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Freelance Writing > 7 Ways to Improve Your Freelance Writing Career

7 Ways to Improve Your Freelance Writing Career

Self-employment as a freelancer is competitive yet rewarding. Improving your skills as a freelance writer is crucial! Here’s how I successfully sold articles to editors of magazines such as Reader’s Digest, and how you can get your writing published.

A successful writing career isn’t (just) about struggle, poverty, and clawing your way up the freelance ladder! You as a freelance writer can earn a good living if you focus on improving your career – especially as we move into generative artificial intelligence in writing. Writing unique articles when ChatGPT is affecting online content creation requires you as a freelance writer to improve your skills.

A smart managing editor of a successful business magazine told me that readers and publishers want “the same, but different.” This writing quip is more important than ever now, in today’s digital landscape. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, and one of the best tips for improving your career as a freelance writer:

“The secret of good writing is to say an old thing in a new way or to say a new thing in an old way.” ~ Richard Harding Davis.

If you’re too different, and you risk alienating editors and readers. If you’re too “been there, done that”, you’re boring and won’t get published. The key to success as a freelance writer lies in continuous improvement.

7 Tips for Improving Your Skills as a Freelance Writer

As you read through these ideas, remember that the writing industry is constantly changing. It’s improving, and you as a freelancer need to improve with it. New platforms, artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and writing styles are constantly emerging.

Further, your clients’ preferences are also changing. Your clients are magazine editors, book publishers and online content managers. If you improve your freelance writing skills so they meet the ever-evolving preferences of publishers and readers – your clients – then you’ll increase your changes of making money as a writer.

These tips are from my own experience, as well as several successful writing professionals.

1. Take advice from professionals in the field of journalism

“Unless you’re writing a personal journal, you’re writing for readers, editors, publishers, and clients — not yourself. Try to appeal to them. If they don’t care about what you have to say, they won’t read what you write.” – Mark Grabowski, journalism professor.

If you’re serious about improving your freelance writing skills, focus on a specific niche or industry. If you’re passionate about AI, for instance, find or create a niche that involves explaining how generative intelligence works to inexperienced content creators. You could specialize in writing for writing publications like “Writer’s Digest” or “Poets & Writers”. By becoming an expert in a specific writing niche, you can increase the number of articles you write, charge more money per article or per word, and and establish yourself as an authority in your field.

8 Ways to Improve Your Freelance Writing Career
Improve Your Freelance Writing Career

If you’re new to niche freelance writing, read How to Get Your Magazine Article Published in a Niche Market.

2. Don’t “copy and paste” information from AI (or anywhere)

“A new issue that is arising is plagiarism. Successful magazine writers need to know that ‘copy and paste’ does not equal writing. That may have gotten them through school, but it won’t keep them employed as writers.” – Cynthia Clampitt, freelance writer and editor.

To stand out in a competitive freelance writing market, develop your unique voice, style, and brand identity. For example, if you want to write for a niche such as personal development (publications such as “Tiny Buddha” or “Mindful”), learn how to write with mindfulness, introspection, empathy, and actionable self-improvement tips. By developing a strong personal brand as a freelance writer, you’ll improve your skills, attract repeat clients (editors, publishers and readers), and charge more money per article.

3. Improve your freelance skills by learning from ghost writers

I met Missy – a freelance ghost writer in her sixties – at a writing conference. She wasn’t interested in being a publicly know freelancer; she wanted to improve her ghost writing skills. She loved working as a “behind the scenes” writer, and was excellent at finding and keeping clients.

Here’s one of her tips:

“Spend extra time to make a great outline. That way, you can go back, fill in sections, and put your brain on ‘auto-pilot’ if needed to get the job done. A great outline lets you split up a magazine feature article into manageable chunks, and gives you a greater sense of accomplishment when you complete sections.” –  Missy, ghost writer.

Even though she was a seasoned professional freelance writer, Missy was constantly improving her writing skills. She stayed updated on industry trends (even the latest AI trends affecting writers and magazine publishers), writing techniques, and emerging technologies. She invested in continuous learning because she genuinely loved being a freelance writer and wanted to improve.

4. Avoid Google Trends or other trending topics

“Write about things you care about and are interested in. Otherwise, your indifference will likely be reflected in your writing.” – Mark Grabowski, journalism professor.

Improving your skills as a freelance writer means focusing on topics you’re genuinely interested in. Niching down into a topic will make you more successful and productive in the long run. Chasing trends or news stories is an exhausting, never-ending game that you can’t win.

Of course, freelancers sometimes take projects that pay the bills. If you’ve been hired to write an article or book that you have no interest in, try to find ways to make your writing edgy and quirky! If you can have fun and even enjoy the job, you’ll make your editor and readers happy. Learning how to enliven even the dullest topic will help improve your career as a freelance writer worth hiring.

5. Unzip your writer’s voice and get out of the way

“Write like you talk to your friends and family (just leave out the ‘ums’ and ‘you knows’). It seems to me that a lot of people adopt what they think of as a “writerly” voice when they write. They start using technical jargon, business- or marketing-speak, legalese, academic bloviation, or bureaucratese because they have the misconception that ‘that’s the way everyone does it.’” – Roy-Alan Abrams, author of several self-published novels.

It’s all about balance. If you want to earn money as an online freelance writer or content creator, you’ll have to learn how search engine optimization (SEO) works. Roy-Alan was a quiet indie writer who was less concerned about selling books than writing fantasy novels that ignited his imagination. While his tip isn’t about improving a freelance career as a writer, it’s valid. I included it in this list because it’s important not to fall into the trap of scholarly, academic or technical writing even if you’re writing about complex subjects.

