What Is a Freelance Writer and Writing?

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The term freelance writer has many permutations. Companies (both large and small) will advertise for freelance writers, and then have them come into the office every day, even though they're not full-time or part-time employees. On the other hand, a local or national newspaper may designate you a freelance writer if you contribute more than three articles for them. Meanwhile, freelance communities at some of the larger digital job boards seem to talk almost solely about magazine queries and submissions in relation to freelance writing gigs, either one time, or ongoing. So what exactly is a freelance ​writer and what do you have to write in order to be considered a freelancer?

It's All About the Contract

As a writer, you're aware that words always have a point of origin relative to their meaning. The word freelance comes from medieval times when a knight or mercenary would sell their services to any lord willing to pay. Hence, he was a "freelance."

In this same way, a freelance writer is a writer who works for a company or individual on a contractual, or project basis. These "contractual" positions don't even necessarily need to have a formal contract in place (although that's probably in your best interest as a writer) to have one. What these positions (often called gigs) do have in common is that they are project-based work. Or, the assignment is for a piece of writing that must be completed by a previously set time and an assignment that has a clearly-set goal. Once the project is complete, the freelance operative either moves on to the next project in the queue or has to wait for their next assignment.

One of the perks of being a freelance writer is that you often have the opportunity to work from home, or, with a laptop, from a beach in the Bahamas. The benefit of not being restricted and confined to an office comes with the downside of not knowing when you'll get your next assignment and not being able to budget your finances accordingly. A freelance writer often has to hustle to land a client. One way to get gigs is to send out Requests for Proposals, which lays out how you plan to meet the needs of your potential client and a breakdown of your charges and time required to finish the project.

There are Many Different Kinds of Freelance Writers

One of the benefits of being a freelancer is that it offers a lot of variety if you are the type that gets bored easily. There are many different kinds of freelance writing, such as business writing, marketing writing, news writing, social commentary writing, public relations writing, and, of course, writing for the web. If you like the digital landscape you can even become proficient at creating copy for websites because most web designers are not good writers. On the other hand, some freelancers focus solely on writing for magazines, anthologies or newspapers, while others do work for non-profits and do grant writing and proposal development.

Once you dive into the world of freelance writing, you'll begin to get a good sense of your strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Knowing what you enjoy most and are best at will enable you to target the jobs that best showcase your abilities and offer you the most opportunities.