The ABCs of Freelance Writing

“If you dig deep and keep peeling the onion, artists and freelance writers are the leaders in society – the people who start to get new ideas out.” — Allan SavoryAnyone who has ever worked in sales or seen Glengarry Glen Ross knows what the ABCs are: Always Be Closing. It’s good advice for anyone working on commission, and it’s not a bad lesson for writers, either. After all, most of the time, when someone hires us to write for them, they want to use our talent to sell something: a product, a service, a source of information, themselves. And when we’re not writing for clients, we’re writing to either get clients or gain a readership; in effect, we’re selling ourselves. So it’s not a bad idea for anyone who wants to write for a living to keep those well known ABCs in mind. Always be closing, because that’s how you make a living.

However, there’s another ABC that I think applies to writers, and it’s at least as important as closing. We can’t close a sale unless we have something to sell. That means that before we can really Always Be Closing, we need to Always Be Composing.When I first started writing for money, I got stuck for ideas often. Even with a title assigned to me, it might take longer to find an original angle to write about than it did to write the article. Never mind personal projects; after a day of coming up with things to say for other people, I couldn’t think of a single thing to say for myself. Somewhere along the way, though, I flipped the switch. That happened when I realized that everything – every experience, every memory, every conversation, every stray thought – was a potential title, angle, or plot.These days, I can’t turn it off. If I have to call a plumber to fix my faucet, I pay close attention to the details of the problem and the repair, because I never know when someone’s going to ask me for an article about plumbing repair. Years of experience in a field unrelated to what I’m doing now? That’s not time wasted, that’s a potential eBook. Trapped in a boring conversation about someone else’s vacation? Pay attention, there’s a travel blog post in there somewhere. Random thought about the constant flood of writing prompts in your life? Write an article on a revenue share site about how everything is a writing opportunity. Like this one.When we as writers can begin to see ideas everywhere, we never have to worry about where to find one. It’s not enough to have the idea, though, we have to do something with it. Start by writing it down. This is why so many writers advise carrying a notebook everywhere. It’s good advice. Once you write it down, let it sit for a while. Not all ideas are good ideas, and coming back to it later will often give you some perspective. Don’t worry if you end up chucking a lot, or even most of them. If you follow the Always Be Composing rule, you’ll have a lot to choose from. That means that you can afford to throw out the bad ones. You’ll have enough good ones to keep you busy.

The important thing is to find the ideas. It’s not a matter of looking for them; you’re thinking all the time. It’s a matter of seeing the ideas that are in front of you as exactly that: everything is a potential title. Once you get that into perspective, the rest will follow.

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