Q&A with a professional freelance writer

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Heidi Turner is a happy freelancer.

She has been writing, editing and consulting from her home in Burnaby, B.C., for a number of years as her four spoiled cats look on.

Here Heidi shares her experiences and advice for aspiring writers who want to be happy doing what they love.

Q. What made you want to become a freelance writer?
A. It kind of just happened. I read in a local paper about the writing program at Douglas College so I signed up thinking I would write the great Canadian novel. Then, while I was in the program, I started to see all of the wonderful opportunities that existed for writing.

Q. How do you find your work?
A. I joined PWAC (Professional Writer’s Association of Canada) in my area and honestly I think all the work I do has come through there in some way, so I’ve been rather lucky. One of my longest-running contracts came through the association and I’ve been doing it for four years now. Other times I’ve received leads or assignments from other writers. I recently started a website, so I am hoping to generate more opportunities though there as well as continuing to network.

Q. Can you give an example of a typical day?
A. It is fantastic to be able to set your own schedule. I tend to start the day working on the daily projects I do for clients, then I work on my own website and blog for a little while. Depending on what else I have going on, I could go to a conference and write reports for clients, or complete articles for a magazine. It varies depending on deadlines and how many projects are going on at once.

I find I can’t sit at the computer more than a couple of hours at a time, so I stop at noon for some exercise just to re-energize and take my mind off writing. The most I can write in a day is about five hours, and then I’ll do a few hours of networking and researching. I try not to work evenings and weekends, but sometimes there is a need to adjust based on what the client needs.

Q. What is the most satisfying part of your job?
A. I just love writing and always have. I guess I find it satisfying just to be doing something I love.

Q. What is the most challenging part of freelancing?
A. When I started, it was hard to be disciplined and it took a few years to develop a routine. Especially when there are not any jobs coming in, it is hard to sit at the computer and market yourself and find the assignments.

Also, I found many people assumed because you work from home you have tons of free time on your hands. It is important to set boundaries with people, make them understand you are working, so I stopped taking personal phone calls during business hours. People started to get it and began to respect my hours and my job much more.

Q. Would you consider trading your job for a full-time position at a company?
A. I would consider it, and I look at writing jobs frequently. But, for me right now, my income from freelancing is what I would make leaving my house for a job. This way I can set my own hours and don’t have to worry about commuting to a job, but if the right opportunity came along I would take it into consideration.

Q. Where would you like to see yourself professionally in five years?
A. I would like to see my writing branch out a little more into areas such as business. I’ve been taking some courses to improve my skills and boost my confidence.

Q. What words of advice do you have for students and recent graduates who are considering freelancing?
A. Join one of the many great professional writing organizations out there. They provide great opportunities and the networking with other writers is fantastic.

If you don’t have a lot of writing experience, take courses, even if it’s not a full program, about any topics that you want to write about.

If you are serious about freelancing as a career, you need to take it seriously and really make a go of it, rather than just treating it as your hobby. Treat it like a business and be disciplined. Don’t get into it if you’re thinking it’s going to be an easy way to make money. You need to have a genuine love for writing.

Heidi’s book recommendations for aspiring freelancers:
The Six-Figure Freelancer by Paul Lima
The Business Side of Creativity By Cameron Foot

Photo credit: Midge cat and computer by dougwoods on Flickr
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