Things I Learned From 8 Years As A Freelance Magazine Writer

You may have heard that being a freelance writer is an exciting, lucrative career choice. But the reality is that it’s also a lot of work and perhaps not as lucrative or exciting as you’d think. 

I’ve been writing for magazines and journals for eight years now, and in that time I’ve learned some valuable lessons about what it means to be a freelancer in today’s world. Here are just some of them:

6 things I’ve learned in 6 years of freelancing – YouTube
1. Experience is Invaluable: Over 8 years, the writer gained valuable insights and expertise that shaped their career.
2. The Power of Networking: Building connections in the industry played a crucial role in finding new opportunities.
3. Adaptability is Key: Adapting to different writing styles and subjects allowed for a diverse portfolio and steady work.
4. Embrace Feedback: Constructive criticism helped improve writing skills and meet clients’ expectations.
5. Time Management Matters: Balancing multiple projects and deadlines requires effective time management skills.
6. Know Your Worth: Learning to set fair rates for services was essential for a sustainable freelance career.
7. Building a Strong Portfolio: A well-curated portfolio showcased expertise and attracted potential clients.
8. Navigating Client Relationships: Managing client expectations and communication contributed to successful projects.
9. Diversify Income Streams: Exploring different avenues of freelance work minimized income fluctuations.
10. Personal Branding: Establishing a personal brand helped stand out in a competitive market and gain recognition.

It’s Not As Romantic As It Sounds

Writing is not as romantic as it sounds. Writing is usually nothing like what you picture it to be in your head when you’re a kid you know, the glamorous writer types with their pens and notebooks and typewriters typing away on those typewriters. 

This image has led to many young writers going into school thinking that they want to write professionally someday, only to find out that there are much better jobs out there (like doctor or lawyer.)

I remember hearing this adage from my family members when I was younger: “If you want something bad enough, eventually someone will pay you for it!” It sounded great at first but then I found myself working 10-hour days at my job while also trying to maintain a social life and keep up with my hobbies too. 

There were nights when I would wake up in the middle of the night wondering why I even bothered doing this because there was no way anyone would ever pay me for anything related to writing!

As a budding magazine writer, there’s so much to learn. In my journey, I’ve gathered invaluable insights on what I wish I knew two years ago. If you’re looking to excel in this field, don’t miss this essential guide on Magazine Writing 101: Things I Wish I Knew Two Years Ago.

There Are No Guarantees

You can’t predict the future. You can’t control what other people will do. You can’t control the outcome of your work or whether it will be published, and you can’t control whether you’ll get paid for it, or promoted as a result.

You have to take risks and embrace uncertainty to be successful in this industry (and any other). We all know that there are no guarantees in freelancing, but many don’t realize just how big an impact this has on their lives until they start doing it full-time.

Deadlines Are Serious

It might seem obvious, but deadlines are real. On the one hand, it’s no big deal if you miss a deadline by a day or two, and your editor’s cool with that; on the other hand, missing a deadline by a day or two can cost you your job. 

You have to be careful about rolling with whatever happens it won’t always work out in your favor and that is something we all need to get used to. For example:

I once missed my weekly freelance magazine writing deadline by three days because I got sick and couldn’t do anything for several days in a row and when I finally got back on my feet (and did some rough copy), I realized that our fact-checker had left for vacation so there was nobody around who could check the piece before it was published!

Skip The Bar Exam And Write Instead

The bar exam is a notoriously difficult and expensive test to pass. If you fail it, you have to wait another six months before you can take it again. And if you don’t pass it the second try either, well… then your options are limited. The whole ordeal costs time and money and for what?

I say skip the bar exam altogether and write instead! It’s a more fulfilling career path that doesn’t require nearly as much effort and will pay off in spades (if not in cash). I’ve written for years on my terms, from home sometimes from bed! and I couldn’t be happier with my life as a freelance writer today.

Starting out as a magazine writer can be overwhelming. Fear not, for I’ve compiled a list of crucial tips for all beginner writers. Discover these 15 Things Every Beginner Magazine Writer Should Know to set yourself up for success.

You’re Better At Editing Yourself Than Your Editor Is

As a freelance magazine writer, you need to be able to edit yourself. You’re much better at it than your editor is; so you need to do it.

You may think that this only applies if you are the one who is paying for your writing services, but that’s not true. Editors have their jobs and can’t spend all day editing every single story they receive from freelancers the stories have to get out in time for publication, after all! 

So even if your editor isn’t paying you, they will still expect you to edit your work before sending it back. And as much as editors hate having “edits” marked on their manuscripts (because they feel like they’re getting paid by the word), sometimes those edits are necessary because either the content or flow isn’t quite right yet.

If this sounds intimidating but necessary (and I’m sure many of us would agree), then consider taking some classes or learning how-to books about writing and editing techniques so that YOU know what needs fixing before handing off any piece of writing for publication!

