Freelance Article Writing: Are You Cut Out for the Gig?

The growing number of freelance websites and authors online might lead many to believe that it’s relatively easy to set up a successful career in writing articles on a freelance basis. But that could not be further from the truth: like any occupation — be it online or off — freelance writing requires a good amount of skill in order for a person to turn it from a hobby or an aspiration into a lucrative and stable career. And while this might not be an uplifting statement, it certainly is a true one: not everyone has what it takes.

So, do you?

Easier than Writing a Novel, Sure

Most of the people who will succeed in freelance writing are the types of people who probably once aspired to writing their own book or series of novels — perhaps they still do. The bad news for these individuals is that freelance writing is not a novel, and it’s not even close to the level of writing that a novel would require. The good news, conversely, is that it is far easier to write a freelance article, have it published, and get paid, than it is to go through the same process with a book and a traditional publishing company.

But writing freelance articles is no walk in the park, and writers will have to have a real talent for the English language and the grammar rules that keep it in check. Failing this — or the possession of any writing talent at all –it will be hard to make anything more than secondary income. Businesses and editors know what they like, know what they need, and they know which writers are talented enough to give it to them. If you’re not one of those writers, making a solid income via freelance article writing will be nearly impossible.

The Skills Required for Success

By now, you’re probably wondering just what the skill set is which leads to the greatest chance of success in the freelance writing industry. The skills are a pretty basic list of things to know and excel in, though actually knowing them and putting them to use is a challenge for many of the less-talented writers out there. Here’s what you need to know to make the dough:

  1. Grammar
    The talented writer might think this goes without saying, but they’d be wrong: a freelance aspirant needs to have an absolutely firm handle on nearly every widely-accepted grammar rule. This ranges from knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” to things like knowing where to place commas, knowing when a semicolon is better than a period, and knowing when to cleverly break a grammar rule in order to drive home a point or a sales pitch.
  2. Be Clever and Engaging
    The freelance writer who can make the most money in the field is the writer who can turn mundane subjects into engaging articles which keep customers reading until the very last paragraph. That doesn’t mean including lots of exclamation points and needlessly short sentences, but it does mean writing in a way which lends one paragraph to the next until the point — or marketing angle — has been effectively hammered home.
  3. Research Abilities
    It’s likely that you’ll eventually end up writing on a topic that is completely outside your realm of knowledge. Each article is an earning opportunity as well as a learning opportunity, so be prepared to do an adequate amount of research in order to complete the article and contribute to your next paycheck. Have a firm understanding of acceptable sources — news sites, universities, online encyclopedias — as well as those which should be left out (blogs, anyone?).
  4. Salesmanship
    Many of the freelance articles you’ll be asked to write will essentially be marketing pieces. These articles may require strong sales copy and a marketing pitch, or they may simply require a set of facts structured around keywords which will engage a search engine like Google. No matter what the angle is, you need to know how to sell a product effectively, and persuade customers to learn more, without sounding as receptive and transparent as an infomercial salesman on late night television.
  5. Interesting Prose
    Remember that you’re not writing a research paper — even if the article you’re working on requires a fair bit of investigation. The successful freelance writer can mix a little flair in with their good grammar and their sales pitch, and create an article that is both persuasive and engaging.

But You Probably Knew That…

The fact is, most freelance writers pursue the occupation because they know they’re good at writing, and they know that a strong career in freelancing can help further their ultimate career goals in the profession. So it’s likely that these skills are something already learned, and already known. But for those with a looser understanding and proficiency in the five rules mentioned above, it might be time to consider furthering your skills before your further your career in this field.