Career Advice

5 Essential Books for Any Freelancer

By Marianne Hayes September 17th, 2014

When I made the jump from teacher to full-time freelance writer last year, I took on the transition like a holy calling. I scoured all the popular freelancing blogs and reached out to every friend-of-a-friend who was even remotely in the industry.

In my zeal to make a legitimate living as a writer, there was one activity I did exceedingly more than anything else: I read. I bought stacks upon stacks of books all geared toward getting my freelance career off the ground. After all, these purchases were considered tax deductions—a handy bit of info I’d picked up in one of my many resource books. I was hungry for information, so I feasted.

Below, I’ve listed five books jam-packed with practical tips and solid advice that stand out for helping me thrive as a freelance writer.

1. Writer’s Market

When I was starting out, I had no idea how to write an effective query letter (or what a query even was). I was clueless about how to submit story ideas, find appropriate markets, keep track of my submissions, and pay estimated taxes each quarter. This is why Writer Digest’s comprehensive resource is an annual purchase for me. (The book is updated every year.)

The text is broken down into three categories: finding work, managing work, and promoting work. The best part is it lists the submission guidelines for thousands of active publishers, which is extremely helpful regardless of your experience level.

2. 102 Ways to Earn Money Writing 1500 Words or Less

By I.J. Schecter

A lot of people I talk to assume the only way to make a living as a freelance writer is by publishing print articles in consumer magazines. This couldn’t be further from the truth. This book gives you the lowdown on corporate writing, advertising writing, pitching to PR agencies, and so much more. (Think gigs like editing corporate PowerPoint slides or writing marketing materials for direct mail campaigns.) This type of writing actually makes up a good chunk of my monthly income. This book taught me to keep my eyes open because paid writing opportunities are everywhere.

3. Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life

By Dani Shapiro

Fully committing yourself to the writing life isn’t always easy. People look at you funny and can’t understand why you don’t have a “real job.” This is a book I return to when I need a little creative encouragement.

The path we’ve chosen as writers is sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse. But we didn’t really choose it—it often feels like it chose us. Shapiro articulates this idea in a way that rings true for anyone who’s chosen a creative path. The act of nurturing your craft can sometimes feel like torture when you’re staring at a blank page. Conversely, ignoring your creative calling feels nothing short of sacrilegious.

She also shares great little tricks for overcoming the devil that is writer’s block. For Shapiro, it all comes back to her inner censor. It is toxic, full of criticism, and makes you feel like your ideas aren’t good enough. Shapiro advises first acknowledging your inner censor. Say hello to it, then politely dismiss it. She also drives home the importance of discipling yourself to sit your butt down and write. Every day. No matter what.

4. Writer With A Day Job

By Aine Greaney

Like most freelancers, I had to keep my nine-to-five for a good year before I was able to freelance full time. It was tough going at first, and I constantly felt my day job took up all my time. This book goes to show that an office job doesn’t have to.

Greaney taught me how to find time for my writing, even if it was just half an hour at a local Starbucks before driving to work. Or 10 minutes before jumping in the shower each night. Before long, these little snips of time added up to a completed story that later became the first essay I ever published. Greaney’s time-finding techniques include writing during your lunch hour, your daily commute, or in in bed as soon as you wake up in the morning. She also drives home the importance of setting measurable writing goals. If you’re feeling strapped for time, this book is loaded with practical tips for squeezing in your writing life alongside work, family, and everything else.

5. You’ve Got A Book In You

By Elizabeth Sims

This book challenges the idea that writing a novel, memoir, or any other longform piece has to be torture. On the contrary, Sims argues it can actually be an easy, fun experience. (Yes, you read that right.)

It’s basically a stress-free guide to finding your voice, mastering the art of free writing, and learning to let your story take you wherever it wants to go—with no pressure. One piece of advice that really resonated with me was finding your “garret,” or a physical space where only writing is allowed and where no one can bug you. For me, my best garret is my local coffee shop. But I’ve achieved writing zen and churned out published work everywhere from the F train to my own desktop computer at 5 a.m. when there’s no chance of my family demanding my attention.

Sims also teaches you to put a muzzle on your inner critic while drafting. In other words, embrace crappy first drafts because they’re the bare bones of all masterpieces. This book made the list because it’s lighting a fire under me to finally get moving on my own novel. The ideas have been there for a long time, but now I actually feel moved to take action. And, to my surprise, it’s been fun.

Image by Kachalkina Veronika
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