Taking that big, bold step to give up a regular job to go freelance is fraught with so many questions that you will need to ask yourself. Deciding to become a freelance writer means you will have to change your thinking about a great many things, including (and especially) the idea that something is beneath you or above you.
It isn’t just your attitude to the process of the work day that needs to change either. You are responsible for your workload and you alone are responsible for testing your own limits. That means finding your niche, and understanding your strengths and weaknesses. But where do you start?
Write About What You Know
This is the most obvious place to start. I write for Environmentalscience.org, the largest environmental science education and resource site in North America. I am proud of everything I have written there and always put 110% into the work I do for the client. This 10,000 word piece on renewable energy is one of which I am particularly proud. Having a master’s degree in Landscape Archaeology means I am able to write about a great many subjects. My own studies covered history, archaeology and some environmental science. My wider scientific training permits me to research almost any scientific subject that I am able to get my head around – within reason. But this is a relatively small niche. Science writers are not ten a penny, and they are not in great demand. What you know is a great place to start, but it may be a little too narrow.
Write Around the Periphery of Your Interests
When you are interested in a subject, you will tend to find that information sinks into your brain much easier than with a subject that is completely new to you. Previous experience helps you understand the concepts and ideas, even if you have no direct experience. For example, being a parent provides you with the experience to write about parenting. You may not know the unique difficulties of being a parent to a a child with a disability, but you will know enough to be able to appreciate, absorb and understand the written experiences of those who do. Being a driver gives you the necessary information that you can write about driving. You may never have driven in France, but your understanding of cars and the laws in your own country will help you understand the rules of the road, and how they differ from your own country, to fill in the gaps and even know where to look for the right information.
Test Your Limits
I am not perfect. I don’t claim to be the perfect content writer. I know the things about which I cannot write. I know the concepts and ideas that I could never write about because even the basics give me a headache. I have – more than once – written outside of my comfort zone. It’s always a learning process and it is not always going to go right. I’ve had some hits and some misses. For example, around 6 months ago I had a potential client ask me if I had any experience with a particular IT concept. He sent me a couple of links and asked me if I could write a series of blog posts about this subject. After reading both articles and another two articles I found on Google, I was still none the wiser about what it was let alone how it could benefit a client and what a potential client might look like. He thanked me for my time and said he had found another contractor who did have the experience.
Develop Your Research Skills
Research skills are more than simply knowing how to use Google. Good research skills is also about not taking everything at face value. Are you using enough sources? Are you using enough variation of sources? Are you able to evaluate those sources and think critically about how each piece of information is presented to you? If not, you are going to have to get up to speed, and fast. You should never allow your personal opinions and politics to influence your work for somebody else. Good research is recognising your own bias, and that of somebody else, placing a limit on it and stepping outside of your own world view, no matter how entrenched. As you research, you will begin to see ideas that you can and cannot understand and those that interest you. Research will be your greatest tool, so don’t waste it.