I posted this as a response on a forum to a new freelance writer, and it has some pretty decent advice so I figured I’d repeat it here:
I just went through this myself, so here’s my advice. Take it with a grain of salt, because I’m nowhere as experienced as most of the other people on this board.
1. Decide from the beginning what type of writer you want to be. I’ve noticed many of the writers that are most successful specialize in a specific type of writing. Some do fast copy writing work, for instance, and others do content mill work like me, and still others focus on lengthy, high-quality assignments. Do you want to do 10 $5 articles or one $50 article? I have ADD, so for me it’s easier to do 10 $5 articles. Other people have better focus and they would prefer doing a single $50 article. Either has merits, you just need to understand who you are.
2. Invest in the right tools. A good workstation setup is invaluable if you want to be productive. That means a good keyboard and a good mouse. You want to set up your display to OSHA standards, as in directly in front of you with your eyes meeting the top of the screen. Otherwise, cramps ahoy! I also stripped down my browser (no add-ons, toolbars, etc) so it’s faster and easier to use.
3. Reduce your distractions. When you’re writing as a real job you need to be your own boss. It’s better to give yourself “breaks” between writing than have constant distractions going on, but I know with kids around that’s pretty difficult.
4. Don’t force it. One thing about freelance work is that there are periods of plenty and lean times as well. I’ve learned not to force the work if it isn’t there, but instead take the time off and enjoy it. If you don’t have work one day, go out and do something with your kids, clean the house thoroughly or cook a great meal. Add the time on to the next day. You’ll be glad for this when 20492094029 orders come in the next day and you barely have time to breathe.
5. Set achievable goals. One mistake I notice freelance writers making is that from the start they tell themselves “I want to make $110 this week.” The problem is that isn’t directly under your control. It’s more reasonable to say “I want to work TEN HOURS” this week. If ten hours isn’t hitting your goal amounts in a month, then say “I want to work FIFTEEN HOURS” a week until you’re averaging the right amount of money.
Here’s why you do this: it’s too stressful to try to do a specific MONEY goal because it makes you feel you have NO CONTROL over your income when you have no clients. For me, it’s better if I have exacting control: I know I have to work THIS MUCH. That means once I work my x hours a week, I’m DONE. I don’t have to sit and stress that I need to make $5 more before I sleep, because I already know that overall I’ll even out as long as I keep productive. Everything else is gravy.
6. Stay flexible within your lines. You notice that I say x hours a week, not x hours a day. Freelance work is unpredictable. I’ve learned that I need rules, but these rules need to be flexible within themselves to give myself the best advantage. The more I work, the more freedom I give myself because the process becomes intuitive. Next year, I’ll probably be working x hours a month rather than x hours a week. It’s all about the process.
7. Always keep moving. You should always be applying to new sites, learning new rules and acquiring new clients throughout a variety of platforms. WA is amazing and it’s easy to get comfortable here, but any cash cow can move on to greener pastures. If a website suddenly disappears tomorrow, would you have another one to move on to? You need to always be able to answer “yes” to that question.