Top 10 Traits of Successful Freelance Writers

A panel of BC magazine editors described the top 10 qualities of good freelance writers, in a writers conference at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. Here’s what they said…

Are you struggling to make money as a freelance writer? Read The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Commercial Freelancer in Six Months or Less by Peter Bowerman. The more you learn about the business of freelance writing, the more professional you’ll be. If you want to work as a freelance writer, you need to remember — above all else — that writing is a business, and you are an entrepreneur.

Before jumping into the top 10 qualities of a freelance writer, think about this quip from A.A. Milne: “Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being.”

Collecting money and fame as a writer is a lofty goal…but what’s the point of having goals if they aren’t lofty, hmmm? The trick is to make sure your goals are achievable …and making money as a freelance writer is an achievable goal. To build a stronger, more profitable freelancing career,

And, here are ten traits that will keep those writing gigs rolling in…

Top 10 Traits of Successful Freelance Writers

The BC Association of Magazine Writers hosts an annual Writers Craft Fair at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. I’ve been thrilled to attend as a blogging panelist since the beginning, and really enjoyed the “What Magazine Editors Want” session last time.

When I asked the editors what specific qualities they notice in their top freelancers, they said…

1. A strong work ethic. A work ethic is “a set of values based on hard work and diligence. It is also a belief in the moral benefit of work and its ability to enhance character…A work ethic may include being reliable, having initiative, or maintaining social skills,” says Wikipedia. “Workers exhibiting a good work ethic in theory (and ideally in practice) should be selected for better positions, more responsibility and ultimately promotion. Employees who fail to exhibit a good work ethic may be regarded as failing to provide fair value for the wage the employer is paying them and should not be promoted or placed in positions of greater responsibility.”

As a freelance writer, are you really worth $50 an hour or $2 a word? Be honest with yourself. If you’re still climbing the ladder, spend time building a strong freelance writing career.

2. Well connected – good access to sources. If you’re a health writer, do you have access to reliable, impressive medical sources and good research sites? If you’re a celebrity writer, can you contact the A-list celebrities or movie stars – or their assistants or agents, at least? The second most important quality of working freelance writers is access to sources — because without sources, there’s no story.

Sign up for my free weekly "She Blossoms" newsletter

One Blossom Tip a week. Short and sweet. You'll love it.

* indicates required

3. Diligent, gracious, and hard-working. This is another way to say “strong work ethic”, which is the top quality of working freelance writers. Obviously, the magazine editors on this panel are ga-ga over freelancers who are reliable, hardworking, and responsible!

4. Humble. Freelancers who want to keep the writing gigs rolling in need to be modest. Accept editorial direction and feedback as part of your job as a writer (because it is part of your job as a writer!).

5. Detail oriented – no flabby writing. Note that “good writing skills” didn’t surface until the “hard worker” and “good employee” qualities were listed. If you want to be a working freelance writer, you need to be a good writer…but being easy to work with may be more important than your writing skills. How do you like them apples?

qualities freelance writer

Editors Reveal the Best 10 Qualities of Freelance Writers

6. Know the difference between web and print writing. These magazine editors represented both print magazines and online sites; they agreed that freelancers need to know the difference between writing for the web versus writing for print.

7. Know the difference between online query letters and print query letters. This quality of freelance writers may seem like another way to say “web writing versus print writing” (#6) – but it’s not. The difference is that freelancers need to pitch some online magazines differently than they pitch print magazines. Check the writers’ guidelines for guidance — or ask the magazine editor.

8. Submit links and keywords when pitching to online magazines. Some online editors rely on search engine optimization to attract readers, while others could care less. If you’re pitching to a magazine that wants to attract readers organically (search engine optimization), you’d do well to add links and keywords to your query letter.

9. Stick to assigned work count. If your editor wants 5,000 words about the color of water, so be it. Not a word over or under.

10. Curious – willing to do research. When I asked professional freelance writer Daniel Wood the secret of his success, he said he’s curious about everything. These magazine editors agreed that one of the top ten qualities of their writers is curiosity about people, things, activities, and life.

For more freelance writing tips, read 15 Things You Need to Know to Be a Freelance Writer.

What do you think, fellow scribes – how many of these qualities of freelance writers do you have? Comments welcome below!

If you don’t have any assignments yet, read 10 Ways to Get More Writing Gigs.

Laurie's "She Blossoms" Books

growing forward book laurie pawlik she blossoms
Growing Forward When You Can't Go Back offers hope, encouragement, and strength for women walking through loss. My Blossom Tips are fresh and practical - they stem from my own experiences with a schizophrenic mother, foster homes, a devastating family estrangement, and infertility.

letting go book laurie pawlik she blossoms

How to Let Go of Someone You Love: Powerful Secrets (and Practical Tips!) for Healing Your Heart is filled with comforting and healthy breakup advice. The Blossom Tips will help you loosen unhealthy attachments to the past, seal your heart with peace, and move forward with joy.

miss him book laurie pawlik she blossoms
When You Miss Him Like Crazy: 25 Lessons to Move You From Broken to Blossoming After a Breakup will help you refocus your life, re-create yourself, and start living fully again! Your spirit will rise and you'll blossom into who you were created to be.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

8 thoughts on “Top 10 Traits of Successful Freelance Writers

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    I agree — having a strong work ethic can push your writing career from mediocre to extremely successful! Part of a strong work ethic for freelance writers is determination and dedication.

  • K.M. Weiland

    Great list. Can’t beat that first one though. Just about anyone can write, and more than a few can write well. But if you want to succeed in the long you have to have the stamina and the work ethic to keep chugging along every single day.

  • TriNi

    These are some very valuable tips to anyone interested in becoming a freelance writer. I recently did a blog post on Freelance Writing, and was just looking around for some more info that I could share with my readers since I am not really a professional freelance writer. I really appreciate this post. Thanks.

  • George Angus

    Hey Laurie,

    This is a printable post. It needs to be within easy eyesite of all freelance writers – those just starting and those who have been in the trenches for a while.

    Every time I come here I learn something new. Thanks.


  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your thoughts, Martin — I agree that the ability to find new sources is an important qualitity for freelance writers. After all, you can’t keep hounding your old sources for ever and ever amen 🙂

    Jessie, I’m glad these tips work for novelists, too….that’s great!

    Keep writing,

  • Jessie Mac

    Collecting money and fame sounds perfect. Where is the queue for that?

    Thanks for the list, Laurie. Even though I’m not a freelance writer the points you’ve made works well with novelists as well.

  • Martin P Wilson

    I agree but I would extend the well connected aspect to include the ability to find new, relevant sources and personality to make it a working relationship quickly.