How To Focus On Your Blog And Pursue A Freelance Writing Career
Writers have their own brand to build, and just like any other brand, they are encouraged to have a website with a blog. But other brands, and their blog writers, don’t make their living writing. The techniques and practices they use to promote their product or service use writing as a method.
What about freelance careers, whose writing is the product? Can blogging hurt your freelance writing career opportunities?
This is a topic near and dear to me, and it popped up on my radar both experientially (what was happening to me) and through the discovery of other writers suggesting that writers should not be blogging. There seems to be a two-pronged way of looking at this, and I want to clarify it before delving any deeper:
- Blogging for yourself and your own brand.
- Blogging as a writing format, in general.
I’m going to approach it using both.
Blogging Uses Up Creative Energy
One of the main reasons I’ve seen writers suggest that blogs are a bad idea for writers is that they take up time and creativity that you should be devoting to your clients and big projects.
Do you ever feel like you’ve used up your allotted words for the day?
It might be easier to slap out a long blog post than work on your next book chapter, and you might find that by writing blog posts, you successfully avoid doing the real work and also avoid feeling guilty about it. All the blog posts in the world aren’t going to help you get that other writing done!
I found myself recently telling a friend that when I spend all day writing for clients, I don’t feel like writing for myself at the end of the day. “I’ve used up all the words allotted me for the day.”
The reverse can be said. For some writers, there is a limited amount of writing energy, and if you have client work that needs to be done, you shouldn’t use it all up on blogging for yourself.
Guest Blogging Can Take Up Time
I’m not going to devalue the importance of guest blogging. Getting your posts on successful blogs is a fantastic way to get your writing seen. You know the drill on that.
However…there may, if you are successful, come a tipping point where you have garnered all the attention and audience you’ll get with that method. At what point will you turn to the pay model and act like a freelance writer, offering to write great content but for pay? Are you even thinking along that line?
If a huge chunk of your billable time is devoted to blogging for free for other guest blogs, your income will take a hit. If you’re already getting the traffic and recognition you can get, devoting your writing energy to someone else’s blog may no longer make sense. Or, at the very least, you may need to reduce the amount of free guest posts you offer.
One good judge is if your inbox is being flooded with requests to write guest posts. Thin that deluge out by requesting payment.
Do guest blog. And do be ready to start transitioning over to accepting payment for your writing. Transitioning from free guest posting to paid blog writing means:
- Learning to accept some people will make known their surprise that you ask for payment now.
- Understanding that your go-to guest post sources may not always happily transition to paying for what they used to get for free.
- Realizing your paid client roster will, over time, be completely different from your guest posting roster.
- Pursuing and accepting clients you’ve never guest posted for.
- You will have a transition time where you still have some guest posting while new clients are being asked to pay.
Many of my writing clients have seen my previously free writing elsewhere, and ask if I’d like to write for them. I respond promptly and professionally, indicating my rate. Some respond back. Some don’t. That’s how freelance writing works.
The main question, as a freelance writer, is to try and be aware at what point you’ve established yourself enough to no longer need the validation of guest blogging and transition to receiving an income.
Summation: Guest blogging is an excellent way to get momentum behind a freelance writing career, because you build a name for yourself and your writing. However, at some point, you have to transition to getting paid for your writing, and it’s difficult if you’ve built relationships solely on free guest posting.Suggested Reading:
What You Say May Turn People Away
Depending on your blog, your approach, or what you espouse, you might say things on your blog that resound with your audience but turn off potential freelance clients.
I’m not saying to water down your content and fill it with caveats—there’s a place for controversial blog posts. And, in a world full of people who seem to want to be offended about something, you simply can’t account for everyone. Some people will never be your client if you’re doing your duty as a blogger.
However, there are examples of people who blog in a way that seems to take delight in aggravating readers, or being offensive for offensive’s sake. Purposefully being a jerk on your blog will have an impact on your freelance writing if clients see your blog, particularly if your name is on the copy you write for those clients (ghostwriters may have a bit more leeway if the client doesn’t care what you say on your own time since your name is not associated with them).
Just know that what might win you accolades on your blog or get you attention, because of a caustic or combative style, may not get you clients. There’s no guarantee, either way, how what you say will affect whether or not clients will seek you out to write for them, or whether they’ll look at your body of work and decide they want someone else to do the work.
Blogging Is An Online Activity
Blogging is part of the Internet. Before there was Internet, there was no blogging.
This seems obvious, but the point here is that anyone who is old enough to remember concentration levels, researching, and writing prior to the Internet will understand how the research and rewarded components of blog writing might affect other writing.
For example, blog posts filled with images, quotes, outside links, embedded social posts, and so on are considered good form. To get these things, you are required to adopt a research and work habit that includes surfing the Web, social networks, Internet searches, and all sorts of distracting activity that can technically be needed but can also technically be a reduction in concentration.
Writing projects that require long periods of concentration and different research are going to be foreign to bloggers who have been consistently been rewarded for different work habits.
Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows is an eye-opener in this area, showing that the Internet can decrease our ability to focus and concentrate for long periods of time. If your freelance writing clients demand more of you than a single blog post and ask you to create content from sources not online, you’ll face some challenges in both your ability to change how you research and to concentrate.
