Lessons Learned as an Online Freelance Writer

| March 25, 2010

There are tons of self-help books, ebooks and blogs on how to become a successful freelance writer. I’ve read a few of them and I guess I’ll never make it big as a freelance writer.

Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s because I no longer feel the need to prove myself, or maybe it’s because it took me too many years to find my authentic self. What ever it is, it’s amazing that I earn anything online.

Dredging up History Again

Once upon a time, when I first started this online writing stuff, I wrote for up front pay. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I wrote 300 word articles for $5 each. A mere pittance, but my lack of confidence, inexperience with the new internet media and being brand new to freelance writing all contributed to my accepting such a low pay rate.

It All Happens for a Reason

In my first freelance writing gig I was given a few keywords and was instructed to write 300 word articles incorporating the keywords. They didn’t use the term ‘keywords’ but now as I look back, I realize they were keywords (Back then I didn’t even know what SEO was).

I had to complete the articles in batches of 5, submit them, and once they were approved I received $25 in my PayPal account. They paid once a week. After the first two batches they decided to give me a huge spreadsheet of keywords and asked me to submit articles in batches of 5 as often as I could.

Oh Those Boring Keywords

Initially I was thrilled because someone was willing to pay me to write in a non 9-5 environment. After a few batches they increased my pay to $6 an article. I continued to spit out 5 articles at a time (the topics were boring so I only wrote 10 articles a week). They liked the work and asked if I would write more, but I pretty much told them that the topics were so boring that I couldn’t stomach more than 10 a week.

Lesson# 1: If I don’t like it, I’m not going to do it, no matter what the price.

Spin, Spin and More Spin

During this time I learned about spin. No, I’m not talking about the spin that newscasters and politicians put on a news story. I’m talking about spinning the same tired keywords several times to make anywhere from 5 to 10 completely different engaging articles. I hated every minute of it but I learned another lesson.

Lesson #2: No matter how unpleasant, I learned the knack for spinning tired keywords over and over again (kind of like reinventing leftovers).


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1, 2, 3 Which Shall it Be?

Before landing the ‘lucrative’ $5 gig, I had my own websites. I never made money with them because I didn’t know about Google AdSense and placing ads on the sites.

Since the sites were mine, I wrote in a very relaxed fashion, usually first or second person. I wrote about anything and everything that was interesting to me. I’s and You’s were all over the place. That came to a screeching halt when I signed up for Suite 101. At first I wrote in the second person but later found that they required third person articles.

It took me longer to write in the third person, but I did it and continue to do it. I figured that if I could write about tired keywords for $6 and spin the same keywords until they begged for mercy, I could also adapt to writing in the third person.

Lesson #3: If there were a 4th, 5th and 6th person perspective, I’d master that too.

More Boring Keywords

My stint with Suite landed me a somewhat lucrative writing assignment. All I had to do was write 10 articles a month on the topic of insurance and I would earn $80 per article. That’s an additional $800 a month writing on insurance.

My desire/need for money said “Do it, do it,” but my stomach said “Just say no.” So, what did I do? Well, my mind said yes and my stomach said no. I ended up having to bow out of the assignment because every time I sat down to write an article I got knots in my stomach (the same knots I got when I wrote the $6 articles…as a matter of fact, they were the same knots I had in my stomach when I had my last high-paying 9-5 job).

Lesson #4: Same as lesson number 1. I guess if I had truly learned my lesson back on # 1 I wouldn’t have to list lesson # 4.

Residual to the Rescue

Residual writing saved me. The ability to earn residual income has done much to eliminate the stomach knots.You see,  I have a strong case of work-aversion-itis and am mentally unemployable .  That means I have a difficult time with deadlines and writing on topics that are forced upon me.

Up front pay is wonderful, and when I can stomach it, I do it. However, in reviewing my many years of work experience, I find that I seem to be allergic to work, deadlines and those awful money making keywords. It’s amazing that I make any money at all online as a freelance writer. I guess if you stick with anything long enough, the money will come.

Lesson # 5: When you set it up right, you’ll be able to work with nature, not against it.

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Category: Blog, Earning Money, Education, Freelance, Motivation, Residual Income, Skills, Working from Home, Writing

About the Author ()

Felicia A. Williams is a freelance writer and blogger. She spends the majority of her time with her family and writing. If she's not writing or commenting on NJFM, she's either outside smelling the roses or writing articles for one of her other sites.

Comments (9)

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  1. Lisa says:

    The best thing about writing from home as a freelance writer is that I have an opportunity to work (as an independent contract writer) with many companies at the same time so if one is not busy I take projects from another one etc. That way I’m always busy and can still work on my own pace and schedule.

  2. Great post. I hear you on the being unemployable 9 to 5 anymore. There’s just something mentally in me now after years of the “soul crushing” jobs I just don’t think I can go back to the office jobs. I think the lesson about re-learning your lessons over and over is a huge one. It’s human nature to let your head override your instincts, and it’s almost always a bad idea. Been there, done that, and I’m sure that at some point I’ll make that writing mistake again 🙂 Good post.
    .-= Master Dayton´s last blog ..Demand Studios Review =-.

