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How to make part-time freelance writing work for you

By February 10, 2021 7 Comments

Not everyone wants to be a full time freelance writer. For years freelance writing was a side hustle for me – I worked part time as a social worker, full time as a mum and part time as a freelance writer. So maybe you’re not ready to leave your full-time job or maybe you’re working from home caring for small humans. Perhaps you like the security of a regular pay cheque (I can’t blame you for wanting that!). Or maybe you’ve tried to make a go of full-time freelance writing, but it didn’t work (I’ve been there too). Whatever your situation, there’s a way to make part-time freelance writing sustainable and fulfilling.

The ultimate side hustle: How to make part-time freelancing work for you

A female part time freelance writer sits in an attic looking at her phone

I was a part-time freelance writer for five years before I went full-time.

When I started writing for magazines and newspapers, I was so thrilled that publications were actually going to pay me for my words that I didn’t even think about writing as a career until a few years later.

It was when editors started coming to me with commissions and I saw writerly friends making a go of full time freelancing that I started to think it was possible to go full time.

But that’s not to say this is what everyone wants.

You definitely do not have to be a full time freelancer to be successful.

What if you’re a part-time freelance writer?

Here are four ways you can make your freelancing side hustle work for you and succeed at freelancing while you are employed (or simply doing other things).

1. Embrace your main gig

There’s no shame in working or parenting while you do freelance work on the side.

In fact, I think it’s the ideal situation (if your workplace allows it).

Working in a stable job (or starting freelancing part-time) allows you to establish yourself.

If you’re working already, that work provides you with some financial security.

That work may even spark some ideas for articles you want to write.

And if you’re parenting or studying, considering part-time freelance writing means you can beaver away at your side hustle without any real pressure.

Lots of writers feel that by taking a three day a week job in a bookshop or corporate comms position they are moving further away from their career as a full time freelancer.

But actually I think it’s a smart move.

You get to test the freelancing waters, pitch to dream publications and go after your ideal corporate clients.

And if you have a job, you get to do do all that while you have the safety net of a regular income.

2. Use your time wisely

When I worked two days a week as a social worker it wasn’t like I had three days a week to devote to freelancing.

On the other days I was looking after my two small kids and doing my PhD.

It’s probably pretty likely that if you’re freelancing on the side or thinking about it, your schedule is jam-packed.

That means you’ll have to think cleverly about how you’re going to fit your writing in.

Think about the way you work best and the opportunities in your day.

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

You may be able to squeeze some writing time or brainstorming time in before the rest of your household wakes or before you go to bed.

I tend to be a solid middle of the day kind of person.

I’m not particularly great early in the morning or late at night, so early starts or late evenings weren’t a super option for me.

Instead, I used my commute time to listen to podcasts that would spark lots of ideas for articles.

I also had half hour lunch breaks where I would go to my car and conduct phone interviews or send personal emails.

I’d also schedule interviews for the evenings or on weekends.

If the topic just needed some fairly standard quotes, I’d conduct an interview via email.

I would regularly write articles for four or so hours each day on the weekend.

Part time freelance writing was ideal for a few years.

But as I got deeper into freelance writing, I didn’t have any spare days that I could dedicate solely to it and I wanted that badly.

Over five years, I built up some great relationships with editors and it gave me enough confidence to go full time.

If you do have specific days off or a solid chunk of time to dedicate to freelancing, make sure it works for you.

If you can, schedule things that take time (like writing) when you have chunks of time and use your little bits of time (like lunch breaks) to gather ideas and pitch throughout the week.

3. Focus on building relationships

Are you sick of me saying this yet?!

Building relationships is what’s going to make you successful as a freelancer.

When you’re freelancing on the side, it’s the ideal time to focus on building relationships with editors and clients.

When I started out, I’d have an idea for an article and immediately try to think of where I could place it.

I might write once or twice for that publication before I ran out of ideas.

Nowadays I’m much more likely to consider which publications I want to write for on a long-term basis.

It doesn’t always work out, of course, but I have a strategy in mind.

Editors and clients like responsive freelancers, but you do not have to be on call 24/7.

This is especially so if you have other work you’re focusing on.

If you’re worried about not being able to get back to editors or clients straight away or sending emails after hours, there’s a simple solution.

