Now, here’s a nice contentious issue. Can you take a job, in this case, freelance writing, and treat it as a hobby? Now, at the risk of upsetting my fellow freelance writers, I’m going to share the truth with you.
And that is… Yes. Of course, you can treat freelance writing as a hobby. However, there are definite advantages and disadvantages to this approach to your work and I’d like to discuss these in more detail below.
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How I Started Freelance Writing
Writing was my hobby before I started working as a freelance writer. That doesn’t mean that freelance writing was my hobby because it wasn’t. I wrote a lot of material related to my then profession, training and development.
I did this in order to raise my professional profile. It’s much easier to get some respect in a job interview if you can say; “Did you read my latest piece in Trainer’s World (or whatever publication)?” The act of being published gives you authority.
It helps explain how I managed a fairly meteoric rise from sales trainer to head of training for a telco in less than a decade. I established myself as a thought leader and then it was easy to see I knew what I was talking about because my peers had validated those thoughts, publicly.
I also did it because I like teaching people things and sharing what I learn. I don’t think I could have pushed myself to write as much stuff in my spare time as I did if it had just been a mercenary thing.
Then later on in life when I realized it was time to choose a new profession, it occurred to me that I had a pretty decent body of work as a writer to help build a career on.
So, I am certain that you can turn your writing hobby into a freelance career and that, of course, means that you can turn your writing hobby into a freelance writing hobby as either an intermediary step or as the whole of your decision.
The Advantages Of Freelance Writing As A Hobby
This week, I’ve been writing about 10,000 words a day for this website. It’s hard work and yes, there are moments that I’d rather be doing something else. But if it doesn’t get done, I am never going to earn any money from my efforts. The intention is to have about 400,000 – 500,000 words of content by the time this is “done” from a launch perspective.
Writing for a living is exhausting at times. There are days when your head hurts and you still have to find the words.
You Can Pick And Choose Your Projects More Easily
If you’re freelance writing as a hobby, however, you don’t need to get to this point with your writing ever. You can pick and choose the projects you work on and enjoy every moment of your writing.
Now, I’m not complaining about writing for NomadTalk – this is a passion project – but there are days when you’re writing 10,000 words on the tower structures used to support mobile telephony equipment (and yes, I’ve done this) for example which aren’t as easy.
Full-time freelance writing often means taking on projects that need doing even if they aren’t all that fun.
You Can Develop Your Skills As You Go
There’s no pressure when you treat freelance writing as a hobby and that means you can take on projects that stretch your skills whenever you like. The penalty for failure isn’t going to be huge and it won’t damage your income.
Full-timers, on the other hand, need to be more cautious because if you take on a big project and can’t deliver – the odds are that you’re going to starve.
There’s Less Selling To Be Done
Freelancing is all about sales skills much more so than it is about the skills that you are selling. Hobbyists, however, generally aren’t as bothered by the commercial side of their writing and are more likely to be satisfied with pay from Upwork or online magazines that pay $50 for 5,000 words.
For many freelance writer hobbyists, the joy is seeing their byline “in print” rather than the paycheck at the end of the day. If you write for a living, however, the paycheck has to matter to you. Unless you want to live in a cardboard box under a bridge.
That means hobbyists don’t need to do as much sales and marketing.
The Disadvantages Of Freelance Writing As A Hobby
So, there are definite advantages to freelance writing as a hobby rather than taking it on as a full-time job but there are also some clear issues with the concept too.
The Best Projects Are Usually Beyond Your Reach
One of the big secrets of an enjoyable freelance writing career is that the best projects are often the biggest projects. We’re not talking creating a couple of articles but projects that run into 100s of articles, developing training courses, writing instruction manuals, ghostwriting books, etc.
These projects are usually beyond the scope of a freelance writer as a hobbyist because they’re too damned big to fit in your spare time. A ghostwritten book project, for example, is usually a 2-3 month job if the research has all been done for you – it will take much longer if you’re in charge of the research.
Try and fit this into one day a week? It’s going to take years. Clients don’t normally want to wait for years for their work.
Clients Are Less Likely To Pay For Development Activities
If you’re creating a lot of work for a client, they may reach out and ask you to take on something outside of your ordinary skillset and, if you’re lucky, they may pay for a little development work to get you up to speed with what they need.
They do this because they like working with you, don’t want to add additional management tasks to their lives and because you’ve proved that you can deliver the goods. This is not going to happen for a hobbyist freelance writer mainly because you aren’t going to be adding enough value to anyone’s business for them to do this.
You May Over-Estimate Your Sales Skills
If you’re thinking about using your freelance hobby to bridge the gap into a full-time freelance writing career you may be woefully underprepared if you’re relying on winning the occasional Upwork bid for your work now.
One thing you learn pretty quickly is that in order to maintain a freelance practice, you can’t be putting nearly a full-time effort into selling because you need time to write for your clients.
Winning an article here or a blog piece there is nice when it’s your hobby. It’s nowhere near enough when it’s your main source of income.
You may also have large gaps in your portfolio and need to brush up your website (and possibly your social media presence) too because you haven’t got the experience that a full-time write can offer.
Now, you can overcome this for sure. There’s no reason that you can’t work on preparing yourself for the move by increasing your sales and marketing efforts before you make the transition but if you don’t know that you need to, it seems unlikely to us that you will.
Yes, freelance writing can be your hobby. You don’t ever have to turn it into a full-time gig, unless you want to, either.
But while there are real advantages to hobbyist freelance writing there are also big disadvantages too. That means you’re going to want to think about your approach before committing one way or another.
As a full-time freelance writer who once wrote for a hobby, I think it’s a good way to test the waters if you’re unsure if this is a job you want to do and to hone your communication skills even if you decide that it’s not what you want to do for a living.