  3. Beelissa says:

    Felicia,

    I think everyone’s different. I see I have two very different preferences than you do. I struggle to come up with topics to write about, and find it easier to write when the title is supplied (even stupid ones — last week I wrote about whether or not you should can spaghetti squash. It took me about 10 minutes and I earned $7.50. You can also freeze spiral ham. Another $7.50.

    Also, I find the “voice” thing very hard. I write for Suite 101 and I *hate* the 3rd person thing. As I write more articles for them, I realize maybe I don’t really want to, so much. I re-read it and realize that there’s at least implied 2nd person in there all over the place.

    I’d rather tell you how to preserve your spaghetti squash (bottom line, cook it, then freeze it) than write about how a prudent housewife can do it.

    I enjoyed your post, and I think you’re right about having confidence in yourself.
    .-= Beelissa´s last blog ..New Year’s Resolution =-.

    • Felicia says:

      Beelissa, thanks for sharing your perspective.

      That’s the great thing about online writing. There’s something for everyone.

      You have a point about writing in the third person. Although I do it, it’s not my preferred voice. But, I guess we do what we gotta do to keep the money coming in. 🙂

  4. Shannon says:

    I admire your honesty, Felicia, and you definitely show the wisdom and self-acceptance that comes with time. Age? Bah. Just a number. I call it simply “experience”.

    Some of us are at the earliest stages of creating residual income, like me … and like you once were. It’s people like you who help to light our path so we can avoid mistakes. It’s tough to get motivated at this level, but you keep inspiring me and many others to … (forgive the unintentional Bushism, sorry) “stay the course”! 🙂
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Dieting? Don’t Be Fooled by FullBar =-.

  5. Netlexis says:

    Know those feelings well and hoping I learn the lessons, too.
    .-= Netlexis´s last blog ..Is Your Online Writing Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full? =-.

  6. Deborah says:

    Felicia,

    Your post is once again inspiring. You were the one that originally got me into the idea of freelance writing. I have to admit, like you, that I did write some pretty boring articles. I never wrote $5 articles…but I’ve done plenty in the $10-$15 range.

    It’s ironic to me that you mention reading books on freelancing. I finally caved and bought a copy of the Well Fed Writer and I am doing all that I can to try to get bigger, better projects. What led me to this was a huge let down. I was contacted by a major NPO to write articles for them once a week. I needed more steady work so I accepted. I told the guy I was going to be on the plane the next day and he calls me while I am on the plane (some people are just not very bright…). Needless to say, I call him back the day that I promised I would at the time that we had both agreed upon, and the guy rushes me off of the phone and I’ve never heard a peep back.

    This led me to a frightening realization; I need a big client like an NPO to provide steady work otherwise I’m going to be stuck with the “fighting for scraps” crowd (the ones that compete for $5-$20 per article; not worth it in my mind). After reading the book, I felt more confident in my ability to break into corporate writing and that is something that I am working on as we speak.

    Since the key to life is balance, I want to continue earning both residual and up-front pay. Since writing is my career and I love it, I will be searching for more good opportunities each day. I just wanted to say that you’re blog really inspired me to take some very important steps (like joining Suite and eHow) and I am happily increasing my monthly earnings. Slow and steady is the way to go! 🙂
    .-= Deborah´s last blog ..WordPress Themes =-.

  7. Deanna says:

    I love this post – you sound just like me! I’ve written many boring articles in my day for customers who were concerned more with keywords than content. It may just be me, but I like the content part of an article – forget the keywords. But like you, I was doing it for the up-front money. I have also declined lucrative offers for freelance writing jobs when I just couldn’t stand the thought of writing the articles that were requested. If the topic is boring, what fun is it to write? And if I can’t enjoy writing, then I may as well give it up. Luckily there are places where I can write what I love and earn money. I’ll stick to those and leave those other articles to writers who don’t mind being bored.
    .-= Deanna´s last blog ..How are Your EHow Earnings Doing This Month? =-.

  8. Grandma says:

    I know the “gut feeling” of taking on a project you really do not want to do, even if it pays good. New freelancers probably feel a little forced to do it. Doing something and getting paid something is better than nothing – unless the trade off in time and dislike absolutely makes one barf or want to.

    One way to look at the lower paying jobs is to call it practice and a chance to improve skills. If, however, one hurries through the job based on dislike and an aversion to low pay, the finished product will be crappy and not worth the time or the pay. In that case, it is better to not take that job. Also, a writer does not improve by putting out poor quality work.

    Why would a new writer who lacks skills and can’t cut a comma believe they should be paid more? (Not that this is every new writer’s skill level) When a writer is good, they (he, she, one, the writer) will be paid better and get better offers.

    A writer who improves in skill and experience will move up to better jobs and better pay. It’s just like any other career path.

    Excellent tips on writing for money. Residuals are a wonderful opportunity to work smarter. Look at each article as a little employee out there working for you. You do not have to pay that employee. It is almost a bit like being the one who puts out the low pay articles for lower skill writers…the job gets done and someone else gets the money.

    Isn’t that a lot like being a great secretary who does all the work but the boss gets all the pay? (Why I prefer working for myself)