It’s Possible To Write Too Much

I believe that it’s possible to write too much, but not possible to write too little. I can hear you groaning and rolling your eyes at this point, but let me explain.

The problem with writing too little is that it makes your job harder when it comes time to edit. If you have a 3000-word article with only 500 words of content, then you’ll have an easier time editing because there are fewer things for your editor to cut out or change around. 

But if you write 5000 words with only 500 words of content? You can end up having way more work on your hands than necessary!

While writing too much may seem like an easy fix for this issue (just cut out some parts), here’s another thing: pitching editors on articles is hard enough as it is without needing to convince them that there’s enough material for their readers! 

For them to accept something from us writers (and pay us our hard-earned money), we need them first and foremost to believe that what we’re giving them will be worth their readers’ time investment, and they won’t believe that unless they see proof through our samples

Ever wondered what sets top magazine writers apart from the rest? Uncover the secrets of their success as they share their wisdom in Top Magazine Writers Reveal Their Secret to Success. Get inspired by their journeys and level up your writing game.

Writing Is A Lot Like Parenting

Time and again, I’ve been reminded that writing is a lot like parenting. As in, you have to be there for the long haul. 

You can’t settle for a quick fix or an easy solution; rather, you have to be consistent and patient and flexible, and able to change your mind when it comes time to do so. Because sometimes the best thing for your child (or article) isn’t what you first thought might be appropriate.

It took me a while before I figured out how much work goes into being a good parent and even longer before I realized how much work goes into being an effective writer. 

But with each piece of advice that came my way from my editor or publisher and every positive review from readers (and even critics), it became easier for me to see myself as part of something bigger than myself: 

A community of writers who understand what it means both personally and professionally when someone says “I don’t know how they did it but they did!

Even Great Writers Have Writing Problems

Even the best writers have writing problems. The trick is to identify those issues and fix them. Here are a few common writing problems, and some solutions for overcoming them:

You think you can write well if you just try harder. This isn’t true! It’s a good idea to spend time with books about grammar or style guides so that you’re aware of all the rules before starting work on your projects.

You don’t like it when people criticize your work in progress because it makes you feel bad about yourself or insecure about what you’re doing, even though these criticisms might help improve your piece overall by making it stronger and more effective at conveying its intended message effectively (or whatever). 

This is okay! Just keep in mind that not every critique will be useful for improving your work—some may even be downright mean and try not to let others’ opinions get under your skin too much if they aren’t constructive or helpful in some way (i.e., they suggest improvements rather than just tearing something apart).

Dreaming of a freelance magazine writing career but unsure where to start? Look no further! This comprehensive guide on How to Break into Freelance Magazine Writing will equip you with all the steps and tips to kickstart your journey.

The Rejection Never Gets Easier, But It’s Not About You

I love to write, but I am not sure that I would enjoy being a freelance magazine writer. The rejection part of it is the single most frustrating thing, and in some ways, it’s the only thing that matters.

If you’re a professional writer who writes for a living (and you aren’t just doing it as a hobby), then you will get rejected repeatedly throughout your career. It’s an unfortunate fact of life, especially for writers who work with small publications or online publications where editors are working with limited resources and tight deadlines.

Why do editors reject articles? There are many reasons: maybe the editor doesn’t have the budget or time to publish another story; maybe they already have one or two similar stories planned for publication.

Maybe they’d rather wait until December when there’s more space on their calendar; or even worse… maybe they think your writing isn’t good enough (but don’t tell them I said that).

Pitching Is Everything

Pitching is everything. As a freelancer, you have to sell your ideas and yourself to editors every single time you submit an article or op-ed. If they don’t like it, they won’t pay you. That sucks! 

But even more than that: pitching is how you sell your story and yourself in such a way that makes the editor want to share it with their readers (and get paid). Because of this importance, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about effective pitching over the years some of which I’ll share here with you now.

It’s Better To Be Over-Prepared Than Under-Prepared For The Interview

It’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared for an interview. You can never have too much information about your subject and it’s great when you come off as someone who has done their research.

Some questions you might get:

  • What do you think of the way this story turned out?
  • Can you tell us more about how that happened?

What was the hardest part of writing this piece? Why did you choose it as a topic? How long did it take to write this piece of work? Did anything change during the editing process or were there any objections from an editor or publisher along the way, etc., etc., etc?

You Can’t Take It Personally, But You Can Take It Personally Sometimes

I’ve learned this the hard way over the years. Like anyone who has ever worked in media or journalism, I have my pet peeves and discomforts. I don’t like being assigned to write about something that doesn’t interest me, I hate writing about lists, and I’m not crazy about travel stories because they tend to be more work than they’re worth (in my experience). 

But when you work as a freelancer for over eight years in one field and especially when you’re working for multiple publications at once you come to terms with the fact that your preferences often have nothing to do with what you’re asked to cover. 

And while certain topics may not interest me personally or be my first choice of assignment from an editor’s perspective (because of my skill set), there’s always some way that each piece can be made into something worthwhile for readers; after all: if it wasn’t interesting enough for them then why would we bother writing about it?

