Thursday, May 23, 2024

5 Streams of Income for Freelance Writers


Perhaps the most important question I asked my editor during my early years of writing is, “How do you make a living as a writer?”

This led to some of the best advice he’s ever offered me, “Obtain multiple streams of income.”  

Chewing on his words, I’ve thought quite a bit about what it means to be a writer, freelance or otherwise. In its most literal sense the term writer refers to someone who writes words, but the question that comes to mind thereafter is the same question that bounces off the tip of everyone’s tongue when you say, “I’m a writer,” and that question is, “What do you write?”

It’s not the right question to ask a writer though, and it’s not the question you or I should be asking ourselves. Because if we limit ourselves to what we have written, then we close off opportunities to things we don’t consider as part of our niche.

Therefore, the question we should be asking ourselves is, “What can I write?” to which the answer should be, “Anything.”

Developing multiple streams of income as a writer doesn’t mean getting a part time job down at the grocery store or using our car for delivery services to and from every food joint from here to Timbuktu. It means growing your repertoire as a writer through experiences brought on by trial and error. In this article we will discuss five ways you, a writer, can expand your horizon to the point that you can select what you feast on rather than face famine due to limited possibilities—and no these jobs have not replaced you with AI.

One: Copywriting

Copywriting, not to be confused with copyediting, is the art of writing material for the purpose of marketing. Marketing is all about creating a relatable and enticing story for a select audience identified through a persona. The goal of course is to get individuals the persona defines to investigate further on whatever it is being marketed, which will hopefully result in a sale.

Aspects of copywriting could involve, but are not limited to, helping a brand build its story and execute it in a digestible manner, summoning up words for an email campaign, or compressing a brand’s purpose into a tagline. Also, with the ever expanding reaches of the internet and social media being a huge part of what allows a company to grow, you can expect to add to this list: social media management and web copy.  

As far as AI is concerned, a computer may be able to spit up words, but it’s humans that give them texture and flavor. Don’t believe me? Take this famous man-made ad-campaign that required an understanding of American socio-economics, slang of the current time, and a bit of reverse psychology, “Lemon’s, Volkswagen’s. Always have been.”

Two: Technical and Business Writing

Memos, company-wide newsletters, the hand-dandy dusty employee handbook HR always refers to and that resume your former work-spouse keeps meaning to brush off—are just a few of the written tools that business savvy people need assistance writing.

Why? Because they are busy people with a billion things on their plate, which they still have to find a place to cram dinner on—forget trying to figure out AI.

Even as writers, we know their pain: staring at a white screen with black scribbles and not enough bandwidth to process a single word of it despite assuring ourselves that those are indeed our words glaring back at us.

So, be the person that is willing to offer a helping hand to the folks still tied up in the rat race from 9 to 5 (and however many extra-hours their boss has them working). People are more than happy to outsource such laborious tasks to anyone who has a strong understanding of the English language and can reflect their own business savviness on the page.

Three: Translating

Are you fluent in a second language? Those of us who write know how nuanced the written word can be, and how Google Translate does not hack it in a professional light. This is because AI might be able to determine word for word what is being said, but it can’t translate the emotional depth of mood and tone, various artistic uses of literary devices (such as idioms) that are commonly understood by the native speaker, as well as what is being said and not written within the vast subtext that covers each page. Also, without a person who is in tune with the societal norms of the author’s native language, cultural aspects can easily become lost in translation.

Therefore you, dear writer, still have a gift to be treasured and utilized, especially if you grew up immersed in two separate cultures and understand both languages. Translation is not about what is said word for word. Instead, use your ability to capture the essence of what is written in one language and recreate it in another in a way that is just as meaningful and impactful as the original content is to its’ native speakers.

Four: Ghostwriting

Now, I know what you might be thinking: since the release of ChatGPT isn’t ghostwriting dead? No, it most certainly is not. Why? Because ChatGPT is a tool, and just like any tool that is in the hands of the unskilled it will produce subpar work at best, and at worst it will spit out some crude unintelligible mass of gibberish—that no one is going to try and figure out when they have the likes of TikTok on their phone.

However, people will pay for one of two things: education or convenience. Ghostwriting is the answer to the latter because people don’t have the time, the patience, or the know-how to write a book that reflects their voice as they see it, if not better.

People outside of us word-nerds do not understand plot structure or what part of a person’s story is worth showing versus what part is better left unsaid. People who don’t write outside of texts and email do not understand the various techniques a writer can use to create tension, shift pacing, or think about the importance of diction when it comes to word selection. I should know I’ve brought this all up to plenty of people outside the industry and watch their eyes glaze over with disinterest.

It is sad to say, for those of us who are passionate about writing, but such aspects of the art might as well be foreign language to them. That isn’t to say they are bad at other things, it’s just that writing is neither one of the things they are good at, nor something they care to master. This is why they would be more than willing to hire you, especially after they’ve become frustrated with trying to get AI saying what they want, how they want it.

Five: Editing

Some of you may be saying to yourself, “But editing isn’t actually writing,” and to those of you with this opinion, I’m going to play devil’s advocate with this simple question: what is the first draft called?

The magic of writing, no matter what sort of writing it may be, does not unveil itself until at least the second revision. Anyone who’s written a rough draft understands this because let’s face it, nobody calls the first draft a smooth draft. That said, if you understand the process of revising, then editing as a profession becomes a natural extension of what you are already capable of doing—with the addition of people skills.

Editing is a collaboration between teacher and student. A good editor will point out things they wish someone had told them as a writer, and a good writer will take note of those pointers and apply them in their future work, just like I have with this article. AI didn’t tell me, “Obtain multiple streams of income,” but a living breathing editor did and now this article exists.  

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