choose one area to begin with, and make a plan to follow it out for a certain period of time. You could plan to write and market novels for one year, or plays for two years. You can’t see the future, of course. More business research will be required to find your niche. You may find that when you thought you loved blogging, what you really loved was educational self-help writing for magazines.
You’re not stuck forever, so don’t take too long to decide. At some point, you’ll have to stop and evaluate how you feel about what you’re doing, and how it’s working for you. Until then, promise yourself you’ll do everything you can to be successful, and you’ll give it all you’ve got. Give your new business a great part-time push if part-time is all you can spare.
The Power of Momentum
Put the power of concentrated effort in your corner, and your freelance writing will start to build momentum. One 2,000-word article a week is fifty-two articles in one year. One blog a day becomes 365 blog entries in one year. Five pages of screenplay per day become approximately fifteen full-length screenplays written in a single year. Five pages of novel a day becomes a massive 1,800 page tome (or several smaller books). Talk about impressive!
Don’t try to do a little blogging and a little bit of novel and a little bit of newspaper stories. You’ll have a lot of freelance work done at the end of one year, but no one will be impressed. Pick one area and stick to it, and your momentum will build. Your reputation will grow, and your asking price along with it.
Don’t worry that you’ll never be able to write poetry if you choose technical writing as a vocation. There will always be the odd poem or two that will strike. You can write it down in your spare time, but the lion’s share of your writing must be in technical manuals if you want to succeed as a freelance technical writer.
In the next section, we’ll discuss the green stuff and how to plan regarding your future financial needs and wants as a writer and business owner.