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8 Important Skills Every Freelance Writer Must Have

by Marianne Stenger
Posted: May 28, 2014

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Aside from writing ability, there are a number of other skills you will need as a freelance writer, and many of them actually have little to do with writing.

1. Attention to detail

As a freelancer, you will be pretty much on your own when it comes to proofreading and editing. You need to be able to spot any issues in your own writing before sending it to clients or publishing it through your own channels.

Sending out work that contains too many errors will greatly diminish your chances of being hired again, and publishing sloppy work on your own blog or website could tarnish your image as a writer.

Aside from this, you will likely be writing for a wide variety of publications, blogs and websites, each of which will have its own style and requirements. With this in mind, it’s important to have an eye for detail and an ability to follow specific instructions.  

2. Marketing and networking skills

A big part of your job as a freelance writer will be marketing yourself and your work, making new connections, and building up relationships with other industry professionals.

Learn to use social media to connect with your audience, editors and potential clients. Blogs can also be a good way to get noticed, as long as you’re consistently producing high quality content.

You also need to be able to promote your own writing, so an understanding of marketing concepts can go a long way. For example, knowing what keywords to use when writing about certain topics, and understanding how to formulate headlines that demand attention can be valuable skills to have.

3. Ability to generate ideas

Ideas are your bread and butter as a writer, so the ability to generate new ideas is an absolute must.

Most writers rarely set aside a specific time to sit down and come up with new ideas; they’re always on the lookout for anything that could lead to a good story.

Your own experiences can a valuable source of inspiration, but ideas can come from anywhere; whether you’re browsing the Web, reading comments on other articles, shopping for a new piece of technology or talking with a friend.  

4. Research skills

Research goes hand in hand with generating new ideas. Once you have a great idea for a story, you need to be able to carry out the necessary research to develop that idea into a complete article, book or marketing piece.

Research skills are also essential for double checking your facts, citing sources correctly, and backing up any claims you have made with facts and great examples.

Even if you aren’t an expert on a particular topic, you can still do it justice by asking the right questions, carrying out thorough research and talking to the right people.  

5. Adaptability

Adaptability is an important trait for a freelance writer to have, and one that is highly valued by clients and editors. Of course, it’s a good idea to have a specialty or niche, but you will greatly limit yourself if you never branch out and try something new.

Sometimes you will be asked write about topics that you have no insider knowledge of, or aren’t necessarily passionate about.

You will also need to be able to adopt different tones or styles for the publication or client you are working with, so it’s important not to get too stuck on one style of writing, or one topic that you enjoy covering.

6. Good communication

Even if you are a fantastic writer, you won’t get very far if you can’t communicate effectively with editors and clients.

You need to be able to pitch yourself and your ideas to editors, build up and maintain relationships with your clients, negotiate rates, and adapt your approach for each situation.

When working on any project, you will need to check in frequently, be open to criticism, listen to concerns, and communicate clearly about any issues or delays that may arise.

7. Time-management and organisational skills

Most people decide to start freelancing because they want more flexibility in their work life, but while you will be able to decide when and where you want to work, you also need to be pretty consistent about it.  

Deadlines will become a big part of your life, and you’ll often find yourself working on multiple projects for multiple clients at the same time, which will require some serious scheduling.

You also need to be able to estimate how long a job will take you to complete so that you can negotiate your rates accordingly.

In the beginning, you will probably often find yourself spending more time on projects than you anticipated, but as you get more experienced, you will get better at managing your time and setting rates that accurately reflect the effort you put in.

8. Tenacity and drive

Beginnings are always difficult, and building up a career as a freelance writer is no exception. If you don’t have tenacity, you will likely give up too soon and never realise your full potential.

The first few years will be all about making connections and building up relationships, and you will need to work hard to drum up enough business to survive.

Without tenacity and drive, you won’t be able to push through the tough times when you don’t have as much work as you would like or need, or don’t have a large enough client base to make writing your fulltime job.


Marianne Stenger

Marianne is a London-based freelance Writer and Journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central.

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