As writers, we spend a lot of time balancing everything else in our lives so that we can have more time to write scripts. Often, that means taking small projects and gigs that also involve writing. While freelance writing can certainly include script writing, often it’s the article, blog, copy and other opportunities that sustain us. We'll cover it all.
The second week of February is Freelance Writers Appreciation Week, a wonderful excuse to celebrate the many freelance writers who create the content you see every day. Behind-the-scenes, our Social Media Committee is hard at work, making sure you’re up to speed on all things Roadmap Writers, screenwriting…oh, and just the right amount of memes to keep the dopamine in your brain at its optimal level. In addition to sharing such talents and pursuing screenwriting, several of us are also, you guessed it, freelance writers. We took the chance to talk to ourselves and get some insight into the craft.
What kind of freelance writing have you done?
G.T. Cruz: I do freelance screenwriting. Journeyman assignments like features, pilots, some rewrite gigs and polishes, notes, etc.
Gabriel Theis: I’ve done editorials and interviews for a variety of entertainment publications, including Polygon, Fangoria, and Dread Central.
Raina Pratto: I’ve mostly written and ghostwritten entertainment and sociologically-minded articles, blogs for various companies and sizzle reels for leaders to increase their news presence.
How did you get started on your freelance writing journey?
Cruz: It started by meeting the president of an indie film company at a family dinner. Girlfriend used to babysit his kids back in the day and she introduced me. Then it blossomed into a working relationship.
Theis: I landed on Dread Central’s radar with my feature film, “The Curse of Professor Zardonicus.” Having started my own blog writing about horror films, I pitched their editor a piece on the cult classic, “Pumpkinhead.” Once they published it, I continued to pitch for them. Then I started pitching to their peers, including Fangoria. It shows you how projects will present you with opportunities that you might not have even anticipated.
Pratto: It started writing articles for the school newspapers on various campus-local movements in college. A few years later, I’d connect with a writer who regularly wrote for national publications on Upwork. He hired me for research, but later I’d ghostwrite, proofread and edit his blog. Most recently, a former supervisor hired me for sizzle reel work after having worked with him on such materials, and I pitched covering Pride to a music magazine...that sort of thing.
How do you go about getting your projects?
Cruz: A lot of time it’s just people I know. Producers who like my stuff recommending me to friends. Occasionally I’ll find gigs on message boards or industry email blasts.
Theis: Unless the editors have already listed their editorial mandates for the quarter, I’ll take in a dose of their most recent editorials and ask myself the following questions: what gaps could I fill in their quota? Is this there any anniversary for a film coming up that could be a great retrospective for them? Do I have any direct connections for interviews that would valuable for their readers? Basically, I ask myself: “What can I offer them that their readers absolutely need to be reading?”
Pratto: These days, I follow my passions and look for the people who make work enjoyable. I don’t usually go out of my way looking for projects right now as my bandwidth is filled with other work, passions and narrative script writing, but I'm sure some doors would be open to me or I could leverage my experience to find more. Knowing other writers who write in a similar vein also helps because you can recommend each other should the need arise.
What’s the process for determining pay for your writing?
Cruz: I try to scale up with my experience. This assignment I got $XX so next assignment I ask for $XXX. It also goes by time I need to put into it. If it’s something that I can do in between other gigs, I can be flexible. But if it’s a job that I’ll have to focus on full-time, I need to ask for pay that I can solely live off of while I’m in the middle of it.
Theis: All the editorials I’ve written for have flat rates for their content, so I’ve never had to negotiate my fee.
Pratto: It depends on the cause, first of all. Some things I take on because of the meaning of the project and I’ll willingly take less than I’m worth, while others I’ve been given a flat fee or even paid hourly for my work. It’s all relative to the relationship and purpose of the project.
What are the pros…and cons…of freelance writing?
Cruz: Pros are def being able to make your own schedule. Taking time off when you need to. Being able to work from home. Cons are the anxiety of knowing when a gig ends you’re going to need to scramble for a new one. Also knowing if you screw up the job, or it’s not to the producers' satisfaction then they may not hire or recommend you in the future. This is especially difficult when the producers don’t have a clear vision for what they want, which happens more often than not.
Theis: The pro for me has been both the flexibility of content that I get to write and the ability to build my portfolio. I’ve written about cult films, horror classics, retrospectives, political analysis, and done interviews with some of my favorite people in the industry. The cons are mostly financial, mainly the volatile nature of freelancing. You could get five pieces approved one month, then just two the next month. One publication could be a regular collaborator, and another will only accept a fraction of your pitches. The wider a net you cast, the more you’re going to push yourself. That will make you a more ambitious and competitive writer, but can also risk burnout if you don’t pace yourself and make sure that you’re pitching intentionally. Don’t just pitch a piece because you’re desperate to write again, that’ll be a waste of everyone’s time. Strategize and make your pitch iron-clad. Make it undeniable. It has to be a piece that you’re dying to write. After all, if you’re not dying to write it, who would kill to pick it up?
Pratto: A big pro is being able to dabble in areas of writing or topics of interest that may call to you. For example, I’m passionate about social justice, but it’s not my day job. However, I can find little ways that can make a difference through smaller, short-term projects. Another pro is that it’s a lower-stakes way to improve your craft. Any writing is going to make you a stronger writer. I’ve never seen a comedy writer who can’t be funny in a blog post when appropriate [insert joke here]. I also find it can be a great way to share your skills in a low-commitment way so that prospects can get a taste of what you can bring and sort of test out working relationships. The biggest con is that it takes time to build a roster of clients in order for the work to be sustainable on its own. For me, it’s always been more of an add-on or in-between jobs sort of thing, but it's made the difference when needed.
What would be your 3 tips for anyone who wants to pursue freelance writing?
Cruz: Definitely network with producers and productions companies as well as other writers who’ve worked with them and may be able to recommend you. Build your writing stamina. Too often writers will actually neglect writing or only write when they “feel inspired." You wouldn’t run a marathon without training for it first. Same with taking a freelance assignment; you need to train for it, so write like it’s training. Work on your mental health. More of a life tip than a writing tip, but writing is life so it applies.
Theis: Read the publications you pitch for. Publications have a very deliberate brand control and will only be interested in pitches that fit their identity.Make sure that you’re not pitching them a piece that they’ve already published. If you have a great idea for an article, go through their library to make sure that nobody got to it first. Leverage your expertise. Everyone has a specialty or a background that will lend them a unique perspective or invaluable connections. You’re not just a writer—you’re a brand onto yourself, and the more you define that brand, the more competitive you’ll be as a freelancer.
Pratto: Let things build. At first, you may have to write some free articles for smaller publications or even ghostwrite (which can eventually pay decently, but your name will never be connected to the work, which can make building trickier but not impossible). Every project you take on elevates your craft so you can aim higher as you go. Focus on the relationships. This is what makes work most rewarding for me. Sharing genuine kindness and concern for those around you makes life easier for all. You also never know what people are navigating. As a bonus, people will remember you and want to work with you again. Be open. We create these life plans for ourselves, but the ebbs and flows can send us in different directions. Be open to where a story takes you, be open to where a relationship takes you, be open to where an idea or point of view can take you. And a final thought, if what you are looking for doesn’t exist and there's not a home for it, if there’s not a blog covering Taylor Swift’s journey on Earth mapped to her birth chart, by all means, maybe you’re the one to make it (I know I’d read it). You can monetize it as it grows.
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