Magazine writing offers a world of opportunities for aspiring writers. Explore the allure of this career path and discover 15 Reasons to Start a Career in Magazine Writing that will inspire you to pursue your passion for the written word.

This Isn’t How You Thought Movies Were Made, But You Love It Anyway

You get to know the process of writing a magazine article. You’ll write many, many drafts of your story and they will all look different. 

You might start with a bunch of questions in an outline, or with a detailed outline that has every sentence written out (this is known as “scripting”), but you should be prepared to shift gears if your editor wants to make changes.

Most editors I knew worked collaboratively with their writers and went through several rounds before finalizing everything for publication. 

It’s not uncommon for there to be more than one round of revisions after each draft is complete, so it’s important not only that you can write quickly but also that you have the patience and flexibility necessary for multiple edits on any given piece.

On Spec Means On Spec

When you submit an idea to a magazine, it can feel like you’re in limbo. You know that the editor is looking at your pitch and considering whether or not it’s worth running. But how quickly will they get back to you? What if they don’t? The uncertainty can be frightening!

But here’s something important: The editor isn’t just sitting there thinking about your article. They’re doing work! And if they don’t respond right away if they take a week or two before responding it doesn’t mean that they hate your idea. It means that they have other things on their plate, as editors always do (and always will).

Editors Who Don’t Care About Words Don’t Make Good Editors

The publisher of my first magazine story taught me a lot about editing. She cared about words, she cared about the story, she cared about the reader, and she cared about me.

If you’re going to work with an editor who doesn’t care about words if they’re just there because they have a title or because they have an interest in your project but not in making it better—then don’t bother working with them at all. It’s not worth it for either of you.

You Learn Something New Every Time You Talk To An Expert

You will learn something new every time you talk to an expert. That’s the takeaway from my years of working as a freelance magazine writer. You can’t know everything about the subject you’re writing about you can’t even know most things, actually and that’s fine! 

You don’t need to know all of the details or even all of the answers. The experts in your story will fill in those gaps for you.

There are times when I’ve been frustrated by this, especially when it comes to topics where there are no easy answers: What should we do about climate change? 

How do we prevent war? What is happiness? These aren’t questions that have simple answers, but they can be answered nonetheless with thoughtful research and reporting. 

By talking with experts who have spent their careers thinking about these issues, and asking them questions that lead them deeper into their thought processes (rather than just asking for a quote), I’ve been able to tell readers something valuable about these huge questions without having all of the answers myself.

You’ll Have To Do Something Crazy To Get The Story Right Sometimes

I was a magazine writer for eight years. In that time, I learned a lot of things. Here are just a few:

You’ll have to do something crazy to get the story right sometimes. Once, while researching an article on sex workers in Las Vegas, I was interviewing one of my sources when suddenly she told me that she needed to take care of something and then promptly got up and walked away. 

She didn’t come back until after nightfall and then proceeded to tell me about her day without saying a word about why she had left me alone for so long. 

The whole thing was very strange but it turned out that what she had been doing was making love with another woman who was also one of my subjects; this person later became my girlfriend (she’s now my wife). The point is: always expect the unexpected!

When you get an article published, use it as proof that you’re capable of getting work published elsewhere too, and don’t be afraid to ask for more assignments from editors who like your work! Don’t just say “thank you” and move on.

Follow up with them regularly so they know how much potential value they could get out of having someone like yourself on their staff full time instead just contractually through freelancing sites like Upwork or Freelancer.”


Writing isn’t as romantic as it sounds. It’s not just sitting down and seeing what comes out. It’s hard work and yes, sometimes it’s even more complicated than you thought it was going to be. But the good news is that by learning how to deal with these challenges, you’ll become a better writer!

Further Reading

57 Lessons I’ve Learned After 5 Years of Freelance Writing Discover valuable insights and lessons from a seasoned freelance writer’s 5-year journey in the industry.

6 Lessons from My 8-Year Freelance Writing Career Explore the key takeaways and experiences of an 8-year veteran in the field of freelance writing.

25 Years Freelancing: Things I Wish I Knew Sooner Gain valuable hindsight from a writer with 25 years of freelancing experience, and learn from their journey.


How to get started as a freelance writer?

Getting started as a freelance writer involves building a portfolio, identifying your niche, and pitching your work to potential clients.

What are some effective ways to find freelance writing opportunities?

Networking, joining freelance platforms, and reaching out to publications or businesses in your niche are effective ways to find writing gigs.

How can I improve my freelance writing skills?

Improving your writing skills can be achieved through consistent practice, seeking feedback, and taking relevant writing courses or workshops.

How do I set my freelance writing rates?

Research the market rates for your niche and consider factors like your experience and the complexity of the project to set fair and competitive rates.

How can I ensure timely payment for my freelance writing work?

Establish clear payment terms with your clients, consider using contracts, and communicate regularly to ensure timely and smooth payments.