Freelance to Fiction – Learning to be an Author

I started freelance writing over fifteen years ago, when I wrote my first article – for free – for a local magazine, Small Town Life. I’m still grateful to the editor, Jessica, for giving me that chance. I went on to write a few more articles, also for free, and several months later, armed with my clips, I signed up for a membership on a freelancing website, determined to take the next step.

For weeks, I bid on jobs I felt aligned with my skill set, based on my decade plus of experience in accounting and expertise with business related writing. Again and again, other freelancers won out. In fact, I bid on nearly 100 jobs with not even a nibble.

Then, one day, I came across a job I knew I was up my alley: a marketing firm needed articles written for a magazine that would be distributed to people with ulcerative colitis. I was diagnosed with UC when I was pregnant and struggled for months before the doctors were able to get it under control with medication. How ironic, and how serendipitous, at that moment, that UC, something that changed my life, could yield something so positive, and change my life – yet again.

Yes. I got the job. And it opened doors. I went on to write for a variety of local magazines, and have been blessed to work with dozens of clients in businesses of every description all over the country, writing all kinds of things, including blogs, articles, corporate profiles, newsletters and manuals.

So what’ve I learned from freelancing for 15+ years?

Persistence pays. I could’ve given up after bidding on the twentieth job, or the fiftieth job, but I kept looking, kept trying. And came across the writing job that was the perfect fit. The point is, I was in the right place at the right time when opportunity came knocking because I was, and continue to be, persistent. Don’t give up.

The devil’s in the details. During the time I was bidding on jobs, and beyond, I tweaked my proposals, my resume, and learned all I could about what other freelancers were doing, how they were doing it and read numerous books on the subject. After each job, I analyzed what went well and what didn’t, how I could be more organized, more proactive, more knowledgeable.

Listen.Yeah, there’s a lot of listening that happens as a freelancer. To your client. To yourself. And to your gut. When a piece is done, it’s done. During an interview you ask a question, then shut up. When a job doesn’t feel right, don’t take it. Don’t take a job just to take a job. It’s not worth it. Everyone will be disappointed.

“I do what I say I’m going to do.” Delivering results, for the client, for an editor, and mostly for myself, by never missing a deadline, and providing quality work, built my reputation – the basis for my business. After I’d worked with several editors and clients, and heard horror stories of freelancers who were no shows, or delivered work that needed to be heavily edited, or that missed the mark entirely, I developed this motto, which I included in my proposals. That’s always the kind of person I’ve been, but I’d never imagined it would serve me so well in business. For me, it became a very personal way of connecting with my client right up front, and delivering results before I’d ever written a word.

I’m still freelancing, but not nearly as much these days, as I’ve turned my attention to writing romantic suspense novels. Don’t get me wrong – I still love freelancing, and the opportunity it’s given me to meet and interview so many fascinating people, but I longed to write stories of my own.

So, how did I do it?

Once again, persistence, dissecting details and following through won the day. I quickly realized that fiction was a completely different animal from non-fiction. To try and tame the beast, I joined romance writing groups. I attended conferences, met and learned from writers and other folks in the industry. I read (and continue to read) blogs and ‘how to’ books – at least two shelves of them.

My most cherished volume is Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain. I also read novels of all kinds, which wasn’t hard to do because I love to read. But now, I was reading them with a discerning eye, absorbing details, structure, word choice, beginnings, endings.

Oh, and I wrote. Two, really, really bad manuscripts I still have under my bed. I entered contests, received dreadful feedback. I worked with critique partners. And kept writing.

I listened – to my fellow writers, to advice I received, to my gut, to my heart, writing the kinds of stories that were me, as I found my voice – something that’s still a work in progress.

Along with persistence, details and listening, I did what I said I was going to do – I finished my first manuscript and pitched it. And got an astounding four offers, something which still humbles me.

In addition, I feel I must add that desire, loving to write, and the ability to keep an open mind, can, in my opinion, move mountains. You have to want it. There’s a lot of setbacks, disappointments, unknowns and missteps along the way. You can’t take things personally. You have to keep an open mind, so you can embrace and accept change, new ways of doing things, and make room for knowledge, and possibilities.

I like to think my father inspired me, and continues to inspire me, to keep an open mind. A true entrepreneur, my father left teaching to start his own restaurant, which my family ran until I was about sixteen. At that time, my family chose to sell the business for numerous reasons, and he went back to teaching. A humbling experience for him, more humbling than I could possibly know as a teenager. He was fifty, and to become permanently certified to teach, he had to go back to school, and learn how to use a computer – something he’d never done in his life. He could have shrunken away from technology, as I see so many people do, because they don’t understand it and don’t want to understand it. Instead, he embraced the opportunity and ended up showing me something new with the word processing software a few months later.

Thanks Dad.

In the end, for me, writing both non-fiction and fiction continues to be an unpredictable, exhilarating, eye-opening, frustrating, tear-jerking, thrilling and crazy adventure. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

P.S. There’s more I’ve learned, and much more I want and need and hope to learn about freelancing and writing fiction that I’d like to discuss, but that’s a post for another blog. Until then…

Are you an author? A freelancer? A reader? Or maybe all three? I’d love to hear from you! What have you learned along your journey you’d like to share?


Rebecca E. Neely is an author, freelance writer, lover of spoon rings, diners, the Steelers & great reads.

Thanks for reading! Love to hear your thoughts.

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