Being a freelance writer requires a tough skin, and great mental stamina. Writer Andrew Webber gives us the inside scoop.
Writing professionally is one of the most challenging of all the streams that fall under the “communications” banner. In any single day, the professional writer might be engaged in projects that range from a 140 character tweet, to a few hundred words for a blog, to a few thousand words for a keynote speech.
Generous deadlines are rare, but often there is just enough time to craft a narrative that’s filled with nuance and artistic splendour. At other times, you’ll be engaged to respond to a crisis, and it will be crucial that the right information gets to the right people, in the right way, within a span of minutes.
In short, professional writers are the chameleons of the communications world – fitting in wherever we are needed, and able to change platforms, styles, and even genres – sometimes on a minute by minute basis. You might even find yourself writing a listicle like this one: The top 5 things you need to know about working in the professional writing industry.
1. You never really know what tomorrow might bring.
Embrace that concept. Enjoy being flexible and resilient. That strange sense of the unknown is what draws many people into the world of professional writing. So, look at every project as an exciting new adventure that YOU have the privilege to contribute to. Being invested in any project, big or small, will show in your writing. Not just to the person who picked you to be their writer, but to the communicator’s most important people – the audience.
Which leads us neatly into the next point…
2. You have to know your audience
The audience is the priority. Overlooking who it is that you’re writing for is the greatest of communications catastrophes. It’s a fine line. Sometimes, even when comms departments think they’ve got it right, their social media feed will spring to life with messages of how they completely missed the target due to a poorly directed message.
Don’t be the person that causes a twitter-storm. Unless you’ve been hired to create such a storm, in which case, you are still going to have to know the audience. There’s just no getting away from it.
3. Writing is not your hobby. Writing is your career
Your skills are valuable. Your qualification is valuable. YOU are valuable.
Repeat after me: “I don’t work for free.”
That doesn’t mean that there needs to be a cash transaction for everything a writer does, but there should be a tangible reward for their efforts. “Exposure” as payment is fine for a publication that is read by millions, but not so great if it’s a blog site that barely makes it to page 4 of a Google search. Unless, of course, it’s for a genuine charity – they need all the help they can get. So, donate your time to worthy causes, and embrace the opportunity to practice your craft while doing something worthwhile. Don’t donate time to ‘page 4’ click-bait sites; they are a blight on our profession, and society as a whole.
4. Professional Writing requires constant practice and improvement
It’s important that you don’t just get the job, buy a slightly snarky coffee-cup to leave in a prominent place on your desk, and wait for the magic to happen.
As a writer it is important to constantly look for opportunities to improve. Perhaps look for additional courses on OUA to fill some skill gaps. Maybe join professional groups on sites like LinkedIn in order to stay abreast of happenings within the industry. Or maybe look to donate some time to a charity to gain more, and diverse, experience.
5. You’ll need to be interested in everything
Take careful notice of local and global events, noting how they are being communicated, why they are being communicated, and to whom. What’s the narrative? What angle is the message taking?
Don’t take note of just the pretty, or the obvious. You’ll have to be aware of the noxious and troublesome as well. Look at problematic issues and ask yourself “How could that be successfully communicated?” – in doing this, you’ll learn how, and how not to engage the public.
Professional writing is one of the most challenging sectors of the communications industry, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. Knowing that your words have influence, be it over one person or a few million, is an extraordinary feeling. So, grab that next assignment, no matter how diverse. Or, perhaps create your own fantasy communications department with a couple of colleagues, and tackle the communications strategies of the day, then critique each other’s responses.
Just reach out with both hands and see what stories come your way, because it is the doing of writing that makes us better writers.
Written by Andrew Webber, who studied a Bachelor of Arts (Professional Writing and Publishing) with Curtin University, through Open Universities Australia.