You can always put a clever tagline like freelance journalist Sue White used to at the bottom of each email:

If you were sent this email at a highly unsociable hour, please go back to your non-work life. I work around the schedule of a cute but active 3yo, so often send emails at odd times. I don’t expect anyone to reply until office hours.

4. Things may get a bit out of control

It’s hard to get the perfect balance when you’re freelancing.

Let’s face it, even as a full time freelancer I still have weeks where I’m utterly overwhelmed by the amount of work I’ve committed to do.

Recognising that sometimes it’s going to be a stretch to do your regular work and your freelance work is important.

It actually means that you’re making progress and getting traction in the freelance field.

When I was working and studying, I tended to have one longer feature (1500 -1800 words +) on the go at any one time and perhaps one other smaller feature (500 – 700 words).

That added up to juggling up to eight case studies and interviewees at the same time.

That was really all my brain could manage.

Of course, sometimes I was writing three or four features a week, but I tried not to.

I’m so glad that I freelanced on the side for five years.

It gave me the confidence I needed to make the leap and also the financial buffer (which is a whole other conversation we need to have!)

Are you freelancing on the side? Are you thinking of going full time?

7 Comments

  • Emily says:

    This is me at the moment. As of this year, I’m trying to dedicate 3 days a week to freelancing (though as you know with small children, it’s never a full 3 days!) so this info is very helpful. Thanks, Lindy.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      You’re so welcome Emily. Do let me know how you go with juggling the kids and your work – I tend to think (perhaps a little optimistically) that it makes us more productive?!

  • Claire says:

    Well done you on juggling absolutely everything for a while there, that really is inspirational. I always love to hear stories of people who make things work even when they’re crazy busy.

    Although I don’t have a job, I never seem to have full-time hours to dedicate to writing somehow, although I’m sure a better woman would manage it! Your tips about fitting things into odd chunks of time are bang on the mark, I am currently trying to set aside the biggest, best (most alert) piece of time in the morning to JUST work on pitching, writing, etc. – the big things. Otherwise it just evaporates in a cloud of little tasks. It took me a long time to realise I really should be fitting those little tasks into the little pieces of time. It’s still a work in progress! I’m rarely very good at anything by the end of the day, although this is a time when I often have an hour or two to myself, so I do try to do stuff then even if I’m tired and lacking in concentration.

    I love the idea of having a strategy for an ongoing relationship with an editor/publication. It definitely makes sense to focus on fewer places and get that right, get a feel for what they want and what they’re doing already, rather than going here, there and everywhere.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      It took me years to realise that I had to capitalise on my ‘alert’ times Claire and do the tasks that took the longest/the most brain power, so I think you are doing well because you’ve worked that out already! I’m the same as you – once the kids are in bed, my brain is a bit mushy. I’ve found that once I have a cup of tea (a piece of cake) and a chat with my partner then I can settle down to do an hour or so more solid work. Sometimes though, it just doesn’t work and I need the night off!

  • malcolm marnitz says:

    Thank you for assisting at arriving at the right decision whether to write part or full time, as I am a retired 65 year old male with no family or employment schedules to interfere with my time allocated to writing. Your guidelines on how to prioritise time are very helpful. Been a bit of a nocturnal creature writing keeps me active and with no pressing schedules I can sleep when needed.
    Establishing a good working relationship with an editor makes for good sense as this can establish a sustainable working environment.
    Keep at it girl and don’t let negative people or events obstruct you in your chosen field.

  • I’ve spent a long time identifying magazines/websites that might be interested in my writing topics and started to pitch. However, with no editor relationships as of yet, it’s hard to stay positive. Any tips about pitching if you don’t have contacts?

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Hi Louisa, it can be really hard to ‘break in’ at the beginning and easy to lose heart. If you’re pitching consistently, it will only be a matter of time before you hear back from an editor. And even if it’s a ‘no’, I always see that as the beginning of a conversation.
      It can be helpful to follow editors on Twitter and engage with them there, so when they see your name in their inbox they are more likely to click on your email and read your pitch.
      Just know that we’ve all been there – I started without any editorial connections or contacts, so it’s definitely possible to build really strong relationships with editors.
      Do check back in and let me know how you go.

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