The Seven Habits of High-Earning Freelancers (Part Four)


I’ve said many times that writing nonfiction is the secret to making a living as a freelance writer, but the truth is more complex than that. Nonfiction writing is key because there’s such a wide and varied market for the work. Put one way, there are more than ten times as many sections in the Writers’ Market for nonfiction than for fiction, and most of those sections are much larger than those for fiction. It comes down to casting a wider net: being willing to write not just what you want, but whatever you can. My favorite topics for writing are health and fitness, martial arts, travel and fitness. Most of my writing money comes from personal finance, legal writing and business advice columns. There are three ways to cast a wider net with your writing: write about more things, write for more publications, and write more. Writing About More Quick: write a list of 20 things you know well, or would like to learn about. Now, for each of those things, make a list of 100 topics you could write about or research. You now have 1,000 potential articles to sell. Constantly think about how to turn your experiences into articles, books and blog posts. Write For More Publications Even as print burns out, there are thousands of magazines and websites willing to pay you to write for them. Do the research to find out who carries articles about your areas of interest and expertise. When you have an article idea, pitch multiple zines with slightly different angles on the topics. Also be willing to pitch tangential publications. If you’re a travel writer researching a piece on museums in a town, also pitch the hobby magazines related to each museum. Look for kids activities at each location for an article for the local parenting mag. This makes the most of your research, and gives you extra clips for your portfolio. Write More This is one of the biggest differences between professionals and amateurs I’ve noticed. Amateurs on web forums I frequent talk about writing 1,000 words a day on a good day. Today — and it’s not a particularly busy day — I’m at 4,000 with another 2,000 scheduled for after this post. Develop the discipline, work habits and familiarity with your own energy flow that lets you set a high bar for how much you can write. Like any other skill, you’ll get faster and more proficient the more you write.   What are some of your insights for casting a wider net? How do you generate article ideas? What’s your process for finding publishers? How have you mastered writing quickly and well? I look forward to your answers in the comments. Read parts one, two and three of this series if you haven’t already. Stay tuned for part four.    

About Resources

Living as a professional writer is just about the best thing ever.I set my own hours, make a reasonable living, and I go to work with my baby on my lap.

On the other hand, I’m always at work. Even when “off duty” — even on vacation — I’m thinking through plot lines, coming up with article ideas, applying even the most relaxing activity to my job. Setting your own hours often means working all the time — even when you could or should be doing something else.

Shepherding personal resources — time, energy, emotional commitment, excitement — is the only way to succeed as a writer. Without doing that, it’s easy to burn yourself into exhaustion.

Which I did this past month, balancing my writing career with several business trips and doing the majority of the work on a major remodel in my home. Add a minor surgery on top of it, and I’ve been able to do very little work these past couple of weeks.

It’s an occupational hazard of freelancing, or any other situation where you’re your own boss. I’ve even given advice on this very blog about how to avoid it.

And here I went and did it to myself.

What sorts of things do you all do to help avoid burning yourself to exhaustion? Leave comments below.


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Ian Scofield’s Wednesday Writing Prompt

This weeks prompt is going to be a lot shorter than normal. But thats the challenge. This week the goal is to write a whole story in only one sentence. Make your sentence as vivid and catchy as you can. Think of this as a start to working on an elevator pitch or selling a story really quickly. Rules: Only one period, question mark, or exclamation mark. Limit of 35 words.

Friday Fun: Travel Blogs

A lot of writers (myself included) use blogs to get their work out in the world. Some blogs are individual efforts. Others are informal collaborative efforts. Still others are professionally edited works on the same level as print magazines.

Travel writing lends itself well to this kind of effort, since good travel writing has the kind of diary feel that blogs naturally suit. Check out these travel blogs: is a one-woman blog on family travel in the Pacific Northwest. She writes professionally for a travel bureau or two. Still a work in progress, but the existing content shows a real promise. takes travel blogs to the professional level with a dedicated editorial staff, top-shelf graphics and pay for content. As the name suggests, it’s food-centric — but includes some compelling destination content as well. — another blog that’s exactly what it sounds like. Good travel content for European travel, with a professional presentation and experienced contributors. is a surprisingly well put-together blog considering it’s the work of a single enthusiastic travel writer. Great content with a personal touch.

What are some blogs — travel or otherwise — that you follow? Why do you follow them? Entertainment? Professional research? Just for the writing?


Events and Conferences



I want to tell you a story…

In 2008, I pitched an article to a magazine. It was immediately accepted.

  • In January 2010, it continued to languish in the slush pile awaiting actual publication.
  • In March 2010, I got an email saying the magazine was cutting down on its number of articles per issue…meaning I would wait even longer.
  • In May 2010, I went to a training event and met a guy who knew the editor of that magazine.
  • In December 2010, I edited an article for that guy I met — an assignment for the magazine.
  • The next day I got a note that my article would get published in the next issue.
  • In August 2010, I went to the same training event. The editor also attended and we had a chance to talk.
  • Since then, I’ve gotten an average of an assignment a month from that editor.

Since 2009 I’ve been sending pitches to a regional travel magazine with not much in the way of responses. At a recent conference I sat with the editor and he asked me to pitch him some ideas we spitballed.

The moral of this story is events and conferences will jumpstart your freelancing career. You should go to them as often as your budget allows. 

I’ve identified four kinds of events that can help you advance your freelancing business:


These are industry events where writers, editors and vendors get together for a few days to talk shop. Activities include lectures, panels, intensive trainings, and often chances for formal networking such as one-on-one pitch sessions. They tend to be pricey, but are probably the most effective career event.


Get-togethers for fans of a specific activity, genre or hobby, these don’t focus on writers — but writers about a related topic can get some good attention and sell a few books. You’re also likely to meet editors and business owners who can buy your work after a good chat.


Some hobbies (including martial arts — my other hobby) have a culture of getting together to learn more about the hobby. These are like conventions, only with a strong focus on learning rather than entertainment or socializing. They’re a great way to meet enthusiasts and professionals in a field where you have expertise.


Never underestimate the power of a party. In your 20s, you went to meet members of the opposite gender (or whatever gender you prefer). As you begin your career, go to meet people who might want your services. Don’t be a jerk about it, but always keep your antennae up while you’re at these.


What are your experiences with conferences and events? 

Photo courtesy of Tobias Wolter