6. Tell a good story – but if it’s true, have proof

When I get nervous or unsure about writing an article, I go back to the basics, and just try to tell a good story. Stories can be edited to make them shorter, or more interviews can be added to fill in details, but getting the main story down is the most important part. If a writer can do that, all else is minor.” – Sylvia Forbes, writer.

Every article – even if it’s about professional improvement as a freelancer coping with competitive bots and AI-generated content – needs a story. Stories hook readers. Facts are boring. Writers know how to spice up even the driest articles and blog posts with a story.

That said, however, make sure you can back up your facts. If you’re a freelance writer who is working for (or wants to work for) reputable news magazines and publications, you must have evidence.

“Whenever possible, record your telephone interviews with experts. You can buy a gadget that you attach to your cell phone and computer. Then, you can send the mp3 file to and within 24 hours you’ll have a typed transcript. From there it’s easy to shape and edit a finished piece!” – Peggy Hall, veteran freelance writer. 

7. Take risks to improve your skills as a freelance writer

“My journalism professor told us how it can be easy to get nervous or feel embarrassed when, for instance, you have to move people around for a photograph or re-ask a question if the answer needs clarification. But you have to remember that you’re there to do your job. People expect you to do it. If you look and sound confident when, say, you’re positioning the subjects for a photograph, then they will trust you and do as you ask.’” – Mary Beth Kriskey, Copywriter/PR Specialist.

It can be nerve-racking to take risks when you’re writing an article – especially if you’re interviewing experts! But if you don’t take a risk, you will surely fail.

Take risks, but be smart. One way to balance risk-taking with intelligence as a freelancer is to become skilled in selling articles that go beyond traditional freelance writing. Diversify your income streams by using AI to enhance your writing and freelancing skills, blogging for respected organizations, exploring content creation, and taking or even writing online courses.

Another way to mitigate the risks of a freelance career is to create your own sideline niche. For example, if you’re freelancing for finance publications like “The Motley Fool” or “Investopedia” and you love writing about money, consider launching your own personal financial literacy blog. By diversifying your income streams, you can mitigate the risk of freelance dry spells and keep busy when you’re waiting for the next big assignment.

How much money can you make a freelancer? Read Freelance Writing Pay Rates for Newspapers and Magazines.

To learn more about improving your writing skills (the cornerstone of a solid freelance career), read Keys to Great Writing Revised and Expanded: Mastering the Elements of Composition and Revision.

8 Tips for Improving Your Freelance Writing Career
Keys to Great Writing: Mastering the Elements of Composition and Revision

The fact that Wilbers revised and expanded his keys to great writing is a literal demonstration of how to improve your freelance career. A book, story or magazine article is never completely perfectly written, and successful freelancers know that.

Fellow scribe, what do you think about these ways to build a better freelance writing career? Your thoughts, quips and tips are welcome below.


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6 thoughts on “7 Ways to Improve Your Freelance Writing Career”

  1. I tried freelancing for 3 years, and it’s too risky. I’d never encourage a writer to be a freelancer. You need at least a year’s worth of money in the bank for rent and bills. If you’re older like the ghost writer lady in your blog post, you’re also looking at serious health issues that could crop up.

    If you really want to be a freelance writer, know the risks. Since Laurie didn’t mention many above, I wanted to share them here.

    One significant risk of being a freelance writer is the lack of job security and financial stability compared to traditional employment. Freelancers often experience income fluctuations due to the unpredictable nature of client work and market demand.

    Unlike salaried employees who receive a steady paycheck, freelance writers must actively seek out clients, negotiate contracts, and manage their own finances. This can lead to periods of feast or famine, where work and income may be plentiful one month but scarce the next.

    Additionally, freelancers are responsible for covering their own business expenses, such as taxes, health insurance, and retirement savings, which can further strain their financial resources.

    Moreover, freelancers are vulnerable to client non-payment or late payments, which can disrupt cash flow and create financial hardships. Despite having contracts in place, some clients may default on payments, leaving freelancers in a precarious position.

    Another risk is the potential for burnout and isolation. Freelance writers often work long hours, juggling multiple projects and deadlines to meet client expectations. This can lead to mental and physical exhaustion, as well as feelings of loneliness and isolation from working independently.

    Furthermore, freelancers may face legal issues such as copyright infringement or contract disputes, which can result in costly litigation and damage to their professional reputation.

    See why I quit freelance writing? Succeeding is possible but the risks far outweigh the benefits of being successful.

  2. Rewriting this article made me decide to apply for a job as a Communications Specialist even though I’m not fully qualified. It was the seventh and final tip about taking risks. What do I have to lose? They already rejected my first application, but had to repost the job because they had no qualified candidates.

    What would happen if I took this risk to improve my freelance writing career? I’d better step off the cliff and find out!

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comments! Cute, Allena, about your dog 🙂

    Understanding your client is also important — who can be different than your reader.

    I need to buy a recording device to tape my interviews.
    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post ..The Most Important Job for Writers – Being Sticky, Concrete, Memorable =-.

  4. Another option is to conduct interviews over speaker phone with just a regular MP3 recorder.The only snafu I’ve ran into is that my dog likes to suddenly go nuts & is very loud. So he is now kicked out of the office!

  5. Thanks for the tips! Understanding the reader is important. If you don’t know who you’re writing for, you may become stuck as a writer. Don’t forget to double check your spelling and punctuation.
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog post ..The Case of Pro Blog vs. No Blog =-.

  6. Really great tips, Laurie. I especially love number 6.

    I think two of the biggest things you can do for a freelancing career are planning and learning-then make sure you never stop planning and learning.