The Freelance Life: Revisiting a Writers’ Roundtable

Thinking of paid and unpaid opportunities beyond your blog? Here are highlights from a Q&A with four freelance writers on

Cropped notebook image by Daniel (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Earlier this year, we talked to four professional writers about the freelance life, getting paid to write, and writing for free and exposure. If you missed it the first time, be sure to read this roundtable, full of great advice for new and aspiring writers in particular.

Here are highlights from the Q&A:

Give us a breakdown of your typical day.

Every day is different. I start by reading the New York Times. I listen to BBC World News or two great WNYC radio shows, The Brian Lehrer Show and The Leonard Lopate Show, from which I get story ideas and learn about the world.

I start work by 10:00 am — I’m not a morning person! If I’m working on a story, and usually several at once, I’m seeking sources, conducting interviews, writing, reading, or revising the pieces and answering questions from my editors.

Like most working writers, I spend a lot of time marketing my skills to new clients and checking in with former ones to see if they can use me again. I research story ideas to gather enough detail to pitch them. I pitch ideas to editors and check in on earlier pitches. I also work on longer-term projects, like ideas for nonfiction books, fellowships, and travel.

I end my workday by 4:00 or 5:00 pm and turn off the computer. Setting boundaries between work and the rest of my life allows me to come back to it refreshed and recharged.

Caitlin Kelly, veteran reporter and feature writer

Read how the other writers break down their workdays.

How do you divide your time between paid and unpaid writing?

Writing fiction comes first, even though it doesn’t pay — yet. I do my pen-for-hire work in the afternoon.

When I was more concerned with income than I am now, I was lucky and found freelancing jobs through networking. It helped that I had three salable skills: good writing ability, research skills, and medical knowledge. I did a lot of technical writing for major medical centers that was both interesting and lucrative. Now, jobs come to me, and I only take those that both interest me and pay well.

Deborah Lee Luskin, award-winning novelist

Read how the other freelancers balance paid work with other writing.

What’s your take on writing for free?

Writing for free is one of the many evils in today’s world. There was a piece in the New York Times by Tim Kreider, where he made the case that writers should insist on getting paid. It made sense for established writers, but wasn’t practical advice for unknowns in today’s internet-dominated world. As I said in my piece in the Huffington Post, “Why I Write for Free,” literary agents and publishers want you to have a huge internet following before they’re willing to take a chance on you. If you’re not a celebrity or well-known, you have to build an audience, and often the only way to do this is to write for free.

Kristen Hansen Brakeman, writer and essayist

Consider other perspectives on writing for free.

What’s one piece of advice for writers thinking about “writing for exposure”?

If you get in the habit of “writing for exposure” early, then you’ll find ways to justify writing for exposure regularly. Write on your own blog if you want to write and develop your “brand” or identity for yourself…rather than someone else.

Julie Schwietert Collazo, bilingual writer/editor

Read more advice on writing for exposure.

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  1. Thank you, Cheri, for the wealth of information here. I appreciate Kristen Hansen Brakeman’s honesty when she writes about exposure pre publication and of the importance to write for free. I also agree with Julie Schwietert Collazo when she says that we should develop our own identity rather than being someone else. Again blogging sounds like a pretty good platform for writers to get started and disciplined about writing. Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I want to get into science writing someday – so in order to build an audience I’ve created my own blog..About science and my journey in college studying science. This piece and the previous piece helps me and gives me a good picture of what I’m in for.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent advice tips! So many of them relate to my personal situation at the present time. It’s also good to know that I’m not the only one out there that shares these opinions.


  4. Interestingly I was just starting a post about all the people who, upon finding out you’re a freelance writer, REALLY focus on that word “Free!” Everyone wants a writing favor that “won’t take much time.” Because “You’re so good, you can just dash it out in no time.” How one nobody asks a surgeon to just take out their appendix for free in a jiffy? GREAT article and writing for free for YOURSELF is obviously a whole other animal.


  5. Reblogged this on Meghan J. Ward and commented:
    Some interesting thoughts here about freelance writing. I particularly appreciate the advice of writing on your own blog if you want more exposure. This has been my own path, and it has served me well! Of course I have written for free in the past, and continue to write for other publications for additional exposure. Either way, it’s important that these kinds of publications help to build your brand and your portfolio.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I personally find great difficult juggling between writing creatively for myself (for the craft) and doing freelance work for pay, even if the subject matter is really interesting. After even a few hours of pay work (which I’m very grateful for, don’t get me wrong!) I feel drained from what I really want to write about. Working full-time doesn’t help either!

    But yes, setting boundaries is really, really important! Hard to do when an idea comes floating in at inopportune times 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great piece! I’ve been approached by a couple of editors and I guess for “unknowns” like me, non-paid work is the norm until you get “exposure”. In a way, it’s unfair. It’s the talent – the reason why they’re banking on you – not because you’re already popular. And if you’re popular, suddenly they want to make sure they ride on that bandwagon.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is awesome information! Thank you! I love writing but never really thought about the strategic planning in writing. I do love to write for free and getting paid is awesome as well.


  9. As a blogger and a ‘free writer’, I feel like I have the ability to be true to myself and my voice. I would be STOKED to get published for pay, but right now I have to hone my voice. That way, if I do have to consider another voice, I’ll know how to blend the two. Thank you for the advice!


  10. Thanks for the advice! Really gave me a new insight.
    But sadly I live in a country where writers are underrated and not appreciated as much as those working in the science fields.
    But still i shall try it out, to be an aspiring writer – freelance or not – in future.