If you’ve only known the Internet and have always relied on it, instead of older forms of research or writing with a typewriter or longhand, this point may be hard to validate or understand. But to old fogies like me, it isn’t.
I’m highly aware of a diminishing ability to concentrate compared to my writing and work prior to the ubiquitousness of the Internet. I need to find as many routes to reducing my online time as I can, and if that means shaving back my own personal blogging or reducing the amount of blogging clients I take in favor of other writing projects, so be it.
Blogging Has Its Own Writing Style
I can freely admit that focusing solely on blogging has done damage to my ability to create other forms of writing.
Though I’ve been blogging for more than a decade, it’s only the last four years where that blogging has been my “day job” and the approach and focus has been different. Where I used to blog on a variety of topics for a personal audience (for fun) using humor or rants or fiction or poetry, the blogging I do now is decidedly of a different formula.
There are headings. There are subheadings. There are:
- Bullet points
- Pull quotes
- Bullet points
- Yes, bullet points.
There are thesis statements in powerful introductions, supporting facts, and all of the reasonable teachable approaches to direct, clear copy that ultimately has to sell the reader on something. And, unless I’m writing a planned series, blog posts are short—even the longest blog posts of 2,000–4,000 words are not comparable to longer writing projects found elsewhere.
Lovely, if that’s the kind of freelance writing you are focusing on. Less lovely if you also want to try your hand at different styles of writing. Something similar happened after several years of working as a newspaper reporter; I approached everything as if it were a newspaper article.
If you become really good at the blogging format and develop the habits and systems that make it possible to write a post on any topic to fit any headline under any time crunch, that’s fantastic blogging. If you are able to twist your content to fit an audience that you’re selling to, again: fantastic blogging. But those same abilities will probably get in the way of trying your hand at creative writing or other types of freelance writing.
As it is, when I sit down to do non-blog writing, I have a very difficult time not slipping into the blogging habits and churning out a three-point outline with facts and some bullet points and a call to action at the end.
You can’t bullet-point your way to the end of a short story, though I often find myself thinking it would be easier to just drop a bullet list in rather than take the time to write it out in depth in such moments.
And, because I’m used to how writing 2,000 words feels, everything I write tends to fit into that sort of rhythm. I seem to have learned to truncate thoughts, words, and explanations in a way that will ultimately fit that word count. When I want to write longer work for other projects and clients, it’s a real struggle; things seem to come out in 2,000 word chunks that don’t always segue well.
What works great for blogging doesn’t work great elsewhere. Non-blogging clients will have their own style guides and preferences that may look nothing like a proper blog post and it will require you to work against your good blogging habits and proven blogging writing systems.
When it comes to breaking the blogging writing style, there are three ways to approach it.
1. Branch out with purpose.
Write a different format/genre, and submit that writing somewhere that isn’t a blog. Get it in front of the eyes of a client, editor, or audience that isn’t blogging. Even if they are critical, it’s how you’ll understand what blogging methods you need to shed to make your writing work elsewhere.
In some cases, you may not be paid much (or at all) for certain types of submissions, but if your goal is to try your hand at writing successfully beyond blogging, there is still merit in the editorial and critique process you’ll go through.
2. Take writing classes.
Learn about other forms of writing. Go to writer’s conferences. Take writing classes online or in person. Read books about writing.
In other words, meet and understand the writing world outside of blogging. I know it’s so tempting to stay in blogging (believe me, I know), but if you really want to do freelance writing beyond your own blog or blogging clients, you’ll have to learn a new writing language.
3. Set non-blogging writing goals.
Set a goal to write something that has nothing to do with your blog or blogging. Maybe you’ll start a magazine or self-publish a book. Or maybe your goal will simply be one of starting each day using writing prompts and doing some creative writing exercises.
Whatever it is, practice not blogging as part of your daily writing. If there was a recommended daily allowance for writing, make sure you have a well-balanced writing diet.
How Blogging Makes You A Better Writer
Despite all I’ve mentioned above, blogging can still help you be a better freelance writer as long as you don’t let the negatives overpower the potential. If you’re a serious blogger, you’ve acquired some skills that can help your other freelance writing projects.
1. You write regularly.
I’m participating in the James Patterson Masterclass just for some writing fun, and one of the things I found interesting was the difficulty some students expressed at the idea of writing every day. That’s old hat for me, at this point, and so when Patterson says write for an hour, write several thousand words, I think “is that all?”
If you’re blogging seriously, you’re doing this already.
2. You learn to deal with feedback.
Blogging (and then sharing on social media) means you’re immediately aware of what people think of your writing and your ideas. There is very little separation between you and the people you are writing to. While feedback and critique can be tough, it’s how you get better at writing. And because blogging allows for instant feedback, you can get better writing right away.
3. You learn to write when you don’t want to.
Bloggers know how to write when they don’t feel like it, because there are deadlines to be met and topics to be covered no matter what. Writers often fall into the trap of waiting for inspiration before writing, but freelance career writers don’t have that luxury. You have to find ways to beat writer’s block and get moving.